More than 3,000 Portland families in mobile and manufactured home parks stand to get new assurances their complexes won't be redeveloped for other uses, alleviating their fears of getting kicked out.
The city Planning and Sustainability Commission voted 7-2 last Tuesday to rezone 56 mobile and manufactured home parks in the city with a new "residential manufactured dwelling park" designation. The move is designed to protect affordable housing by thwarting redevelopment of the parks into apartments or other more lucrative investments.
The City Council is expected to consider the recommendation later this summer, said Tom Armstrong, supervising planner with the city Bureau of Planning and Sustainability, which researched and drafted the new policy.
Mayor Ted Wheeler, who oversees that bureau, welcomed the commissioners' decision.
"We're hopeful that this is an opportunity to protect one of the remaining sources of naturally occurring affordable housing, and we're looking forward to reviewing their recommendation," said the mayor's spokesman and chief of staff, Michael Cox.
The real estate boom has created new opportunities for park owners to convert their properties into more profitable ventures, such as multistory apartment complexes, spreading anxiety among mobile and manufactured home owners who rent spaces for their homes.
Four mobile home and manufactured home parks in Portland have closed since 2016 due to redevelopments, Armstrong said. The new zoning would apply to all but one of the city's parks, Fox Run, because it's on prime industrially zoned land.
Mobile homes aren't all that mobile.
Moving them can cost $20,000 or more, and many of the homeowners are poor or of modest means, and can't afford that. Some older mobile homes, such as single-wide ones at Oak Leaf mobile home park in the Cully neighborhood, proved too rickety to move when a nonprofit bought the park to renovate it. Other owners say it's hard to find vacant slots to move their units.
"I'll be very sorry if they do not keep this affordable housing available to seniors and other families," said Rita Loberger, who lives in Eldorado Villas in Tigard. She's a volunteer advocate for fellow mobile and manufactured home owners via the Manufactured Housing/Oregon State Tenants Association. If more measures aren't taken to protect existing parks, Loberger said, redevelopments may put more vulnerable people out on the streets.
Living Cully spearheaded the campaign to rezone the parks.
"We're thrilled that it passed this first hurdle," said Cameron Herrington, anti-displacement coordinator for Living Cully. The coalition of four nonprofits got involved in the issue when Oak Leaf residents faced eviction after the owner signed a deal to sell the park for a redevelopment. That plan was blocked and St. Vincent de Paul of Lane County wound up buying the complex and is now fixing it up.
Landlords expect legal action
Landlord interests expect the City Council will enact the rezoning plan, but they predict a wave of legal claims will follow.
"If the city adopts a zoning change that is residential uses that significantly impairs the value of the property, they subject themselves to claims," said John DiLorenzo, a Portland attorney who lobbies for Oregon landlords. Under Measure 49, an initiative sponsored by property rights advocates, individual park owners could file claims for compensation.
"I think Measure 49 is the strongest thing that we've going for us now," said Chuck Carpenter, executive director of Manufactured Housing Communities of Oregon, which includes more than 500 parks.
Carpenter said he's confounded why the city would want to hamper investors who are already providing affordable housing. He urged advocates to allow for conversions to, for example, affordable apartment complexes, which could house more people on the sites.
"These parks were never built with the idea of some sort of permanence," Carpenter said, and some are ripe for redevelopments when the homes and infrastructure get tired.
The city rezoning could cause a slow decline in the quality and conditions at some of the parks, Carpenter said.
"I just don't know what they're thinking," DiLorenzo said of city officials. "They're going to wind up with an albatross."
Adding development opportunities
Eight of the parks are located in non-residential zones, making those ineligible for Measure 49 claims, Armstrong said.
And the Planning and Sustainability Commission adopted several new provisions that will allow for more development at the parks and off-site, which could mitigate any Measure 49 claims.
The new zoning will allow one home on every 1,500 square feet of space within the parks, compared to the current 2,000 square feet. In total, that could allow 33 percent more units at the parks.
Two innovative designs could allow greater density, Armstrong said. One is called "park model," which is akin to a tiny house on wheels. There also are new stacked models that are two stories high and include two units.
Park owners also could gain rights to build denser developments on multifamily properties they own off-site, throughout the city.
Park owners also can make commitments to the city that they'll keep at least half of their units affordable to those earning less than 60 percent of median income, and qualify for greater density that way. "I would say most of them probably qualify for that" already, Armstrong said.
Combined, the total number of units at the 56 parks could mushroom from 3,000 to 7,800 if all the owners max out on the allowed density bonuses.
In addition, the proposal provides more flexibility for park owners to use sites for RVs, which are not generally allowed now. RV sites may be rented out for tiny houses on wheels, providing a new niche for those popular dwelling units.
Once the new special zoning is applied to the parks, it should make it easier for nonprofits like St. Vincent de Paul of Lane County to buy more of them, Herrington said, or for CASA of Oregon to help homeowners buy the land beneath their complexes and form resident cooperatives.
"We think both of those models will be more likely if the competition from other developers isn't there," Herrington said.
The City Council recently adopted new language in its 2035 Comprehensive Plan to establish the importance of manufactured home parks as an affordable housing option. Such parks are considered the largest source of affordable housing in the private sector.
A blanket zone change is a relatively cheap way for the city to stabilize that supply.
The 3,000 mobile and manufactured homes are more than twice the number of affordable units the city of Portland promised to create with proceeds from the $258.4 million affordable housing bond approved by voters in November 2016. And they're comparable to the 2,400 to 3,900 units to be created if voters approve a $652.8 million bond proposed by Metro this November.
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