On April 15, the residents of Rancho La Paz Mobile Home Park formally organized as Rancho La Paz Mobile Home Park Homeowners (RLPH) Chapter 75 of the Golden State Manufactured Homeowners League (GSMOL).
When they convened to vote on the leadership for their new GSMOL Chapter the atmosphere was hopeful. The lead organizing homeowner, Lupe Ramirez, announced that 100 residents had already become dues paying members of GSMOL and 25 more would join that night. GSMOL representative Mary Jo Baretich lauded the residents for the attention they brought to their park saying “This is the most publicity I have ever seen.”
Ramirez said “it’s not just me who started this” as she pointed out the residents in attendance who helped to “win” the temporary stop to the lot rent increases and create the opportunity for homeowners to speak with and begin negotiating with the new park owner. Seven of the people recognized were approved by the audience to carry out negotiations with the park owner on behalf of all homeowners.
Nominations from the floor for the four RLPH leadership positions were approved by a show of hands. Ramirez was elected as the President of RLPH along with Roger Brannen as Vice President, June Perez as Treasurer, and Kathy Kral as Secretary. Baretich administered a pledge to the new chapter members to “cooperate and support” the elected leadership to which all responded, “Yes!”
Earlier this year, when park homeowners received notice of space rent increases between 45% and 55% from the park’s new owner, they banded together to figure out what they might do. Any lot rent increase would be a strain on the 55-plus community of mostly retired homeowners living on fixed incomes. Many planned to live there for the remainder of their lives, but increases of this magnitude could cause some to have to move.
On March 19, Rancho La Paz homeowners attended the Fullerton and Anaheim City Council Meetings to ask for help from the two cities in which the park resides. Fullerton’s Council put-off until July a discussion about rent stabilization or some other way to help the homeowners. Anaheim’s Council put on the agenda for April 2 an emergency 3% limit on rent increases. But a 4 to 3 majority of the council “tabled” the item after the park’s owner agreed to postpone the lot rent increases until September 1 and to discuss with homeowners a plan to phase-in the increases.
Rancho La Paz park owner, John Saunders, met with about 150 of the homeowners on April 5 for 3 hours to answer questions and to provide some clarity on what he intends to do with the park, the rent increases, and his offer for a subsidy for qualifying residents. On April 12 he followed up with a letter to the homeowners reiterating some key issues they had discussed.
In the letter, Saunders stated his plan to negotiate with a committee of homeowners selected by the residents to devise a gradual lot rent increase to, at a minimum, “cover (Saunders’s) expenses, including property tax, debt service and operation costs, by the fall of 2021.” He said “no long-term resident will be forced from the park” due to rent increases, “So long as we (Rancho La Paz Ownership) are treated fairly.”
He also agreed to revise the original rent subsidy application that requested personal bank account numbers, value of all jewelry and furniture owned, health status, multiple years of tax returns, and other questions perceived as unnecessarily obtrusive by residents including names, addresses, phone, email, and employers of all relatives not living in the park. He also said that he will make the one-year subsidy available to more than the 12% of homeowners initially proposed.
He agreed to standardize the space rental costs at $1,100 per month for new residents at least until July 1 so homeowners wishing to sell would know what to tell perspective buyers. As well he stated in the letter that he “will work with the Residents Committee to hold off resale space rent increases for a reasonable period while a home is in the escrow process.”
Saunders stated he does not plan to convert the park into an all-ages park “provided there is no rent control or similar measures,” does not plan to purchase homes in the park, and does not plan to redevelop Rancho La Paz to another use for “as long as (he) can make a reasonable return.”
Ramirez feels confident about negotiating with Saunders because she has “lots of experience” in the past negotiating on the behalf of unions. Ramirez said the homeowner group will have legal resources available through the Kennedy Commission (a local affordable housing advocacy non-profit), to help advocate for residents with disabilities, those who may become homeless, and for elder-rights.
The new GSMOL Chapter will also work with other mobile home parks in Anaheim, Stanton, and Westminster to try to gain support from County Supervisors to help stabilize rents in the county.
Ramirez encouraged homeowners to continue to call and write State Assembly Members to support Assembly Bill (AB) 705 to prevent the conversion of mobile home parks when it will result in a loss of low-income housing and AB 1482 to set rent caps and other provisions to prevent displacement of people who rent.
Ramirez announced that Meals on Wheels will begin delivering meals to homeowners in the park. As well, audience members stood to announce that churches and individuals, including Anaheim’s District 1 City Councilperson, Denis Barnes, have begun and are offering to deliver or prepare food for those residents needing that kind of help.
Ramirez said that RLPH will also be working toward what she calls a “pie in the sky” option to purchase the park.
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