Editorial: Petaluma mobile home park owners must prove financial hardship

The residents have been forthcoming, even when it is painful, about their delicate economic states. It’s time for the owners to do the same.|

It was a despondent sight last week as the residents of Youngstown Mobile Home Park gathered on the corner of North McDowell Boulevard, protest signs clutched in hand. A similar scene played out on Aug. 29 at Little Woods Mobile Villa on Lakeville Highway.

At both protests, there was an air of desperation — these aren’t people fighting for a principle, they are fighting for their homes.

The owner of the Youngstown Mobile Home Park called for its closure shortly after the city capped rent increases at mobile home parks to 4% of current rates, or by 70% of the Bay Area Consumer Price Index, whichever is less.

“Some people have ended up in the hospital because of all the fear and anxiety,” Mary Ruppenthal, a park resident since 1987, told the Argus-Courier. “We tried to allay their fears and calm them down, but none of us know for sure what's going to come of it all.”

In a reaction to widespread legislation across the state aimed at protecting mobile home park residents, owners like Three Pillar Communities, which operates Youngstown along with 60 other parks in 14 states, have begun to flex their muscles. Saying the rent caps have made the park financially unfeasible, the company hopes to negotiate with the city, which is set for Oct. 10 and 11.

Rightfully so, the burden will be on the owner to prove economic hardship. And that might be difficult to prove.

In a 2022 article, Forbes called mobile home park investments “recession and inflation resistant.”

“According to Green Street Advisors, a global real estate research firm, between 2004 and 2018, operating income from mobile home parks rose by 87%. This income never declined, even during the Great Recession of 2008,” the article states, while noting that demand for mobile homes is bigger than ever in areas with high costs of living, like Petaluma.

A 2021 Insider article added, “The age 55-plus cohort in the US will grow by nearly 1.7 million people in 2020, and through 2025, another 7.6 million will reach this milestone. As these residents retire, many will consider purchasing manufactured homes in age-restricted communities, boosting mobile home park demand even more.”

With all this opportunity, it doesn’t pass the smell test that owners of these mobile home parks can’t bring in a profit.

So while owners ask their residents — many of whom are lower-income, seniors or both — for a 100% increase in monthly rent, we encourage the city to dig deep in requiring these commercial property managers to open their books and prove, in dollars and cents, any “hardships” they may face.

The residents have been forthcoming, even when it is painful, about their delicate economic states. It’s time for the owners to do the same.

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