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Mobile home parks focus of local forum

By Jamasa Tello
   Assistant Community Advocate
   Current issues facing manufactured home parks were the focus of a community forum Dec. 5, at the Rodriguez Annex in Madras.
   Turnout exceeded expectations of the Madras Area Community Action Team with over 100 people packing the meeting space. Park owners, managers, residents, city and county officials, the newly elected mayor and the president of the Jefferson County Habitat for Humanity were all present.
   Over half the crowd represented the Latino community. The evening consisted of information on park closures across the country, solutions used by other communities, and the basics of housing cooperatives, each followed by vibrant discussion. Attending park owners and managers reassured the crowd that they had no intention of closing their parks.
   Of particular of interest was a short presentation give by Jim Long, Bend's Affordable Housing manager, who talked about the ordinance Bend has been working on which allows for higher density on new developments and also addresses the overall issue of affordable housing.
   Long shared how the Bend workgroup, consisting of park owners, park residents, and city councilors, have drafted an ordinance that will work for everyone involved. The proposed ordinance will go for a first reading before the Bend City Council Dec. 20, 7 p.m.
   City Council member, Bruce Abernethy, said he feels that the proposed ordinance is a good compromise and may be applicable to other communities. Working with tenants and park owners together was "very valuable" and has been integral in determining the end product.
   All across America, manufactured housing is a leading source of unsubsidized, affordable housing; for many, it is the only home ownership option available to them. For others, it is their first home, and is a stepping stone toward the future purchase of a larger, more expensive residence.
   Large numbers of manufactured homes are in parks, and though the homes may be owned, the land they sit on is not. Park dwellers pay rent for the very modest parcel of land that their homes rest upon, and today many of these parcels are in danger of disappearing.
   As rural areas grow, and available land within city boundaries shrinks, this valuable land is being sought after by developers. Many of these low- to middle-income homeowners are finding themselves on the verge of homelessness as park owners make lucrative profits by selling the land underneath them.
   Manufactured home communities are closing, making way for larger more expensive homes, condos, retail establishments and offices. Park closures are placing residents under a great deal of distress.
   Even if a suitable location could be found in which to relocate, the cost to move these homes is extreme and usually beyond what the homeowners can realistically afford.
   Current Oregon state law requires manufactured home park owners to pay $3,500 for relocation of the owner's manufactured homes if given 180 days notice of park closure. If homeowners are given a year's notice or more, no relocation fees are required to be paid.
   Manufactured homes as a form of affordable housing are worth keeping, as owners are self-sufficient in terms of housing, using no state or federal subsidy dollars to maintain their home.
   Manufactured home parks are communities within communities whereby the residents watch out for each other; they get your mail when you're sick, watch your home if you are out of town, or walk your dog if you are ill. The sense of community these communities provide needs to be cherished and supported.
   Many park residents in states across American are forming nonprofit corporations which are then eligible for participation in a park purchase plan providing all other requirements are met.
   Some parks have been saved when the homeowner (nonprofit) group purchases the park using a cooperative model. A mobile home park cooperative is a business that exists to benefit the people that live in the park.
   Profits are reinvested in the park community they came from and all members have a voice in making decisions about what direction the park takes. Cooperatives are usually made up of the general membership, committees, and the board of directors.
   Oregon's Manufactured Dwelling Park Community Relations (MDPCR) works with homeowner groups, residents, and landlords in resolving disputes and finding resolutions to the varying issues that present themselves. For more information, visit www.ohcs.oregon.gov/OHCS/MDP_MainPage.shtml.
   At the end of the forum, the group decided they would like future meetings to learn more about and discuss housing cooperatives and associations, as well as form a group to work on a local ordinance which would allow for the protection of park owners.
   The Madras Area Community Action Team will hold its next meeting on the topic in January. Watch for information on the meeting and plan to attend.