by: PHOTO: MERRY MACKINNON - Sixty-eight-year-old retiree Tom Parker lives in a mobile home park, where he owns his home but pays rent for the land it sits on. Parker feels grateful to have found housing thats inexpensive and has privacy, yet offers community as well.

Next January, Tom Parker’s rent in the mobile home park where he lives will go up $11 a month. Despite his low income, Parker is not resentful about the rent increase. Instead, he feels lucky to own a home, for which he paid less than $10,000, and a monthly rental cost of about $400 for the land it’s on.

“If I hadn’t discovered this mobile home park, I don’t know where I’d be,” said the 68-year-old retiree, whose monthly income consists of $800 in Social Security.

Located off busy Southeast 122nd Avenue in Portland, the neighborhood where Parker lives is a cluster of 40 mobile and manufactured homes located under towering Douglas firs in a surprisingly quiet area that was once an American Indian encampment and is still known by its native name, Tonisgah.

It’s not yet clear what new living arrangements baby boomers will embrace as they retire in droves, especially those with low incomes and little net worth who will need to downsize when they stop working. But a researcher at Portland State University, who has studied mobile home parks as an option for low-income retirees, finds them reasonably attractive.

“Manufactured housing continues to have an undeserved bad image. Some mobile and manufactured home parks are incredibly safe and some are dangerous,” said Andree Tremoulet, research associate with PSU’s Center For Urban Studies and board member of Manufactured Housing/Oregon State Tenants Association.

Parker feels safe living in his two-bedroom mobile home that he’s owned for five years, ever since he “took an early out” in the midst of the recession from working an itinerant job. Like many other mobile home parks, Tonisgah is designated for adults 55 and older. Nationwide, about 13 million individuals 50 and older live in mobile home parks. In Oregon, 89,500 people own a manufactured or mobile home and rent the space beneath it.

“I love it here,” Parker said, sitting on his front steps near the olive and lemon trees he planted and holding his dog, a friendly Shih-Tzu named Oreo. “It’s a hidden gem.”

His property tax is only $5.82, Parker said, reciting additional benefits, including a full kitchen, lots of space, privacy and yet community. “Some of the people here may have checkered pasts, but they’re all good people,” he said.

Downsizing to a mobile home park can make sense, Tremoulet agreed. A mobile home requires less upkeep than a house. But residents can still garden, have pets and walk in the community.

For some, neighbors are what make living in a mobile or manufactured home park worthwhile. Rita Loberger and her husband, Frank, bought a double-wide,1,440-square-foot home 18 years ago. Located in Tigard’s Eldorado Villas Manufactured Home Community, her home is one of 181 units with access to a swimming pool, a clubhouse and other amenities.

“Frank and I were very happy here because we had community,” said Loberger, 72. Since Frank died four months ago, Rita’s neighbors have flocked to her support. “You make lifelong friendships,” she said.

But there are also risks. Over the years, Loberger’s rent has risen, on average, about $120 a year. Now on a single income, Loberger currently pays $700 a month in rent — half of her monthly Social Security income.

So when her grown son considered buying a manufactured house in a home park, Loberger urged caution. For one, Oregon is a no-rent-control state, which means that, unlike states such as California, Oregon can not impose such rent restrictions on landlords as California has legislated.

“The rent is going up, but our Social Security is not going up,” said Loberger, a board member of Manufactured Housing/Oregon State Tenants Association. “Some people here are older than I am, and I can’t see how they make it. But where can you go?”

Still, Tremoulet’s research indicates that mobile home parks have generally worked well for low-income retirees — and might be a future housing choice for some baby boomers, with the caveat that the risk that someday the land might be sold to a developer.

In cases where the land is sold for redevelopment, Oregon laws do exist to help pay for the cost of moving a manufactured home. But they do not apply to mobile homes, such as the one Parker owns.

“If you can count on the land being there, it’s a wonderful option, especially for people approaching retirement without a lot of options,” Tremoulet said.

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