Ruth Ann Angus
Linda Winters stood in her mobile home in Morro Bay, California, stroking her cat while watching intently the rising waters of Morro Creek running swiftly by her space in Silver City West Mobile Home Park. This wasn’t the first time she watched for a flood having lost a previous home to the floods of the 1995 rain season. On January 9, 2023, Morro Bay suffered what some call the 100-year flood event as torrents of rain came down, swelling the creeks that run through the city and effectively isolating the town from the outside world.
Silver City West is one of 14 mobile home sites in Morro Bay, where travel trailer owners of old could find rental space. These were not always in prime locations. A place could be called a “park” with only two rental spaces. Folks from hotter interior locations bought travel trailers, that are now called recreational vehicles, and made the several hour trek to this city by the ocean on weekends and for two-week vacations. Property owners developed spaces in a variety of spots throughout the town with electric and sewer hook-ups and charged a fee for the use. No other amenities were included.
Over time and with housing prices steadily rising, people turned to using recreational vehicles like fifth-wheel units as either permanent homes or summer homes. It was an economical way of having a home. Mobile home manufacturing increased and manufactured houses that appear to look just like a brick-and-mortar house became popular. In some areas in the state mobile home parks evolved into resorts with amenities such as pools, gyms, recreational meeting places, and laundry facilities on site. Some located near golf courses. Prices for these homes increased but were still more affordable than ordinary homes. Loans were offered at low interest for a 15-year period instead of a 30-year mortgage. Land was not included in the loan as spaces in these parks were still rentals.
In Morro Bay, mobile home parks also went through a conversion to more manufactured houses however, no park amenities were developed. The size of the parks remained the same. Some parks still rent spaces to recreational vehicles. There are state regulations, and all parks must adhere to the laws that govern running a mobile home park. There are rules and regulations for mobile homeowners too.
Winters has become an advocate ombudsman in her park and for mobile homeowners statewide. She explains the difference between regular housing and a mobile home is that a house is on a permanent foundation whereas a manufactured house is set in a space on piers and is technically possible to be moved. Recreational vehicles have wheels.
“The Housing and Community Development is the state department governing mobile home parks,” she explains, “and park owners must get a state permit to make changes in a park. Suggested changes must be sent in writing to homeowners 90 days prior to any changes being made. If a permit is issued the changes become permanent within six months.”
Things have evolved into homeowners being somewhat trapped into a situation where they may pay off their home loan but continue to pay rental space which increases yearly. In Morro Bay there is the benefit of city rent control keeping the increases to the Consumer Price Index.
Many residents in mobile home parks are seniors on fixed incomes and low-income individuals and families. What once appeared to be a cheaper way to own a home has turned into a rental issue similar to what low-income people renting apartments and houses face with exorbitant increases occurring statewide.
Winters went on to explain that in recent years many parks are being sold to large corporations that buy them as an easy source of money. It is cheap land and a good investment for them and there are no controls over these types of sales. Corporations have a built-in clientele with existing mobile homeowners. Often these corporate landowners will say that their ownership offers an improvement to the park therefore they can charge more rent for spaces. If the homeowner doesn’t like it, they tell them to move out.
“Moving out is easier said than done,” Winters said, “especially for families who might have bought their mobile home years ago and stayed in it until retirement. The mobile home could be 50-years old and have no value at all. Houses on foundations where the owner also owns the land increase in value because it is the land that holds the value.”
Winters went on to say that a phenomenon that backfired during the pandemic had people who decided they can work remotely gave up apartment or house rentals. Instead, they bought recreational vehicles figuring they could move it to different places and live where they want. “There are only a limited amount of places that are RV Parks,” Winters explained “and RVers can’t stay much longer than two to three weeks. That saw an increase in the transient population looking for a place to live.”
Winters had some flood damage to her mobile home in January but has been able to remain living there. Some residents lost their homes. Winters and one other resident chose to ride out the storm, but they were the only two that stayed out of 53 residents that had to evacuate. Since January a whole succession of rainstorms have plagued the park and the city is left with the responsibility and cost of fixing the infrastructure. Storms like the 100-year flood most likely will occur again next year. The possibility of eviction notices is high since owners don’t want older units in their parks. Moving out owners like these gives the park owner the opportunity to bring in newer model homes and charge higher space rent.
Winters continues to educate people on their choices often discouraging people from buying a mobile home and settling in a park. Between the increasing sales of parks to corporations and inflation increasing, mobile home living is no longer a solution for seniors and low-income families. “We continue to lobby in the state for statewide rent control for mobile home parks,” Winters said, “and we need changes to the laws governing the sales of parks. However, park owners appear to have more influence with law makers.”