Posted with permission from the Spring 2019 issue of The Prairie Progressive, Iowa’s oldest progressive newsletter. The Prairie Progressive is funded entirely by reader subscription, available only in hard copy for $12/yr. Send check to PP, Box 1945, Iowa City 52244.
by Jesse Case
I used to have a crazy friend who often said, “What do you think I’ll be doing while you’re trying to punch me in the face?” I never tried to punch him in the face. He was speaking rhetorically (I think). His point was that he’d fight back if attacked. That’s not what made him crazy. One time he drove for several hours to literally pee on someone’s grave. When I say he’s crazy—I mean that type of crazy.
Anyway, he was right and kind of brilliant in his own crazy way. I’ve referenced him in almost every fight I’ve been in for the past 20 years. Most of these fights involved large corporations bullying workers and working families. Giant companies who prey on individuals and count on people not fighting back. But when people do organize and fight back—they sometimes win. And not fighting back guarantees a loss.
Speaking of crazy—Havenpark Capital is crazy. They’re the group out of Utah buying up mobile home parks in Iowa and jacking up lot rents to the point of forcing people out of their own homes. Havenpark has purchased mobile home parks in Waukee, North Liberty, Iowa City, and West Branch. They practice a predatory business model that relies on targeting people in far-away states that are at a disadvantage in a David and Goliath situation. In this case, the far-away state is right here at home. That’s not the crazy part though.
What’s crazy is in the short time Havenpark reared its ugly vulture head in Iowa, people in several mobile home parks have organized resident associations, state legislators are talking about legislation to protect residents from bad business models, and research showed Havenpark owners are vulnerable on their own turf back home.
What’s also crazy is that a horrible business plan hatched in Utah will undoubtedly be a catalyst for crazy changes in affordable housing in Iowa. And not just reactionary legislation (which is needed). It’s time to look at different business models to slay the giants and level the playing field. We need to create a business model where mobile home parks are purchased and operated by non-profit entities that provide more permanent rent stabilization, more local control of management, and more peace of mind for residents.
These new models of ownership could come in different forms. They could be newly formed co-ops where the residents are actual owners. Or it could be an existing non-profit that purchases mobile home parks for the sole purpose of providing a fair and equitable community. Under this model, the non-profit could own more than one park, similarly to the way Havenpark gobbles up communities like a mobile home eating Pac Man – but with a different purpose and outcome.
Here’s the craziest part—both of these examples of “new” models have already been done in other states. In 2004, in a mobile home park in California where residents
were fighting for 4 years against predatory rent hikes, a non-profit stepped in and bought the entire park for 27 million dollars. Turns out you don’t have to be the Goliath of Greed for real estate to be a good investment. And not all owners are bad. With the right tax incentives and some public-private partnerships, this is not only doable but gets a good response from people involved in state economic departments that can bring bi-partisan support to the coalition.
Speaking of Goliaths of Greed, what are we going to do about Havenpark while we figure out our new mobile home park model in Iowa? If they think they can come into our communities and drive people out of their homes without a fight they’re, well…crazy. And we’d be crazy to let them. We need to load up our sling shots and aim some rocks (metaphorically) at these giants.
Soon we will be asking people who care, which hopefully includes Prairie Progressive readers, to call a number in Utah and ask the owners to sit down with the newly formed Golfview Residents Association in North Liberty to discuss a path forward. And we want you to keep calling until we drive them crazy. Or until they agree to sit down and bring some sanity to this crazy idea that it’s acceptable to drive people out of their homes in order to make a buck. If that doesn’t work, we’ll take the fight directly to their homes and businesses in Utah. They think they can prey on our neighbors. They don’t know us very well. We need to organize, push back, and fight against this bully behavior. And we can win.
What do they think we’re going to be doing while they’re punching us in the face? Load your sling shot. Let’s get crazy.
–Jesse Case is a Storm Lake native who lives in Iowa City