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Low-income renters run out of options as old mobile home parks are razed

PHOENIX — Alondra Ruiz Vazquez and her husband have been at home in Periwinkle Mobile Home Park for a decade, feeling lucky to own their mobile home and pay around $450 a month for their land in a town where rents soar.

But now they and dozens of other families have until May 28 to move out of Phoenix Park, which nearby Grand Canyon University bought seven years ago to build student housing. Two other mobile home communities are also being cleared this spring for new development in a town where no new parks have been built in over 30 years.

“I’m here, well, because I have nowhere to go,” said Isabel Ramos, who lives in Periwinkle with her 11-year-old daughter. “I don’t know what will happen.”

The bulldozing of former mobile home parks across the United States worries advocates who say bulldozing them permanently eliminates some of the already limited housing for the poorest of the poor. Residents may have to double up with relatives or live in their cars amid evictions and homelessness, they warn.

“Mobile homes are a much larger part of our affordable housing stock than people realize,” said Mark Stapp, who directs Arizona State University’s master’s program in real estate development. “Once he’s gone, a lot of people won’t have anywhere to go.”

A recent survey by the National Low Income Housing Coalition showed a US-wide shortage of 7.3 million affordable rental units for very low-income renters, defined in Arizona as a three-person household earning 28 $850 or less.

Industry groups estimate that more than 20 million people live in some 43,000 mobile home parks across the United States.

“We are in the deepest affordable housing crisis we have ever seen,” said Joanna Carr, acting leader of the Arizona Housing Coalition. “For many people, housing becomes completely out of reach. This is very serious.

Ken Anderson, president of the Manufactured Housing Industry of Arizona, said trying to bring an older park up to modern standards can be prohibitively expensive for homeowners, requiring the replacement of electrical and sewer infrastructure for newer homes.

At least six such communities have been demolished in Arizona in the past 18 months, he said, adding that Grand Canyon University “bent over backwards” to help residents more than other homeowners. of parks.

“A lot of these parks are 70 years old,” Anderson said, noting an increase in demolitions of older communities for redevelopment. “It’s going to be a big deal down the line.”

Ongoing efforts to revitalize old mobile homes have limits. Despite their name, most are not truly mobile, and moving them around can be very expensive. The oldest houses are often too dilapidated to be moved.

The Department of Housing and Urban Development recently announced $225 million in grants to governments, tribes and nonprofits to preserve mobile homes, but the money can only be used to replace, not repair. , dwellings built before 1976, which are common in older parks.

Earlier this year, Vermont announced a mobile home improvement program funded by $4 million in federal funds. It aims to help park owners prepare vacant or abandoned land for new mobile homes, and to help mobile home owners lay new foundations and make their dwellings more livable.

In Riverdale, Utah, the last of approximately 50 families in Lesley’s mobile home park is due to leave by the end of May for construction of new apartments and townhouses.

“State laws don’t protect us,” said Jason Williams, who sold his mobile home for half of what he asked for and will now be living in an RV.

Some old parks were not originally intended as permanent housing.

The Florida City Campsite and RV Camp was built decades ago for vacationers heading to the Florida Keys or Everglades.

But the dilapidated park eventually became home to retirees on fixed incomes and young families on government assistance. Florida City, the southernmost municipality in Miami-Dade County, sold it two years ago for a new townhouse project.

Cities often don’t like older parks because, unlike other housing, they don’t generate property taxes for municipal services. Dilapidated parks can also be eyesores, depressing nearby property values, even as the value of the land the mobile homes sit on has increased exponentially.

In Phoenix, Grand Canyon University said in a statement that it “waited as long as possible” to build new student housing after purchasing Periwinkle in 2016 from Periwinkle tenants.

The university said it initially gave residents six months to leave, then extended the deadline to 13 months. It offered free rent for the first five months of this year, early departure, relocation assistance and some household items.

Many park residents are Spanish-speaking immigrants who earn minimum wage as landscapers or restaurant workers. There are also pensioners who live on social security.

“We couldn’t find anything under $1,800. It’s way above what we can afford,” Ruiz Vazquez said of apartment rents. She said the couple’s mobile home was too old to move and had to be abandoned.

“It really impacted our health, our mental state of mind.”

Maricopa County, home to Phoenix, has a housing deficit of more than 74,000 units. Zillow.com currently lists the median monthly rental price for all room types and properties in Phoenix at $2,095.

More than 20 families have left Periwinkle in recent months, leaving behind weed-strewn land. The rusted carcasses of several mobile homes with rotting wooden stairs were abandoned.

Residents wanted an additional 18-month moratorium on evictions or a zoning change to prevent them leaving indefinitely.

The Phoenix City Council decided this spring to let the eviction continue, but set aside $2.5 million in federal funds to help residents of the mobile home park with evictions in the future.

CEO Mike Trailor of the nonprofit organization Trellis, which once ran Arizona’s housing department, said the organization was working with the university to help Periwinkle families find apartments and organize the moving mobile homes that can be moved.

Still, Phoenix activist Salvador Reza said most families face an uncertain future.

“Some of them might move in with another family, with an uncle or aunt,” Reza said. “Some might go out on the streets and be among the homeless.”

A new law in Arizona recently increased state funds for homeowners forced to move their mobile homes due to redevelopment to $12,500 for a single-section dwelling and $20,000 for a multi-section.

Those who have to give up their house due to a precarious condition can now get $5,000 for a single-section house and up to $8,000 for a multi-section.

Periwinkle resident Graciela Beltran said that was not enough.

“They want my house? she asked, her voice cracking. “Give me a house equal to mine. I don’t ask for anything more.”

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