Silicon Valley Trailer Park Residents Fight To Stay Amid skyrocketing real estate and rental prices, low-income families are fighting to stay put in order to access world-class public schools. One group of families battling the closure of Palo Alto's last mobile home park is getting help from a local PTA that values diversity.
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Silicon Valley Trailer Park Residents Fight To Stay

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Silicon Valley Trailer Park Residents Fight To Stay

Silicon Valley Trailer Park Residents Fight To Stay

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Now let's talk about people at the top of society, and at the bottom, here in the United States. Palo Alto, in California's Silicon Valley is home to eight billionaires and also home to one mobile home park. The owner of that mobile home park wants to sell the land to a developer. The developer plans to build luxury apartments, housing for the upscale workforce in the world's best known technology corridor.

Low income residents of that mobile home park are pushing back. They want to stay and keep their kids in one of California's best school districts. NPR's Eric Westervelt reports.

ERIC WESTERVELT, BYLINE: Jennifer Tello stands next to her family's late 1970s era trailer at the Buena Vista Mobile Home Park. A jumble of potted plants ring the trailer's front. Call it a yard. For most of Jennifer's 12 years, this silver Airstream has been home.

JENNIFER TELLO: My mom works cleaning houses and my dad works for construction.

WESTERVELT: Her parents, she says, struggled to find a place in the Bay area that's safe, affordable, and has strong schools.

TELLO: They're really good schools. My mom works really hard and so does my dad. And they encourage me to work hard so I have a better job.


The park is home to more than 400 predominantly low income residents, more than 80 percent of them Latino. But the park's owner has petitioned the city to close shop and sell the land to a developer that wants to build 180 luxury apartments. That's upsetting to Jennifer who attends a close by middle school.

TELLO: I don't want to, like, move and start all over and find new friends.

WESTERVELT: Forty-five of the Buena Vista kids attend this elementary school, Barron Park, a few blocks away where second graders are switching math stations.


WESTERVELT: Great public schools is the main reason trailer park residents are fighting to stay. The Palo Alto schools rank sixth among California's more than 1,000 districts and test scores for all ethnic groups exceeded statewide averages. Many parents and members of the PTA and the school board have taken action to support the park's residents. They've offered resolutions, organizing space and their time.

Parent Nancy Krop , an attorney, is one of them.

NANCY KROP: I want every child to have the opportunity that my son is going to have and that I had.

WESTERVELT: Krop was attending a city council meeting when a Buena Vista parent spoke up and made an impact on her.

KROP: She mentioned that she made a living cleaning other peoples' houses. And she asked city council to please allow her family to keep their home at the mobile home park, because she felt that if her daughter went through the Palo Alto schools, her daughter wouldn't grow up to clean other peoples' homes.

WESTERVELT: Krop's fifth grade son attends Barron Park, where 35 percent of the kids are Latino and about half of the overall students don't speak English as a first language. She says the benefits of that diversity are key in wealthy, mostly white Palo Alto.

KROP: And my son has gone on play dates to homes where he found out his friend didn't have a bedroom. His friend sleeps on the couch. He didn't even know that was how some kids grew up. You learn what they don't, you learn the richness of what they do have, too. You know, the strength of their community and culture and heritage.

WESTERVELT: Twenty-eight-year-old Erika Escalante grew up and now lives with her husband and six-year-old son in the mobile home park. She was the first in her family to graduate from college. Her sister and brother are now following her lead. Escalante's dad was a janitor. She says he moved here because of the schools.

ERIKA ESCALANTE: He felt like we were getting the best education he could possibly offer to us. I mean we know that historically Hispanics are kind of like disadvantaged, there's that big education gap. And to be able to have access to that education, I mean you can't put a price there.

WESTERVELT: The residents are asking the city to step in and help stop the sale. They point out that city documents encourage the mobile park's preservation. But that may mean little, legally: the park is not counted as part of state-required affordable housing plan.

Margaret Ecker Nanda is the attorney for the owner of Buena Vista. She says her client has every right to cash in on booming property values and retire. The owner has been offered more than $30 million for the four and a half acre lot. Nanda says her client will compensate tenants fairly under city law, but equivalent quality schools are not part of that package.

MARGARET ECKER NANDA: The ordinance says they are to be relocated to comparable housing. And then the ordinance references a number of things, but education is not one of them.

WESTERVELT: Amado Padilla, a Stanford Education professor, has teamed up with the medical school to study the education, housing and health care challenges the Buena Vista resident's face. Padilla notes that the residents' struggle underscores a less discussed part of the Silicon Valley's thriving high-tech economy: it's driving big job growth, but surging housing prices are forcing more and more working people to the margins.

AMADO PADILLA: These people could not afford to live in Palo Alto if it were not for places like the mobile park home. Our service workers are getting squeezed from all kinds of directions, because of the tech fields in our areas.


WESTERVELT: At Barron Park School at a potluck celebrating the school's diversity, it's clear the Buena Vista Mobile Home Park residents are not going away silently. With few resources of their own, they're vowing to fight to stay in their community and their schools. But this all may come down to the hard reality of money. Buena Vista residents pay an average of $700 a month in rent. Palo Alto's average monthly apartment rental is more than triple that amount. And the average home price here now is nearly $2 million.

Eric Westervelt, NPR News, Palo Alto.

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