Low-income renters lack options as old RV parks are demolished

phoenix • Alondra Ruiz Vazquez and her husband made their home at Periwinkle Mobile Home Park for a decade and were fortunate enough to own their mobile home and pay about $450 a month for their property in a city where rents are rising.

But now they and dozens of other families have until May 28 to vacate Phoenix Park, which nearby Grand Canyon University bought seven years ago to build dormitories there. In a city that hasn’t had any new parks built in more than 30 years, two more mobile home developments will also be cleared for new developments this spring.

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

The demolition of older mobile home parks in the United States worries advocates who say the demolition of these parks would permanently eliminate some of the already limited housing opportunities for the poorest of the poor. They warn that as evictions and homelessness mount, residents may have to stay with relatives or live in their cars, they warn.

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

A recent survey conducted by the National Low Income Housing Coalition found that there is a shortage of 7.3 million affordable rental homes in the United States for ultra-low-income renters, defined in Arizona as a household of three with an income of $28,850 or less .

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

“We are in the deepest crisis of affordable housing that we have ever experienced,” said Joanna Carr, acting director of the Arizona Housing Coalition. “Housing is completely out of reach for many people. It’s very bad.”

Ken Anderson, president of the Manufactured Housing Industry of Arizona, said trying to bring an old park up to date can be too costly for owners and require replacing 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 was “trying harder” than other park owners to help residents.

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

(Matt York | AP) The second of three entrances to Periwinkle Mobile Home Park is gated off the street.

Efforts to revitalize old mobile homes have their limits. Despite their name, most are not truly mobile and moving can be very expensive. The oldest houses are often too dilapidated to even move.

The Department of Housing and Urban Development recently announced $225 million in grants to governments, tribes and nonprofits for mobile home preservation. However, the money can only be used to replace and not repair residences built before 1976, which is common in older parks.

Vermont earlier this year announced a mobile home improvement program to be funded with $4 million in federal funding. The aim is to assist park owners in preparing empty or abandoned lots for new mobile homes and to help mobile home owners build new foundations and make their homes more livable.

In Riverdale, Utah, the last of about 50 families must leave Lesley’s Mobile Home Park by the end of May to build new apartments and townhouses.

“The state laws don’t protect us,” said Jason Williams, who sold his RV for half its price and will now live in an RV.

Some old parks were not originally intended as permanent housing developments.

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

But the run-down park eventually became home to stable-income retirees and young families on state support. Florida City, the southernmost community in Miami-Dade County, sold it for a new townhouse project two years ago.

Cities often don’t like older parks because, unlike other housing, they don’t generate property taxes for community services. Dilapidated parks can also be an eyesore and reduce the value of neighboring properties, even if the property on which the mobile homes are located has increased in value exponentially.

In Phoenix, Grand Canyon University said in a statement it “waited as long as possible before building new college dormitories” after purchasing Periwinkle in 2016. to tenants in Periwinkle.”

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

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

“We didn’t find anything under $1,800. That’s well beyond 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 affected our health and mental state.”

Maricopa County, home of Phoenix, has a housing shortage of more than 74,000 units. Zillow.com currently lists the median monthly rental price for all bedrooms and property types in Phoenix as $2,095.

More than 20 families have moved out of Periwinkle in recent months, leaving behind weed-strewn properties. What remained were the rusty ruins of several mobile dwellings with rotten wooden stairs.

(Matt York | AP) Children play in front of their homes at Periwinkle Mobile Home Park on Thursday, April 11, 2023, in Phoenix.

Residents wanted an additional 18-month moratorium on evictions or a change in zoning to prevent their departure indefinitely.

The Phoenix City Council voted this spring to proceed with the eviction but allocated $2.5 million in federal funding to help residents of mobile home parks facing evictions in the future.

Trellis CEO Mike Trailor, who once ran the Arizona Department of Housing, said the organization is working with the university to help Periwinkle families find housing and organize portable mobile home moves.

Still, Phoenix activist Salvador Reza said the future of most families is uncertain.

“Some of them might move in with another family, with an uncle or aunt,” Reza said. “Some could take to the streets and become part of the homeless.”

A new Arizona law recently increased state funding for owners who are forced to move their mobile homes due to a renovation to $12,500 for a one-piece home and $20,000 for a multi-unit home.

Those forced to leave their home due to dire circumstances can now get $5,000 for a one-piece home and up to $8,000 for a multi-piece home.

Periwinkle resident Graciela Beltran said that wasn’t enough.

“You want my house?” she asked, her voice cracking. “Give me a house equal to mine. That’s all I ask.”

Justin Scaccy

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