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Gladstone Mobile Home Park residents mobilize to buy land

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About 135 residents of the Gladstone Mobile Home Park are preparing to purchase the nearly 12-acre site for themselves.

About 135 residents of the Gladstone Mobile Home Park are preparing to purchase the nearly 12-acre site for themselves.

PHOTO BY: RAYMOND RENDLEMAN - Linda Re (left) joins fellow Gladstone Mobile Home Park residents Kim Baller and Christy Crews in advocating for tenants to purchase the land on which the mobile-home park sits.All of the residents at 19605 River Road later this month will vote on whether to form a resident-controlled organization that would own the site. A seven-member Gladstone Mobile Home Park Purchase Committee, comprised of residents, has voted unanimously to move forward with the help of Community And Shelter Assistance (CASA), a nonprofit organization with extensive experience in assisting residents with the purchase of their community.

Purchase-committee member Linda Ré, who said she and her husband are on a fixed income, said that skyrocketing prices nearby have spurred on a movement to get the land under the control of residents.

"This is prime real estate, so that's part of why I'm hoping we could buy it," Ré said.

Fellow purchase-committee member Kim Baller, 66, agreed that the building boom now extending beyond Portland city limits is putting pressure on rents farther and farther south. He said that the Gladstone Mobile Home Park for residents 55 and older is an important link in low-income housing in Clackamas County, and certainly in Gladstone. Its homes are very old, so they would probably fall apart if you tried to move them, if the state would let you move them, and if you had a place to move them.

"You have a captive audience, so there's no control on how much a landlord could raise our rents," Baller said. "This will put in jeopardy many low-income seniors living on fixed incomes of $900 to $1,200 a month, many of whom barely make rents now."

Landlord response

Residents consider themselves lucky to have a landlord who is amenable to selling the site to a tenant committee. Lowell Read, the property owner since 1956, said he has consciously kept rents at the Gladstone Mobile Home Park lower than the surrounding area.

Monthly space rent for newer residents went up from $560 to $570 on May 1. But because of a three-tiered rent structure, the $10-a-month increase raised rents from $490 to $500 for about 70 longer-term residents.

The Read family was out of the loop of business decisions from 1962 until 2011, during which time the park was operated by a lessor. Built as a 142-space park, the Reads have "sacrificed" three spaces for the needs of residents: Two are community gardens, and one is a parking lot at the far end of the property from the visitor parking lot at the River Road entrance.

"We have instituted a program of annual rent increases (on May 1 every year) and have been able to keep the average of (and actual, so far) annual rent increases under 3 percent for everyone over the five years since we have been operating the park," Read wrote in response to questions from this newspaper. "We are currently 'under market' even for new arrivals, but long-term residents have benefited the most by our efforts at self-administered rent-control guidelines."

Read's potential sale of the park to residents began this spring when he received an enticing offer from an unidentified developer. Rumors began swirling around the park that a California company was planning to evict the tenants and raze their structures.

"We have no plans to destroy the park and put up another kind of structure; we would resist such a plan," Lowell wrote in an April letter to residents to calm fears. "Oregon law says we have 10 days to notify you of an offer received, which we did."

Read said the offer was from a person who would continue to operate the manufactured home park.

"We understand that the person making the offer owns many mobile home parks, and we believe is in a better position to make improvements to the park on a grander scale than we are (such as new plumbing and newly paved roads)," he wrote.

Process moving toward homeownership

Mobile-home-park residents are given the opportunity to compete with developers for the purchase of the land, thanks to laws passed by the Oregon Legislature.

Now that Read has tentatively accepted an offer, on Nov. 10 a community meeting is planned in which CASA will discuss the details and conduct a straw poll of residents. On Nov. 17, an actual vote would be taken to incorporate and buy the property. If the vote is positive, the park residents expect to elect a transitional committee to file papers with the state and complete the other administrative tasks. Once the transitional period is over, the residents would elect a board of directors of their new nonprofit.

CASA, with its mission to develop housing to improve the quality of life and self-sufficiency of low-income populations, has successfully facilitated the conversion of nine Oregon manufactured home communities to resident ownership.

Teri Smith, CASA's manufactured housing cooperative development manager, said CASA will provide technical assistance to help the Gladstone Mobile Home Park renters organize a cooperative, establish bylaws, form governing committees and secure the financing to purchase the park. In certain cases, off-site property management services, as well as ongoing post-purchase technical assistance, will be included in the operating budget.

ROC USA often provides the primary funding source for 100 percent financing. Network Oregon Affordable Housing and Banner Bank also have partnered with CASA to provide financing.

Upfront costs would include $50 for incorporating with the state and a $5 to $20 joining fee, which is a portion of the total membership fee required from each member. The one-time membership fee, which is determined by the residents (usually around $100 to $500), is not paid until the park is purchased and can be paid over time if the members so choose, Smith said.

Depending on the price the cooperative pays for the park, rents may have to increase to cover its acquisition costs, Smith said. Residents will vote on whether or not they're willing to raise the rents in order to purchase the park. CASA advises that if the park is sold to an investor, rents may go up anyway, and in that case, residents won't get to decide by how much.

"They're the ones who have to bear the burden of a rent increase, but we do inform them of our experiences with other parks," Smith said.

Christy Crews, a member of the Gladstone Mobile Home Park purchase committee, said that she probably would be willing to stomach an initial rent increase to purchase the property since it would mean rent stability moving forward. Self-determination, along with stability, are motivating factors to buy the land for Crews and other residents.

"I'm 67, so I shouldn't be having to ask permission to do something in my own yard," she said.

CASA advocates suggest that residents who own their own land can develop a landscaping committee to be able to stop using costly outside vendors.

"If they can stabilize their expenses, they might be able to avoid another rent increase for 10 years to come," Smith said.