Published with permission from the March 2021 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. Click here for archived issues.
People in your neighborhood
Almost two years later, residents in manufactured home parks are still fighting for the same protections we began fighting for during the legislation session of 2019.
In March of 2019, residents in mobile home parks recently bought by Havenpark, like the one I live in in North Liberty, were notified of new ownership – and new rents that in some places were about to jump by as much as 60%. Soon we discovered similar stories across the state in dozens of parks owned by a variety of different owners. We discovered that out-of-state owners are attracted to Iowa in part because of woefully outdated and very weak state laws that provide few resident protections and allow predatory investors to take advantage of Iowa’s most vulnerable residents. After an unsuccessful attempt to change state laws in 2019, we organized in our individual parks and with other parks. A bipartisan bill showed real promise in 2020, until Iowa House and Senate leaders told committee chairs to drop the bill from their agendas. But we were not finished.
We encouraged our state legislators to join residents in a forum this past January 5th. Many did. We have been able to hear from residents of manufactured home parks across the state. This is not an issue that is being abused by one owner, but rather by several out-of-state corporations and private equity groups that target states with lenient or no laws to protect residents. They buy up these properties and raise the rent exorbitantly, creating a high profit margin for them and their investors.
I told Senators and Representatives that were able to join us for the forum that my neighborhood is just like their neighborhood. I know these people. The man next door that was born with no hands and no feet, the retired veteran who travels through the community on his motorized wheelchair, the young families with young children who gather at the end of the street to shoot basketball on a summer evening, and – like me – my retired neighbors. Our community is made up of these people. Just like people in your neighborhood.
We tell our stories, and along the way, our cities, counties, our hometown businesses, and our churches become part of our fight. We pick up allies as we make people aware. They see us as people worthy of rights that we have earned. We develop solutions for our shared struggles. Our stories ensure that people know us, and call us neighbors. They see us as productive members of our community. Some days the work is discouraging, but our stories are evidence that we’ve tried, even if the legislation doesn’t go anywhere.
Most residents in a manufactured home park, have purchased and own their own homes. These are manufactured homes, and in some cases it is either too expensive to move them or they cannot be moved.
Our once affordable housing communities are fast becoming a place we do not recognize. They are becoming anything but “affordable” as well.
We are asking lawmakers for rent protection. No limit exists on the amount of an increase and the only limit on the frequency is a 60-day notice, which could result in several increases in a one-year period.
The second thing we have asked of our legislators is to put into law a “good cause eviction” standard. Owners must be required to show good cause before evicting a resident. These standards must be consistent and enforced across the state.
Residents are asking for fair and reasonable fees, and that fees should be tied to a good cause so the fee system is not abused by park owners to circumvent the rent protections or to target particular families for eviction. These limits must be set statewide.
The state must require a lease that spells out the park owner’s responsibilities to maintain a clean and safe park and prohibit abusive lease provisions. It is imperative that the state adopt a clear, effective mechanism for enforcing these guidelines and requiring owners to remove illegal provisions from the lease.
To prevent a mass displacement of low-income Iowans and destruction of affordable housing stock, local residents must be offered first right to purchase when their communities are up for sale. Current owners should be barred from evicting residents for a period long enough to allow residents to pursue local ownership. And if the residents are forced to move as a last resort, owners profiting from the sale of the park must be required to provide significant relocation assistance.
—Candi Evans is Vice-President of the Golfview Residents Association in North Liberty [PP Editor’s note: The Iowa Manufactured Housing Association PAC is the only lobbyist registered against HF 442, which would require 180 days’ notice for rent increases at mobile home parks and require park owners to have good cause to evict a tenant. The owner of Golfview, Anthony Antonelli, contributed $50,000 to this PAC last August. The following month, the PAC gave $30,000 to State Sen. Pat Grassley.]