Mobile home park tenants know of housing debacles

For the past year, we've heard much about how homeowners are hard pressed to stay in their homes, and how many first-time buyers were duped by teaser loans and fraud by subprime lenders like Countrywide.

Almost one-third of mortgaged homes in America now have negative equity. Such statistics are nothing new, however, to millions of homeowners living in manufactured home communities across America. They, too, are losing equity and their homes not because of bad choices but because of higher space rents.

Today, these communities are a failed concept because the rising tide of out-of-state corporate landlords have a new strategy — greed. Unlike the mom and pop landlords who lived in their communities and whose livelihood depended on their businesses, landlords such as Fitterer, Cal-Am and Follett have developed a bottom-line strategy — raise rents and eliminate as much maintenance and personnel as possible, while waiting to flip the land to a developer. We no longer have a partnership based on a mutual respect of our investments.

In Southern Oregon, this partnership began to unravel in the last 10 years as landlords found lower land values and therefore profitable purchases there. Of the 23 Oregon communities listed on our Web site ( with the highest rent increases, all five are in Southern Oregon. All have increases from 40 to 56 percent during a time when the Consumer Price Index increased only about 12 percent.

Unlike apartment tenants, we are held economically captive in our homes by not having any real choice to pick up and leave when rents skyrocket. Our homes are devalued to the point we can't sell them. And siting them elsewhere is in most instances not an option even if we have the resources to do so. These landlords have taken advantage of the lack of free market forces to squeeze every dime and dollar out of us while taking their profits out of state.

What this often means for single seniors on Social Security, mostly widows, is that their only recourse is to deed their home to the landlord and leave. In the process, they lose their independence and community and end up with family or in a nursing home at taxpayer expense. The landlord then rehabs the home and rents it, often at lower rates than the homeowners are paying for their space rent and in violation of the rules we agree to obey when we sign our rental agreements.

The social, psychological and financial price of this feudal system is enormous. Codified in 1976 as a separate and distinct set of laws governing "manufactured dwelling parks," state statutes have allowed landlords to have virtual control over the buying and selling of homes, raising rent, closing communities and freedom from the Oregon's unfair trade statutes. It was only in 2007 that we were able to level the playing field somewhat when we convinced legislators to grandfather six local ordinances that provided real market value for homes when closures occur. Sixty-seven have occurred since 2000.

How have these statutes affected the body politic? Local jurisdictions have lost affordable housing, legislators spend an enormous amount of time dealing with regulating piecemeal solutions, the courts hear multiple cases trying to adjudicate the conflicts that arise and taxpayers pay for $5,000 refundable tax credits when our communities close.

Our organization is sponsoring a lobbying day on Feb. 3 in Salem to champion good public policy by leveling the playing field. We have drafted a rent justification bill for 2011 that will enable homeowners to appeal a rent increase they think is "excessive" to third party, binding arbitration. The bill would be revenue neutral in that it stipulates homeowners would pay for the process and our share of the arbitrators' fees by doubling a six-dollar fee collected by county assessors on all homes statewide. A dollar a month is worth paying to level the playing field.

We are starting early to convince homeowners statewide that unless we all step up, we give away our power to change this unfair and unjust system. We must demand that legislators ensure us real consumer protection so that we can preserve and renew our communities and way of life.

Peter Ferris is executive director and lobbyist for the Oregon Manufactured Homeowners United. He can be reached at OMHU's Web site is

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