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More affordable housing needed

The significant changes in the metro region's affordable housing picture should be of great concern to city of Portland and regional leaders who are committed to ensuring greater access to diverse and affordable housing in the metro area.

Over the past 18 months, 10 Washington County mobile home parks have been either closed or targeted for closure, meaning that more than 860 affordable housing units have been - or will be - lost.

In Clackamas County, a West Linn mobile home park with nearly 60 housing sites has been lost. And some folks fear that another nearby park may eventually close, costing the region another 200 or more housing units.

Multnomah County appears to be more stable. Yet the underlying trend is likely to continue to affect the entire metro area.

Closures driven by economics

These closures are not hard to explain. Nor should they be condemned.

Owners of the mobile home parks, which are largely located on flat ground already equipped with municipal services, have discovered that they can earn far more by converting the parks to mixed-use, retail or commercial development. It's simple economics.

Such economics comes at a severe price for park residents, who find that replacement mobile home spaces are scarce. And they also are far away - McMinnville, for example.

The cost is more than one borne by individuals. Cities such as Beaverton, which learned early this month that it would lose 222 mobile home units near the light-rail line, suffer the loss of contributing citizens. The region suffers, too.

Loss has an impact

While some Portland-area residents may say that the decline of mobile home housing is unimportant, we believe they are wrong.

The loss of this type of affordable housing, without comparably priced and nearby alternatives, dramatically changes the region.

Consider who lives in mobile homes. The Manufactured Home Owners of Oregon says 82 percent of mobile home dwellers are homeowners. About 41 percent have an annual household income less than $20,000, with 13.7 percent at less than $10,000. Fifty-five percent are older than 55, with 30 percent of those residents older than 65 and another 17 percent older than 75. Thirty-five percent live alone, and three-quarters of those living alone are women.

These people have few other choices of where they can live in Portland. Yet these are local residents who have made and will continue making a contribution to the quality of life in their communities and the fabric of the region.

Expand housing discussion

We don't have an answer for this problem.

We don't favor local or state laws that would unfairly restrict property owners from converting mobile home parks and using their lands for other zoned purposes.

But we do think that regional, city of Portland and suburban leaders need to expand the focus of their affordable housing efforts to include the impact of mobile home park conversions.

The time to begin to act is now.

The cost of land and housing may have moderated some from recent peak prices, but this pressure and the balancing act of accommodating growth and protecting urban density will only lead to even more mobile park closures.

This means the loss of even more affordable housing for important local residents.