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When you and your home both have to move


Then, on Aug. 5, 2015, the tenants of Lake­view Apartments were delivered notice by Cypress Real Estate Advisors that they would ... Resident Owned Communities USA, a New Hampshire nonprofit, is one of those uncommon lenders. The organization has helped ...


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Sitting at a small table inside her cramped camper, Carolina Sanchez called for her son to take their dog outsideHe held the puppy in his arms as he opened the door, then walked down the steps of the recreation vehicle into the narrow strip of trailer park set up alongside the Chevron on Highway 71 in Del ValleAside from the two dozen other mobile homes, gas pumps, a convenience store, and the traffic on the highway, there's not much else to see. Sanchez apologized for the flies and ants around her houseAnnoying as they may be, the insects were the least of her worriesHer children are struggling with a new school; their outdoor shower lacks a reliable supply of hot waterAnd the leaks in their roof, which expose the family to the elements during storms, have been plaguing the Sanchez family's daily life since they were forced in May to move out of the mobile home community at 2110 Thrasher Lane. "It was too much," Sanchez said of the move"A lot of stressMy children were upsetThey were worriedMy son still says from time to time, 'Mom, why did we have to move?'" The Sanchezes had to move because the owners of the land had ordered that they must, but the motion of displacement cannot be understood merely as a disagreement between tenant and landlordIt's more complexBefore Urban Rio LLC, which previously owned the Thrasher Lane Mobile Home Park, made residents aware of their plans to sell last March, Sanchez had already caught word that a change was on the wayAlthough people from outside the community came to their aid to negotiate some extra time and financial assistance, the park's 17 mobile homeowners were ultimately on their own when the move-out date arrived. Terms of Relocation As rapid development has put some city residents at risk of displacement, cases like Sanchez's illustrate how defenseless mobile homeowners can be to the wave of gentrification that has swelled with rising property valuesDespite the danger, thousands of Austin families continue to choose to live in these humble abodesFor some, it's the only realistic way to afford owning a home or having enough space to raise a familyBut because mobile homeowners don't actually own the land they live on, a sale of the property can quickly throw their lives into a tailspinOn Sept1, 2016, City Coun­cil adopted the Tenant Notification and Relocation Assistance Ordinance, which made a point to include mobile home residentsThe provisions of the measure recognized the higher stakes for this group of tenants – for example, mandating that developers give apartment renters 120 days notice of a move-out date and mobile homeowners 270 daysAnd yet the origin of the ordinance itself is rooted in two high-profile instances of displacement of apartment dwellers, not mobile homeownersThe parameters of its protections reflect that. Carolina's husband (at right) watches soccer on TV while three of their kids play in the same room(Photo by Amalia Diaz) The term “mobile” is misleadingAfter being installed at a site, these homes settle onto the ground like any other structure. In 2009, Houston-based firm Grayco Partners agreed to pay each tenant of Shoreline Apartments a $485 move-out stipend, in exchange for the city permitting a height extension on the South Shore District apartments set for construction on the propertyIn September of 2010, the developer offered only $125 to those who would vacate the following JuneWhen community advocates finally brought Grayco's broken promise to the city, many tenants had already left, having received nothing in compensation. Then, on Aug5, 2015, the tenants of Lake­view Apartments were delivered notice by Cypress Real Estate Advisors that they would have to vacate the premises by Sept30After tenant protests, the owners consented to allowing those who had leases beyond September to stay until their contracts were upThat didn't stop more than 60 former tenants from filing a lawsuit against Cypress in 2016 for actual and exemplary damages caused by the eviction. The November 2015 resolution passed by Council to explore the possibility of a tenant relocation ordinance was a direct response to these casesMobile homeowners would not be incorporated into it until the next April, when another episode of displacement hit headlines. The homeowners at Cactus Rose Mobile Home Park learned that January that a rezoning application had been filed to accommodate developer Oden Hughes' plans to build a 356-unit apartment complexRepresentatives from Council Member Pio Renteria's office and Texas RioGrande Legal Aid initially visited the community to help them organize, but it would be Renteria's sister, Susana Almanza, and the Montopolis Neighborhood Plan Contact Team that ended up leading negotiations for the terms of their relocationCactus Rose residents held a series of press conferences to raise awareness of their dilemma, and spoke at City Hall to share their stories with commissioners and council membersThe persistence proved an effective tactic, eventually putting the community in a position to strike a deal with Oden Hughes: Single-wide trailer owners got $10,000 in relocation assistance, double-wide owners $20,000, and RV owners $2,000Almanza cited the racial divide between the largely Hispanic Cactus Rose community and the white Oden Hughes negotiators as a reason for the distance between the two parties, and the resulting confrontational stance of the mobile home park's residents. Former Cactus Rose Neighborhood Assoc­iation President Saúl Madero said that if he could do the bargaining over again, he would not have wasted his time appealing to the city's sympathiesHe said he should have thought about it more as if the community was at war"It doesn't matter what your dreams are, or if you are worried about the children, or the animalsIt doesn't work," he said"You have to be realistic." Townhomes and Condominiums Madero was one of the last residents to move out of Cactus RoseHis 1979 mobile home was too old to move, so he had to sell it and transport his family and their belongings to a storage shed while they looked for a new homeSome of their possessions were stolen, and arguments between his two sons escalated to the point where his oldest son left to stay with friendsEventually, Madero's wife found a new affordable mobile home for sale, and the family moved to the River Ridge Estates on Slaughter LaneMadero said he used to pay around $800 a month for rent and bills at Cactus RoseNow that he's making payments on the new home, his monthly bills have risen to $1,300He's been working two jobs to break even, but said it's worth it to have a dignified place to call home again. Saúl Madero at a neighbor's birthday party at Cactus Rose Mobile Home Park (Photo by Amalia Diaz) Sanchez and her neighbors at Thrasher Lane had even less time to make arrangements, originally only 30 daysBut one of Sanchez's neighbors heard about how Almanza had helped at Cactus Rose, so they invited her to negotiate for themAlmanza was able to convince the owner to agree to a 90-day move-out period, to pay $7,000 in relocation assistance for each of the 17 households, and to waive two months of rentDespite these accomplishments, San­chez said she did not feel Almanza made enough of an effort to represent the community, and that she felt Almanza was more on the side of the owners"In the end, it was like, 'Y'all can figure it out on your own,'" Sanchez said"It felt like she was in a hurry to get it over with when we still hadn't decided what we wanted to do." Almanza said Thrasher Lane and Cactus Rose were different because Herman Cár­de­nas, who represented Urban Rio during negotiations, was more willing to cooperate and less hostile than Oden Hughes had beenShe speculated that some Thrasher Lane tenants might have been uncomfortable with Cárdenas' attendance at their community meetings, but she had tried to explain to them that it was necessary to have a dialogue with the owner in order to make a compromise"He was a person of color," Almanza said"He made it known that he understood and that he wanted to work with themHe wanted to make sure that everybody got a fair deal." Cárdenas could not be reached after multiple requests for comment. Sanchez said that even with Almanza's help, it was hard to find someone to move her single-wide home in time for the move-out deadlineWhen she finally tracked down a mover, she paid $1,800 to relocate the mobile home to Del Valle, but on the way the home split in two on a bumpy roadSanchez said she had to pay the mover an additional $700 to bring another machine out to transport it to a landfillShe and her husband used their remaining funds for a down payment on an RV that was about half the size of their previous home. TLH Riverside 6507MF-1 LP purchased the title to 2110 Thrasher Lane after all the tenants had been removedSpeaking on behalf of TLH, Graves, Dougherty, Hearon & Moody attorney Michael Whellan said that they were aware that a mobile home park had previously existed on the property, but that they did not know the details of how or why it was closedTLH had filed an application to rezone the property for townhomes and condominiums after the tenants had already been displaced, so their request was too late to trigger the protections of the tenant relocation ordinanceDavid Cox, one of the owners listed on TLH's zoning application, did not respond to multiple requests for comment, but his LinkedIn profile lists his most recent job title as a vice president for Cypress Real Estate Advisors, the developers involved in the Lakeview case. A Blueprint for Growth Of the nationwide housing stock, mobile homes represent the greatest supply of unsubsidized affordable housing for low-income householdsData aggregated by Fregonese Associates for the City of Austin's Strategic Housing Blueprint shows that in 2014 there were 7,223 households occupying mobile homesUsing what's called the Balanced Housing Model, the consultants calculated based on projected demographic trends that that number will decrease to 5,399 by 2040, granted there are no changes to the land development codeDavid Fiske, an urban planner with Fregonese, said the group based its forecast on housing preferences among different demographics"If you're seeing anticipated growth in younger millennials," he said, "you'd expect to see additional growth in multi-family." Likewise, he agreed that the projected decline in manufactured homes would reflect an assumption that the demographics that prefer that housing type – largely low-income households – will not be moving to Austin. The Blueprint recommends not only facilitating the construction of new affordable units, but also preserving those that already exist on the groundSenior city planner Jonathan Tomko said that although there is no specific strategy listed in the document for sustaining mobile home communities, they still figure into the plan's overarching approach of maintaining 10,000 affordable units over the next 10 yearsHowever, DrEsther Sullivan, an assistant professor at Colorado University who is writing a book on mobile home park evictions, said that if the city does not prioritize the preservation of these communities, then it is displacing them by default"They're not the same as every other source of affordable housing," Sullivan said"The last century of planning regulations and municipal codes have treated them categorically different than other forms of housingSo, to say as part of your preservation strategy 'they're just locked in with everything else' is just disingenuous." One of the tools outlined in the Blueprint does seek to address the mobile homeowners' disconnection from the landCom­mun­ity land trusts, such as the one managed by the Guadalupe Neighborhood Development Cor­poration, overcome that barrier by having a nonprofit buy the land to keep the property values from going upTomko said that the city could make regulatory changes to scale CLTs, but he also acknowledged that finding lenders who are willing to lend on a development product where the land is detached from the structure poses a significant challenge. Resident Owned Communities USA, a New Hampshire nonprofit, is one of those uncommon lendersThe organization has helped finance 211 manufactured home co-ops in 14 states"Each homeowner owns a share of the entire community," explained communications manager Mike Bullard"We are the lender in about half of the deals, but we are obligated by our own rules to bring the best financing package that we can to the co-opSo in some states we are the best financing option, but in other states we can get lower interest rates, typically through a state housing finance authority." As successful as ROC USA has been, their model depends on a property owner's willingness to sell to themAccordingly, the organization focuses on cultivating relationships with movers and shakers in the real estate market so that it can seize opportunities when they present themselves, but it avoids involving itself in political disputes between tenants and landlords"If we were to become some sort of pariah in the industry, no one would want to work with us, and then we would be out of business," Bullard said. Residents at the North Lamar Mobile Home Park at 8105 Research Blvdhave reached out to ROC USA to assist them in their long-term goal of collectively buying their property from current owners Frank Rolfe and Dave ReynoldsNLMHP NA President Nain Cruz said that process has been slow going because the community has struggled to set up a meeting with the owners, even to file complaints about the management of the propertyWhen Rolfe and Reynolds bought the land in January of 2015, they raised rents in the middle of some tenants' leases, provoking TRLA to file a lawsuit on behalf of the residentsSince then, Cruz said, the only time they hear from management is when it's time to collect on rentRolfe declined to comment on whether the property would be sold in the near future, but he did say that he did not think that a mobile home park was the optimal use for that land. As an alternative to a private or state lender funding the upfront cost to buy mobile home park properties, it is possible for the local government to do soThe Bond Election Advisory Task Force is expected to make its final recommendation to City Council this month as to what the 2018 bond will include, but at least part of that package will be funds for affordable housingIn Almanza's opinion, it would make more financial sense to use that money to invest in preserving mobile home parks rather than only incentivizing or subsidizing developers to offer income-restricted apartment units. Susana Almanza (Photo by Amalia Diaz) CodeNEXT presents another possible avenue to safeguard mobile home communitiesIf Council decides to approve the final draft of CodeNEXT, the city will have to be mapped in terms of the new zoning spectrumThe Manufactured Home zone is proposed to be carried forward in the new code, and all properties that currently have this zoning designation will retain it under the new mapHowever, not all mobile home parks carry this zoningThrasher Lane was zoned neighborhood residential, and the Cactus Rose property was a hodgepodge of commercial, general office, and single-family zonesIf the CodeNEXT map were to rezone all existing mobile home parks into the Manufactured Home zoning category, it could signal the city's commitment to perpetuating this affordable housing stock. "They Lose More" Contrary to these top-down solutions, Madero believes that the way to stop mobile homeowners from being displaced is for them to start organizing earlier, before a notice of eviction is delivered to their door"Talk to your neighbors!" he urged"If you fight back together, they will fear you." Madero believes that the way to stop mobile homeowners from being displaced is for them to start organizing earlier, before a notice of eviction is delivered to their door. Yet Madero has had trouble following his own advice at his new residencePeople keep to themselves at River Ridge, and the atmosphere is quiet and peacefulHe said it's nice, but that he misses Cactus RoseHe remembers the community spirit that existed there: children riding their bicycles; pets jumping around the yard; music playing through open windowsNeighbors regularly borrowed money from each other and supported one another, Madero saidHe doesn't yet feel comfortable enough to lean on his new neighbors in that same way. Sanchez said she tries not to dwell on the past these days, so that she can concentrate on resolving the overwhelming complications of the presentWater bills went unpaid in the chaos of relocation, and are now overdueHer son has not had success making new friends at Del Valle ISD, and his grades are sufferingRecently, she sustained a head injury while helping her husband on a job, and had to go to the hospital. For displaced apartment renters, having to relocate to a new home can disrupt jobs, school attendance, health care, and much moreFor displaced mobile homeowners, the treacherous journey the home itself must make can end up costing them everythingSullivan said that in her field research of mobile home displacements, she observed that about one-third of those who had to involuntarily pick up and go ended up forfeiting their equity in the process"They lose moreThey incur all the negative consequences of forced relocation, but as homeowners," she said"There's a real social cost for a city to say that that [asset], which many have fought to achieve, just means nothing." The term "mobile" is misleadingAfter being installed at a site, these homes settle onto the ground like any other structureWhen a property owner orders mobile home owners to relocate, in cases like Sanchez's it is essentially the same as if their home had been tagged for demolitionBut unlike the destruction of other buildings in the city, no permit is required, and the damage happens off-site and out of mindThe pain of losing everything, however, lives on in the minds of those that the city has collectively told to move out. READ MORE More gentrification "Gently Fried" Local curatorial powerhouse Los Outsiders creates a poignant three-part exhibition (or is it five?) Seth Orion Schwaiger, June 5, 2015 Eastward Expansion Real estate prospecting on the Eastside Tony Cantú, April 10, 2015 More by Joseph Caterine Austin's Disappearing Mobile Home Communities Redeveloping a manufactured housing park isn’t the only way its new owner can turn a profit Dec15, 2017 Austin Energy’s New Low-Income Solar Deal Utility wants to enact a heavily reduced rate for those enrolled in its customer assistance program Dec 1, 2017 KEYWORDS FOR THIS STORY gentrification, Saúl Madero, Carolina Sanchez, Cactus Rose, Thrasher Lane MORE IN THE ARCHIVES var disqus_shortname = 'theaustinchronicle'; // var disqus_developer = 1; var disqus_title = 'Life After Gentrification'; var disqus_identifier = '2145293'; var disqus_url = 'https://www.austinchronicle.com/news/2018-01-05/life-after-gentrification/'; (function() { var dsq = document.createElement('script'); dsq.type = 'text/javascript'; dsq.async = true; dsq.src = 'https://' + disqus_shortname + '.disqus.com/embed.js'; (document.getElementsByTagName('head')[0] || document.getElementsByTagName('body')[0]).appendChild(dsq); })(); Please enable JavaScript to view comments. 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