On July 13, Monika Sayre, President of the Butte Crest Park Homeowner’s Tenant Association, spoke during public comment at the Eagle Point City Council meeting. Sayre who brought a senior citizen with her to make her point, knew that council would not be able to offer a solution but Sayre wanted to educate them on the dilemma many seniors face because of escalating rents in manufactured home parks. Some walk away from their only investment because they can no longer afford the rent and the ones who do stay may have to choose between a roof over their head or food and medicine.
The dilemma is not just in Eagle Point but throughout Oregon because there is no rent control in the state, according to Peter Ferris, Executive Director of Oregon Manufactured Homeowners United and an unpaid lobbyist. In the past five years, rents increased by two to five times of the Consumer Price Index.
Ferris, who is writing rent control legislation for 2011, explains as “mom and pop” park owners retire, parks are increasingly snapped up by out-of-state buyers, particularly from California. The parks are “cash cows” for investors who raise the rent but give little in the way of upkeep and maintenance.
Unlike apartment renters, park residents cannot simply move if the rent becomes too high. They either have to sell, move their homes or abandon them. Moving a house is unaffordable to many, costing as much as $15,000 or more and selling is not a viable option in these economic times. Most parks also have rules prohibiting homeowners from renting their homes out. “The big guys (park owners) have all of the control,” said Ferris. In Butte Crest Park, Sayre has seen about 14 seniors and families abandon their homes in the last six months.
Leisure Days Mobile Home Park in Shady Cove was sold to a Californian about three years ago. In the first year, rent went up 31 percent or $60 a-month, with more increases since then. Resident Bill Wilson said he is stuck there and may not get the money out of his house. Discouraged, he has a bad feeling the rising rents may force everyone out — they will have to walk away. Lou Burnham noted several homes are for sale in Leisure Days, some for as long as two years. People drive through shopping for a home and inquire about the rent. When they hear the amount they drive off, never to be seen again.
South of Leisure Days is Rogue Meadows Park. Although the owner of that park, an Oregonian, did not increase the rent this year, previous years of 8 percent increases have caused home values to go down. Senior Paul Marcoulier said 25 percent of the homes are vacant because of the economy and failure to sell. He asked the park owner, “At what point do you intend to cap the rent?” According to Marcoulier, the owner replied, when the rent reaches fair market value. “What is fair market value?” ponders Marcoulier.
Ferris knows his 64-page legislative bill, Manufactured Community Preservation Act of 2011, will have a tough political fight in Salem. “We are dealing with very wealthy and powerful people,” he said. Republicans will not vote for the bill. To get it passed will require Democrats to step up to the plate. If Democrats lose seats to Republicans in the November general election it will even be worse. Ferris is concerned legislators do not understand the dilemma of park dwellers. They equate them to apartment dwellers. He did say one supporter of the bill is State Representative Peter Buckley (D-Ashland).
The bill attempts to resolve disputes between park owners and homeowners, both with financial stakes in a park. The bill also requires park owners to justify rent increases while insuring they are guaranteed a fair rate of return, said Ferris.
The Department of Justice is the key player in the future of the bill because of consumer protection laws, said Ferris who is working with the DOJ. He is confident the bill is as good as it gets, although it is still in the draft stage. In February, he and as many statewide park dwellers as he can inspire will go to Salem to present the bill to legislators.
In the meantime, Sayre will organize a meeting for valley wide park residents in September (date not yet determined). And she will begin collecting signatures on petitions to take to Salem for the preservation act. For more information call Sayre at 541-826-2139 or Peter Ferris at 1-541-272-1648.
By Margaret Bradburn
Of the Independent