Most of the mobile home community folks I’ve talked with were able to handle April rent. But they have lost hours, contract work, or entire jobs, and are seriously worried about making May and June rent, if not rent payments later, too,” says Mike Peirce, HOA president of the Sans Souci mobile home park in unincorporated Boulder County, and board member of the National Manufactured Home Owners Association. “I think it is still early for any clear cases of widespread hardship to emerge, but that lots of signs have not been encouraging.”
Mobile home owners face several unique challenges. Certainly not all, but many mobile park residents are people who live on lower incomes — seniors, undocumented people, blue-collar workers — and because they don’t own the land on which their homes are placed, they are constantly dealing with issues that imperil their quality of life: land rent increases, lack of access to traditional mortgages and loans, and overly scrupulous management companies, to name a few.
Life is getting better — legislation passed in Colorado last year, thanks to efforts by Peirce and others, made it easier for home owners to benefit from the Mobile Home Parks Act, a de facto bill of rights. But the coronavirus has put an extra burden on their shoulders, as many in Boulder County’s parks have lost income or seen a reduction in pay.
“Our concern is that going forward, people’s resources will be more strapped and there could be more future problems,” says Renee Hummel, a Vista Village resident and steering committee member of the Coalition of Manufactured Home Owners in Boulder, who also worked to pass state legislation.
Peirce and Hummel have reached out to their neighbors to ask how they are doing during the pandemic. Generally speaking, folks were able to make payments on time in April, but the future is uncertain.
“A number of musicians live in our park and they live on gig work and are not getting gigs. Quite a few people work in the restaurant industry and have had hours cut or they’re on a kind of furlough,” Peirce says. “Quite a few folks have expressed worries about being able to pay rent in May, but nobody has come straight out and said it and said they’re not going to be able to make it.”
There are concerns, first, in the mobile home community about paying future rent if income is limited. Boulder County will not hold eviction court cases until June 1, and there has been guidance at the state and local level for tenants and landlords to work out payment plans. However, Peirce says there is no indication mobile park owners will be willing to negotiate “in good faith.”
“There’s very little confidence,” he says. “Residents have sent out requests and they’re not being responded to.”
Sans Souci is outside City limits, but for those within Boulder, Director of Housing and Human Services Kurt Firnhaber says all mobile park owners have agreed to waive late fees for payment. The City, by the way, is helping mobile home owners by providing Wi-Fi hotspots, working with cultural brokers in mobile home communities to share information, and making $350,000 available for rent assistance through the Emergency Family Assistance Association, as well as providing a rental helpline to residents in need (303-441-1206).
Firnhaber added that the City is encouraging people in financial distress to use or save their stimulus check for future rent. Though, that’s a problem for those undocumented and mixed families in mobile home parks who did not receive a stimulus check.
Firnhaber says with the average median income increase only at 1.3%, he thinks “rents won’t be going up much at all,” but for mobile park owners, scheduled rent increases may further impact residents’ ability to pay rent.
Hummel says indications are that Vista Village rent increases of $50 per month are already being billed. In the last two years, Peirce says rent has gone up 37% in Sans Souci, due in part to a change in ownership. With rent scheduled to rise 12% beginning May 1, Peirce and concerned residents sent a letter to management asking to defer the increase.
“We basically said we would like them to hold off on their scheduled rent increase and then the second part of our request is we do not condone this increase at all because it’s still raising the rent higher than a lot of folks can afford right now,” Peirce says.
Lauren Riggin, project manager at the Colorado Coalition of Manufactured Home Owners, says rent increases are likely to go forward at parks across the state.
“The concern about any kind of deferred payment is once things start to snowball then you’re really in trouble, then you’re in a place when you’re never able to catch up,” Riggin says. “It may sound nice to defer payment, but the fact is no one who I’ve talked to has indicated there’s been any sort of offer to decrease rent or forgive a month’s payment.”
While the storm the coronavirus carried with it seems to be ebbing for many in the Boulder County community, the downpour has not yet reached mobile park owners. They’re preparing to weather it for a while.
“Right now I want to say we’re in the beginning of when problems are going to happen,” Peirce says. “So at this point everybody’s just kind of anticipating, and, at least for people in my park, the anxiety levels are through the roof because we haven’t gotten any response. … But a whole lot of the folks I think are responsible enough financially have been able to make April’s rent, probably a bit will make May’s rent by scraping by, but I think they’re going to be hurting, and June is going to be another question just because the economy is not on track yet.”
Correction: The Mobile Home Parks Act was passed in 1985; the legislation passed last year gave mobile home owners more tools to utilize its protections.