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Lawmakers urge help for mobile home residents

(Soapboxes are guest opinions from our readers, and anyone is welcome to write one. State Sen. Brad Avakian, is a Beaverton Democrat serving Senate Dist. 17; state Rep. Jerry Krummel is a Wilsonville Republican serving House Dist. 26.)

It's no secret Oregon has a serious lack of affordable housing, but it'll be much worse if we don't do something about the crisis confronting mobile home parks. Sixty-five parks shut down since 1990, around half in the past two years. A total of 2,500 spaces were lost. The Legislature should provide relief to residents who've had their lives turned upside down by a park closure.

The clock is ticking. In February residents in Wilsonville's Thunderbird Mobile Club received a closure notice - another 270 spaces gone. One hundred and forty spaces at Saddle Butte Mobile Manor near Roseburg are also at risk. These are among many communities experiencing growing pains due to rising land values.

We are working with a coalition of mobile home tenants, park owners and housing advocates on a package of legislation to assist these displaced park residents. House Bill 2735 calls for shared responsibility.

Part of the responsibility falls on the landlord to pay up to $9,000 per home for tenant relocation. The state provides an enhanced $10,000 tax credit. Cities freeze the property value of the land and can no longer adopt local laws on park closures. Mobile home owners still bear much of the costs.

This proposal addresses short-term symptoms to a long-term ailment. The cure involves empowering mobile home owners so they can purchase these parks, and efforts are under way to do just that. Park purchases take a lot of time and money. Only two such deals have occurred in the past decade in Oregon. The cure also involves changing our land-use system to map out a long-range strategy for affordable housing.

In the immediate future, we must help the people impacted by park closures. A majority are low-income seniors. For some, the next move is a nursing home. The stories are heartbreaking. Their life savings went into this house. The home is too old to be moved. The nearest vacancy is 100 miles away. These residents don't just occupy a space for rent. They invested in landscaping, carports and the community they call home.

Park owners also deserve respect. Decades ago when cities needed land for affordable housing, mobile home parks were a handy option. Skyrocketing land values now pressure those landowners to sell. For example, Thunderbird was there before Wilsonville was a city. It's tempting to force landlords to cash out the tenants when a park closes, but property rights and fairness issues should also be considered.

A handful of cities have adopted their own laws regarding park closures. These local ordinances face expensive court challenges. We think a statewide solution is preferable.

Your help is needed to make this new legislative package successful. Please talk to your friends and family around the state. Urge them to contact their legislators and support House Bill 2735. If you truly care about maintaining affordable housing in Oregon like we do, then please join us in this effort.