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Mobile home parks getting more scarce

Sun., Feb. 17, 2008

Chuck and Patty DuBey moved into the Picnic Pines Mobile Home Park on the east shore of Silver Lake 39 years ago thinking they’d never move again. They bought a white double-wide, built a fence around it and settled into the well-kept park with trees and a lake view.

Now, the retired 73-year-olds are preparing to move again. The park’s newest owner, who bought it about six years ago, plans to develop the property – 15 acres with 2,000 feet of waterfront – into single-family homes and condominiums. That’s a more typical outcome for mobile home parks on the west side of Washington than those in Spokane County.

“When we first came here, it was a beautiful park, one of the prettiest ones in Spokane County. We liked it here close to the lake,” Patty DuBey said. The news that they’d have to move “was a tremendous shock to us. We thought we would live and die here.”

Picnic Pines is one of two mobile home parks in the county slated to close this summer, according to the state department of Community Trade and Economic Development, or CTED.

Because such parks often are an important part of a community’s low-income housing stock, CTED is stepping in with a one-year pilot program to offer $275,000 in relocation assistance, to be split among the estimated 93 households faced with finding a new place to live. The money, made available through the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, is being administered by Northeast Washington Housing Solutions.

“As manufactured home communities close, low-income families, seniors, and disabled persons are especially at risk for losing homes they own, and often have limited housing options,” said Juli Wilkerson, CTED director, in a prepared statement.

Spokane County hasn’t seen as many mobile home park closures as some West Side counties, said Kristi Aravena, CTED’s relocation assistance coordinator. Spokane County has lost 16 parks since 1989 for a total of 614 spaces, state statistics show. Statewide, 169 parks have closed in the same time period, for a loss of almost 4,000 spaces.

About six parks closed annually in Washington from 1989 to 2002. But starting in 2003, the number began growing, Aravena said. This year, 18 parks are slated to close, with escalating land values “probably the No. 1 reason,” she said. An estimated 1,000 parks statewide are in urban growth areas and could be threatened because of rising land values, state figures show.

“Prices have escalated within those areas so much that a developer may come in,” Aravena said. “Some of these parks have been selling for a pretty large sum of money.”

That trend has also hit North Idaho’s older mobile home parks, many of which have closed to make way for residential and commercial development. About 11 parks in Kootenai County have closed in the past five years, alarming affordable housing advocates already struggling to keep up with escalating land values.

The second Spokane County park slated for closure, the Myers Mobile Home Park off state Highway 904 in Cheney, has been embroiled in a legal battle with the city for eight years. Park owner Thomas Myers said through his attorney that Cheney approved the park in 1995, then barred him from using a primary access road five years later, after tenants had already moved in. Because complying would force him to reconfigure the park’s layout, Myers has notified the state that he plans to close by June 30, 2008, said his lawyer, Dennis Clayton.

The city denies approving the park and has prevailed in legal battles that have reached the state Supreme Court. City attorneys say Myers hasn’t submitted the standard applications required of any developer.

“There was no binding site plan application submitted by Mr. Myers or approved by the city,” said Liesel Lehrhaupt, a prosecutor under contract with the city. “Every court all the way up to our state Supreme Court says that Mr. Myers is running an illegal operation.”

If that’s the case, park tenant Kathy Melton said she wants to know why the city issued occupancy permits to the residents. Melton lives just inside Myers’ park in a light-blue mobile home with her husband and 76-year-old mother. A children’s slide and swing set sit in the backyard, ready for her grandchildren to come play.

“Wherever it got messed up in the beginning, the city never should have issued occupancy permits until they had everything straightened out with Mr. Myers,” Melton said. “We have the occupancy permit for this house.”

Attorney Frank Conklin, who also represents Cheney, acknowledged there is fault on both sides. “All the city is telling him is, he can’t accept rent until he complies with the law,” Conklin said.

Melton and her family have talked about where they might move when the park closes but think their only option is surrendering the mobile home to the bank and renting elsewhere. Melton thinks monthly rent easily will triple their $370 monthly mortgage payments.

The state’s pilot relocation assistance program could ease that transition. It provides up to 12 months of rental assistance per household, or space rent for owners who are able to move their mobile homes to other parks. Security and utility deposits may also be included. To be eligible, families must earn 50 percent or less of Spokane County’s median income. That equates to $20,150 for a single person or up to $28,800 for a family of four.

Families could be eligible for more money through the state’s regular relocation assistance program if they earn 80 percent or less of the median income, said Aravena, the relocation coordinator for CTED. That would be up to $32,250 for a single person or $46,100 for a family of four.

Homeowners eligible for that program can receive up to $7,500 for single-section homes or $12,000 for multiple-section homes for costs related to moving or demolition. That program is funded by a fee tacked onto the sale of used manufactured homes sold in mobile home parks.

As the DuBeys plan their move away from Picnic Pines near Medical Lake, park owner Chuck Groom is working on redevelopment plans. He said he plans to close the park in May 2009 because county codes would require him to install a new water and sewer system at a cost of $1.5 million. The tenants couldn’t afford to absorb that cost, he said.

Instead, he’ll seek a development partner to plot sites for 30 single-family homes and 10 buildings containing as many as 108 condominiums. “I got 2,000 feet of waterfront property,” Groom said. Instead of “keeping it a trailer park that nobody wants, I’m going to go ahead and do a development in there that’s condos and nice homes. It takes money to do that.”

The DuBeys are looking for a home to rent in Medical Lake, close to their children and grandchildren. They feel fortunate to have found a buyer for their mobile home.

But they lament the loss of the beautiful park they moved into that has fallen into disrepair. Trees have been cut down, and trailers destroyed by fire have not been removed, Patty DuBey said. “The clientele are getting less caring. It doesn’t really matter to them how things look,” she said. “It’s just very depressing. We loved it here.”


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