Walla Walla to consider moratorium on redevelopment of manufactured home parks | Local | union-bulletin.com

2022-09-03 03:10:23 By : Mr. leo Huang

Dorothy Knudson, a resident of Rancho Villa and organizer of residents advocating for a change in mobile and manufactured home park zoning, poses at her Rancho Villa home Tuesday, March 15, 2022.

Dorothy Knudson, a resident of Rancho Villa and organizer of residents advocating for a change in mobile and manufactured home park zoning, poses at her Rancho Villa home Tuesday, March 15, 2022.

This story has been modified since its initial publication to reflect a correction.

Walla Walla city leaders appear poised to enact a temporary ban on the redevelopment of manufactured and mobile home parks after the emotional testimony of more than a dozen residents concerned about the possible loss of affordable homes.

City attorney Tim Donaldson was instructed by the City Council on Wednesday, March 9, to draft the moratorium in advance of the March 23 council meeting.

The temporary ban would affect the city’s eight mobile/manufactured home parks, which collectively contain around 600 residential units, many of which house older adults or low-income residents.

The move by Walla Walla’s City Council would echo actions taken in College Place in 2021, when that city adopted a 12-month moratorium on the redevelopment of mobile/manufactured home parks.

College Place had previously zoned those parks to prevent other kinds of developments in those areas, but officials eliminated that manufactured home park zoning district in 2018, said Jon Rickard, College Place community development director.

In the wake of affordable housing studies and the advocacy of concerned residents, however, the officials realized that the zoning change in 2018 made it possible for the mobile and manufactured home parks to be closed for redevelopment, Rickard said in April 2021.

In mobile and manufactured home parks, residents own their homes but pay rent for the land they sit on. If new or existing owners decide to close the park to redevelop it, residents may be unable to resell their homes or move them to other lots, leading them to lose their homes and investments, residents argued at the time.

By November 2021, College Place residents successfully lobbied the city to reinstate the pre-2018 zoning for mobile and manufactured home parks.

Though Walla Walla did not previously have manufactured home park zoning that prohibited redevelopment, residents are now advocating for that zoning to be created, with the moratorium acting as a stopgap measure in the meantime.

A dozen residents of Walla Walla or College Place manufactured and mobile home parks were joined by a pastor and a policy advocate Wednesday, March 9, in asking City Council members to make that change.

Dorothy Knudson, a resident of the Rancho Villa manufactured housing community on The Dalles Military Road and an organizer of local residents, urged Walla Walla City Council members Wednesday to enact a change in zoning ordinances.

If one of the city’s larger parks was closed for redevelopment, she said, residents trying to move their homes would find that process expensive and would likely not be able to find space to relocate them. This would directly cause a spike in homelessness in the city, she said.

“Until we are zoned as a manufacture home park and all other manufactured home parks are zoned, the owners, with 12-months notice, can tell us our lands are going to be used for something else,” she said.

“I will check with you,” she added, directing her comments at council members. “Do any of you have a space in the backyard for a double-wide?”

Pat Leamer, a Rancho Villa resident since 1988, said that changes in the park’s ownership has created concerns among its residents. While prior owners lived in the community, Rancho Villa was bought in 2021 by First Commercial Properties, based in Bothell, Washington, for $16.1 million, and immediately raised rents on tenants.

A letter notifying tenants of the rent increase made clear the owners had the right to close the park in the future for redevelopment, Leamer said. First Commercial Properties did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

“If the park was to be closed as soon as the notice of sale, our homes would be worthless,” he said. “Who would buy them? They are expensive to move, if they can be moved at all. There is no land available.”

Many of the tenants of mobile and manufactured home parks do not have the resources to find housing elsewhere, he said. Lots at the community’s largest parks, Rancho Villa and Golden West Estates, are only available to residents 55 years and older.

“I personally know many residents in Rancho Villa and in other parks that are either disabled, elderly, low-income, widowed, divorced, all stages of life that contribute to the need of affordable housing,” he said.

In response to concerns by College Place residents, owners of Country Estates and Sunset Villa parks told the Union-Bulletin in April 2021 they had no plans to sell their properties to developers, adding that such redevelopment was uncommon.

But manufactured home parks are particularly vulnerable to redevelopment pressures as land values in College Place increase, wrote the Community Council’s affordable housing subcommittee in an April 2021 proposal to the College Place City Council.

The Community Council, an advocacy group operating throughout the Walla Walla Valley, has been pushing for the development and retention of affordable housing in the region for years. The group has advocated for mobile and manufacturer home park zoning in particular since at least 2020, in part to bring peace of mind to home owners, said Rachel Elfenbein, advocacy coordinator for Community Council.

A 2021 report by the Washington State Department of Commerce on mobile and manufactured home parks found that seven such communities were closed in 2020, displacing 107 households. Between 2015 and 2020, according to the report, 417 households were displaced.

“Displaced residents must choose between moving their homes and demolishing their homes,” the report read. “It can cost $15,000 to move a manufactured home. In addition to this financial hurdle, homeowners may also struggle to find communities with open lots. Many homes are too old to move legally.”

This disruption can put families at risk of homelessness, the report continued.

“There are more parks that are closing than are opening,” Elfenbein said in an interview. “It’s not that we know of any landlord that wants to redevelop the parks right now, but if the zoning isn’t in place, nothing that can stop redevelopment.”

Ishbel Dickens, an attorney and a volunteer with the statewide Association of Manufactured Home Owners, offered to assist Walla Walla city staff in drafting the appropriate zoning changes.

An advocate who spoke on behalf of College Place mobile and manufactured home park residents in October 2021, Dickens said that such zoning had survived previous legal battles.

“It does not impact landlords’ ability to operate profitable businesses, raise rents or to change their rules,” she said.

After more than a year of advocacy from various groups, last Wednesday’s outpouring of community support appeared to prompt council members to prioritize further consideration of a change to local zoning.

In reference to a community member’s testimony, which used the metaphor of a concerned owl arguing with an ostrich with its head in the sand, Mayor Tom Scribner called on residents to be more like the owl.

“We’ve all heard the expression that the squeaky wheel gets the grease,” he said. “You guys continue to be the screeching owl, and we’ll try to address and resolve this problem.”

His fellow council members appeared to broadly support moving forward, at least with a moratorium.

Council member Gustavo Reyna, who served on the Community Council’s task force on affordable housing before running for City Council and prioritized affordable housing during his election campaign, had previously advocated for spot zoning for manufactured home parks. He became emotional while responding to residents in the meeting.

“If I do nothing else in this seat, saving your homes will be the thing I do,” he said. “We owe it to you, really.”

A previous version of this story contained incorrect information regarding how many residents live in Walla Walla’s mobile and manufactured home parks. There are approximately 600 units in these parks, many of which house multiple residents.

Emry Dinman can be reached at emrydinman@wwub.com or 425-941-5829.

College Place City Council has approved a number of changes to city code after a months-long effort by residents of Sunset Villa and Country Estates, who were worried their communities could be sold and redeveloped into less-affordable housing.

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