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Trying times for mobile home parks

Sad, disappointed, hopeful, angry, anxious, disgusted: Audience members shouted these words when asked how they felt about the notion of losing their homes to commercial developers.

Federal Way residents, City Council members, state

legislators, regional mayors and visitors from as far away as Bellingham, Vancouver and Minnesota gathered Oct. 19 at City Hall for an Association of Manufactured Homeowners summit

Here, the dangers facing owners of manufactured homes in the nation and in Washington state were discussed. Owners of manufactured homes told personal stories of how the parks they formerly lived in where sold by their owners from beneath the residents there.

The message relayed by the public officials at the summit, including City Council member Linda Kochmar, Mayor Michael Park, State Rep. Mark Miloscia, D-30th District, and State Rep. Skip Priest, R-30th District, was one of hope.

The panel listened to the audience and encouraged them to band together to educate public officials about their situation.

“(Manufactured housing) is one of the last possibilities to have affordable housing where you can actually own your own home,” said Rep. Lynn Schindler, R-4th District.

Currently, city and state leaders are unaware of the manufactured homes issue, so affordable housing for the people living in those homes is not in the forefront of leaders’ minds, Miloscia said. The way to remedy this is through education, the panel agreed.

“This is going to be an ongoing process of education,” said Ishbel Dickens, Columbia Legal Services staff attorney.

Across the nation:

A video, titled “American Dream Under Fire,” told audience members the factual tale of Shady Lanes manufactured homes park in Minnesota.

Residents there were given a 45-day notice of the park’s foreseen closure and sale to a commercial developer. Though offered the first right of refusal, ultimately, residents at Shady Lane were not able to scrape up enough money within the 45 days to match the developer’s offer. The park was sold, forcing residents to evacuate the land where their homes once rested.

Though the situation was not cause for celebration, Ned Moore of All Parks Alliance for Change, a manufactured homes preservation group in Minnesota that attempted to save the park, urged the audience to remain positive when faced with a closure.

“It’s important not to stay in a victim mentality,” Moore said.

In Washington:

That can be challenging to do when the closure of manufactured home parks is not unique to Minnesota.

By October 2008, 49 Washington state manufactured homes parks will have closed, Dickens said. Wonderland Estates, just outside Renton city limits, could be among those closures.

The park is up for sale. In an effort to maintain Wonderland Estates, the King County Housing Authority offered to buy the park from its owners for $10 million. Negotiations are still in the works.

Meanwhile, 70 of the original 110 residents still live at the park while they wait to find a place to move their manufactured home — or wait for the park to close.

Resident Lavonne Kofmehl, 72, is among those still residing at Wonderland Estates. Kofmehl has been waiting since March to be placed in subsidized housing and dreads the thought of having to rely on her family to care for her if the park closes, she said. Owning a manufactured home is affordable and gives Kofmehl a sense of pride and independence, she said.

“We need our dignity,” Kofmehl said.

Some of the park’s older residents have not grasped the reality of their situation, Kofmehl said.

“It’s so painful for 80-year-old people to be told they have to move,” Kofmehl said.

Time to act:

Kloshe Illahee manufactured home community sits just outside Federal Way city limits in an unincorporated part of King County.

At a legislative forum on Oct. 9, residents in this community voiced concern over having their legislative decision makers — Metropolitan King County Council — so far removed from their situation. At Friday’s summit, Kochmar told the residents they had the option of proposing a petition-driven annexation of the park into city limits.

To avoid a situation similar to that at Wonderland Estates, some of the residents at Kloshe Illahee have already begun working together. They regularly meet with their state representatives to stay updated on proposed legislation and let their concerns be heard.

They have also shown an interest in buying the park, though the park’s owner has not revealed any plans to sell the land. The move is one that other owners of manufactured homes in Federal Way might want to consider, Kochmar said.

Belmor Mobile Home Park Golf and Country Club, 2101 S. 324th St., is in close proximity to the city’s downtown core, she said. The park is likely one that developers may be interested in buying in the coming years, Kochmar said. Residents in this establishment should begin asking themselves how they can buy that park now, Kochmar said.

Kochmar and Park both urged Federal Way owners of manufactured homes to attend City Council meetings and educate the members about the widespread closure of manufactured home parks. Organizing a group to represent Federal Way owners of manufactured homes will give the issue more prevalence, Kochmar said.

“This, to me, is frankly an eye-opening issue,” Park said.

Contact Jacinda Howard: jhoward@fedwaymirror.com or (253) 925-5565.

To learn more about this issue, including bills the Legislature will review this session, visit The Mirror’s Web site at www.fedwaymirror.com and read the Oct. 17 article titled “Protection on the home front.”

Real-life tales out of Everett and Shoreline:

In October 2006, the 165-space Mariner Village Mobile Home Park, a senior-only establishment in Everett, was sold for approximately $15 million with plans in the works for condominiums, former resident Dick Balser said.

The park’s owner offered the residents an opportunity to continue living at their current location. The $200,000 cost to buy a space was out of their price range.

In 2004, the Everett manufactured home park Liz Rabideau was residing in was sold and demolished to make room for a Wal-Mart, Rabideau said. She moved 1 mile north to another park, where she was assured the park would not soon be closing. Twenty months later, Rabideau received another notice of sale. She will be forced to leave Holly Vista Manor by April 2008, she said.

Tim Peterson used to reside in the Holiday Resort Community, a manufactured homes park in Shoreline. When residents at this park were notified of its upcoming closure, they contacted staff attorney Ishbel Dickens at Columbia Legal Services. The residents formed an association and took the park’s owner to court where the owner was made to compensate park residents, dependent upon the size of their manufactured homes. The win was significant, but still left some residents of the park with no place to live.

“I miss the security of having my own home,” Peterson said.

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