• warning: Parameter 2 to ed_classified_link_alter() expected to be a reference, value given in /home/soloneconomist/www/www/includes/common.inc on line 2968.
  • warning: Parameter 2 to ed_classified_link_alter() expected to be a reference, value given in /home/soloneconomist/www/www/includes/common.inc on line 2968.

An effort to protect vulnerable renters

Johnson County Mobile Home Task Force calls for legislative changes
Don Lund, a resident of the Golfview Mobile Home Park in North Liberty, talks about the effects on residents in the wake of an increase in lot rent Friday, Sept. 20, 2019, during a visit from presidential candidate Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA).

NORTH LIBERTY– Last April, Havenpark Capital, a Utah-based investment firm, purchased the Golfview Mobile Home Park in North Liberty, along with Midwest Country Estates in Waukee, Sunrise Village Mobile Home Park in Iowa City, Western Hills in Coralville and West Branch Village in West Branch.
Havenpark Capital raised the lot rent from 69 percent (Waukee) to 28 percent (Sunrise).
At Golfview, the lot rent increased 63 percent, creating a burden for fixed-income and low-income residents. As a result, some Golfview residents created an association to protest the rate increase. Local legislators, including Democrat State Senator Zach Wahls (District 37), became involved and attempted to get legislation passed providing protections, currently non-existent under Iowa law, for renters against such increases.
In addition, the Johnson County Mobile Home Task Force was created with 17 members from local city councils, the board of supervisors, and organizations including the Center for Worker Justice, the Johnson County Affordable Housing Coalition, the University of Iowa College of Law and the Golfview Residents Association.
Pauline Taylor, the mayor pro tem for the City of Iowa City, presented the Task Force’s final report at a Monday, Jan. 13, Joint Entities Meeting at the North Liberty City Hall with several municipalities, the board of supervisors, and the Iowa City Community School District represented. The report details a dozen recommendations, at the city and county level, designed to provide protections for those living in mobile home parks.
According to the Task Force, manufactured housing (mobile home) communities account for approximately 3,000 households in Johnson County and are one of the most prevalent unsubsidized forms of affordable housing. While mobile home dwellers typically own their home (often paying less than for an apartment or a traditional house), the lot it sits upon usually is not, which puts them at risk of rate increases beyond what they may be able to afford. The Task Force said lot rents averaged from $250-$450 in 2019 in Johnson County.
“It’s become critically important to preserve the affordability and quality of living that these mobile home communities provide,” Taylor said. “For many years they have been a level of affordable living that had been unmet by any other markets.
“This has been threatened by those predatory investors,” Taylor added.
The Task Force’s recommendations cover four areas: funding, local policy, practices and state advocacy/laws.
Funding: The Task Force recommends making rental assistance or relocation (a $5,000-$7,000 process) available to residents harmed by unexpected, sharp increases in rent, partnering with local banks/credit unions to back loans to owner-occupants of manufactured housing for repairs/updates. Mobile homes are considered personal property and not real estate, making home improvement loans problematic. The task force also calls for establishing Urban Renewal Districts, triggering the option of tax increment financing (TIF) and revenue to help fund the purchase of manufactured housing communities by resident cooperatives, such as the Golfview organization.
Local Policy: The task force recommends strengthening zoning ordinances for manufactured housing communities, citing North Liberty, Coralville and Johnson County’s example of specific zoning designations for such parks rather than using a general zoning category. Doing so, the task force said, would require a park owner to gain planning & zoning approval, as well as city or county, to redevelop a property.
“This protection is significant,” the report stated, “as new owners have raised the threat of redeveloping properties and displacing current residents.”
The report also calls for parks in annexed areas to have zoning and conditional zoning agreement standards implemented to assure the manufactured housing community continues to exist, and to assure protections for the residents.
Practices: The Task Force recommends specific language identifying manufactured housing as a housing type when drafting plans, reports and programs. In reviewing documents, the task force found manufactured housing was often not included.
“Residents of manufactured housing who own their homes exist somewhere in between owners and renters, the report stated. “Municipalities must be more specific in acknowledging this housing scenario in housing overviews.”
The task force wants city and county governments to commit to a regular review of these communities’ housing stock, assessed value and other data in order to make effective public policy, and implement effective programs. The group also would like to see a “public, joint statement in partnership with all Johnson County elected bodies against predatory ownership practices, and in support of increased rights for manufactured housing residents.”
The task force requested entities to divest from public equity funds, which generate revenue for investors, by using “predatory manufacturing housing community management practices.” The report noted the task force is investigating if the Iowa Public Employees Retirement System (IPERS) is investing with companies making money through exploiting manufactured housing residents. And, the task force recommended connecting with organizations such as ROC USA, which assist residents in forming their own cooperatives to purchase and manage mobile home parks.
State advocacy/laws: The task force would like to see support for five advocacy statements from “The Iowa Manufactured Housing Residents’ Bill of Rights:” Rent protection, good cause eviction standards, fair fees, fair and legal leases, and resident rights if the property goes up for sale. The group also would like to see a tax credit program, which incentivizes the transfer/sale of land to the residents.
In conclusion the report stated the recommendations will not fully reverse the harm caused by predatory owners, but can “set a course for a future where the rights of manufactured housing residents are strengthened and preserved.”
“Everyone deserves to be housing-secure,” Taylor said.