Comment: Mobile home residents need help to stave off eviction

Site rental fees are increasing beyond what tenants, often seniors, can afford. Immediate aid is necessary.

By George Hurst / For The Herald

Economic eviction is becoming a real threat for many Snohomish County residents who live in and own a manufactured home.

On May 30, a public forum on Manufactured Home Ownership was held at Homage Center in Lynnwood. There were more than 180 attendees, and the vast majority agreed with an emotional statement by a resident from a manufactured home park: “I don’t know where I will go. I don’t know if I can afford to stay here. People ask me how do you feel? I say I am fine. But I’m not fine. I can’t sleep. At night I have nightmares. I can’t eat. I feel lost.”

What is happening to the residents of manufactured home parks that is creating such anxiety? One example is at Royalwood Estates in Lynnwood. From June 2023 to June 2024 rent and fees for home sites have increased almost 50 percent from $640 a month to $942 a month. This is a community of seniors on a fixed income. The fear of economic eviction is overwhelming. And it is happening throughout Snohomish County.

Since 2020, corporate investors have purchased manufactured home parks at an accelerated rate both in our region and across the United States. These investors use federal low interest loans to purchase low-income properties. But once the parks are purchased the new owners immediately raise rents and fees making them unaffordable for the current residents.

As Lynnwood City Council president, I am particularly concerned about what is happening to manufactured home owners. In our neighboring cities, Mountlake Terrace has three manufactured home parks, Edmonds two, Mill Creek one, and Mukilteo none. There are 20 manufactured home parks with a Lynnwood address.

Manufactured home ownership is a unique type of housing. The homes are owned but the dirt the house sits on is rented. The residents of these parks are simultaneously homeowners and tenants. Based on the conversations at the public forum at Homage, we need some unique solutions to preserve what has been a source of low-income housing.

The repair of aging infrastructure within manufactured home parks, such as roads and underground water and sewer lines, is often the justification for exorbitant rent increases that are happening in Snohomish County. The cost of these repairs is a legitimate challenge.

At a public forum, state 21st Legislative District Rep. Strom Peterson, D-Edmonds, suggested the state look at a government-and-landlord partnership to provide some funding for infrastructure repairs, in turn resident rents would not be increased. The justification for using public funds would be the public benefit of preventing senior tenants from becoming homeless.

Another solution at a state level is rent stabilization. But Olympia continues to vacillate amid concerns of “rent control.” If ever there is a need for some sort of rent control it is for seniors on fixed incomes who purchased their homes with retirement money but are now faced with excessive rent and fee increases that could be repeated year after year.

Eventually those rents will be so high they will have to leave their home, and then what? Any relief provided by the state Legislature will only occur during the next session that begins in January and anything approved will not go into effect until mid-year 2025.

For many residents of the manufactured home parks in Snohomish County there is an immediate need for some sort of rental assistance. Numerous parks have had large rent and fee increases that became effective June 1. A few weeks ago, staff for Snohomish County Executive Dave Somers told me there are no county funds available for rental assistance. How can this be?

In 2021 the County Council imposed a tenth-of-1 percent increase in sales tax that is to be used for housing and homelessness prevention. Each year more than $20 million is being collected. Why can’t a portion of these funds be available now to keep senior citizens in the homes they own?

In Lynnwood, the City Council could pass tenant protections and use limited funds for rental assistance. But the City Council cannot address the larger crisis throughout Snohomish County. We need a coordinated effort on the state, county and municipal level to keep manufactured homeowners safe and in place.

Manufactured home ownership was once considered a secure way to retire and live in stable low-income housing. Corporate investors have changed that reality. Our economy is based on capitalism, but these investors do not share the sense of community that is needed by landlords of low-income properties.

We must forge partnerships to prevent the economic eviction of the most vulnerable members of our community. If we do not act, we are failing a generation, and we are failing ourselves.

George Hurst serves on the Lynnwood City Council and currently is council president, He represents the city’s 8th District.

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