Tuesday, December 27, 2016

NPR on mobile home "parks": the good, the bad, and the ugly in rural Idaho and suburban Minneapolis

Don't miss this two-part NPR series by Daniel Zwerdling here.  Part one features a mobile home park in Syringa, Idaho, on the outskirts of Moscow, home of the University of Idaho.  This manufactured home community has a remote landlord, which leads to problems for its residents, who typically own their homes but not the land on which those homes sit.  The residents pay rent to the landlord, in this case a man named Magar Magar, who lives hundreds of miles away in Vancouver, Washington.  A brief excerpt from the story follows:  
Since the 1980s, this community of roughly 100 houses has been plagued repeatedly by drinking water problems — including periods with contaminated water or no water at all. Rivers of raw sewage have occasionally gushed out of the ground and formed stinky ponds around homes. One resident has filled a cardboard box with videocassettes that he shot to document some of the incidents. Conditions in the neighborhood have become so bad that some people have abandoned their houses and moved out.
But some of these residents, who bought their homes for as little as $10,000, have no place to go except a homeless shelter if they are forced out of their trailers.  

As Zwerdling explains, state regulators have little leverage over these private landowners, and letters of demand from the Idaho Department of Environmental Quality to Magar went unanswered.  
But state officials lost their patience almost three years ago and took Magar to court. The Idaho Conservation League also sued Magar for allegedly letting Syringa's sewage system pollute a nearby river. And a legal aid clinic at the University of Idaho law school filed a class action lawsuit against Magar, on behalf of Syringa's residents. That suit asks the court to order Magar not only to fix the problems at Syringa, but to award financial damages to its residents.
A few days before the class action was to go to trial, however, Magar declared bankruptcy, thereby protecting himself, at least temporarily, from the suit.  

Part Two of Zwerdling's series is here, "When Residents Take Ownership, a Mobile Home Community Thrives."  The dateline for this one is Fridley, Minnesota, and it is a much more uplifting story, that of Park Place Mobile Home Park and its residents.  Zwerdling reports:
Five years ago, the residents banded together, formed a nonprofit co-op and bought their entire neighborhood from the company that owned it. Today, these residents exert democratic control over almost 9 acres of prime suburbs, with 80 manufactured houses sited on them.
Most of us don't think much about mobile homes--or when we do, our associations are entirely negative.  That makes me especially grateful for Zwerdling's reporting on what he explains are "an important source of affordable housing."  Two rural sociologists, Sonya Salamon (emeritus, University of Illinois), Katherine MacTavish of Oregon State University, and Michele Ely of North Carolina A & T have written a great deal about mobile home parks over the years, including this and this. I understand that Salamon and MacTavish are working on a book on the subject.

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