New Development Target: Trailer Parks

Developers are increasingly buying up mobile home parks and evicting the residents — and their trailers. Austin Jenkins reports on this nationwide phenomenon.

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From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.

SIEGEL: And I'm Robert Siegel. Mobile homes are often an affordable route to home ownership. Though people may own their manufactured home, they often don't own the land beneath it, and that's become a problem. As land prices rise, developers are increasingly buying up mobile home parks and evicting the residents. Austin Jenkins reports from Olympia, Washington.

AUSTIN JENKINS reporting:

Step inside Cheryl Newquist's(ph) yellow and white manufactured home and you enter a chaotic scene. Boxes everywhere.

Ms. CHERYL NEWQUIST (manufactured home owner): Everything's packed up. There's not a whole lot of room to walk.

JENKINS: Newquist has owned her home east of Seattle for nearly 20 years. Now she's preparing to move. Last fall a major housing developer bought the manufactured home park she lives in and gave everyone a year's notice to move out.

Ms. NEWQUIST: You're just in shock. You know, you can't believe, you know, that it's happened.

JENKINS: Newquist sold her home at a significant loss rather than try to move it to another park. It's a decision she now questions because any other housing option is so expensive.

Ms. NEWQUIST: I just feel like crying. There's nothing out there, you know, and I start thinking maybe I should've just kept it. Got into a park and hoped for the best, you now, that someone else wouldn't knock on your door and say, okay, we want to build, so you get to move.

JENKINS: Newquist is far from alone. Across the country developers are gobbling up mobile home parks, evicting the residents and building homes, condominiums or businesses in their place. While there's no hard national data, there's plenty of anecdotal evidence in states like Florida, Maryland and Nevada. In Washington State alone, 18 parks were closed this year, displacing more than 800 families. David Toyer is with Barclays North, a Seattle area development company that bought a mobile home park last year. He says urban growth and the hot real estate market are driving the trend.

Mr. DAVID TOYER (Barclays North): Many of the parks in this area are now starting to be surrounded by, you know, compact urban growth. So, the focus to find land that's re-developable is such that these are now kind of looked at as being very financially feasible for redevelopment.

JENKINS: This opportunity for developers is a crisis for park residents says Ishbel Dickens, a Seattle attorney, who represents low-income homeowners.

Ms. ISHBEL DICKENS: Mobile home park living is the largest source of unsubsidized housing for low-income seniors, people on fixed incomes. When these people are no longer living in their own home in a mobile home park, they become part of the large group of people that need government support to live.

JENKINS: Dickens has teamed with affordable housing advocates in Oregon, Iowa and Minnesota. Together they're part of a burgeoning preservation movement that aims to keep mobile home parks open. Dickens says despite negative stereotypes, this form of home ownership is worth preserving.

Ms. DICKENS: They're gated communities for low-income households. You know your neighbors, folks look out for you, they'll walk you dog if you break your hip, they'll get your mail for you if you're sick and can't go to the mailboxes. There's a real sense of community there and that needs to be cherished and supported.

JENKINS: One state that's leading the preservation charts is New Hampshire. There, several manufactured home parks were saved in recent years when residents pooled their money and purchased the land beneath their homes. This co-op model is spreading to other states. But what if the land is too expensive for low-income homeowners to purchase? In some cases, non-profit affordable housing organizations have stepped in to help.

Back at Cheryl Newquist's mobile home park, it's too late to do anything. For sale signs hang in the windows of several homes. Newquist says some of her neighbors simply walked away, leaving everything behind.

Ms. NEWQUIST: I know why they walked out. They owed too much. They felt like, you know, they had no choice.

JENKINS: Newquist will move out later this month. For NPR News, I'm Austin Jenkins in Olympia, Washington.

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