By STEVEN TAVARES
HAYWARDMobile home parks are like “little cities,” Hayward City Attorney Michael Lawson said last week when the city disclosed several proposals to strengthen the community’s access to the unique form of affordable housing.
“They have their own mayor and resolve disputes among themselves,” said Lawson. This sort of autonomy within the city limits, though, often times calls for city hall to be the arbitrator. A clear majority of the Hayward City Council appear to be siding with residents by voicing a strong populist position during a work session on the subject last Tuesday.
Lawson presented the council with a proposal to secure the city’s nine mobile home communities and their common seniors-only provisions. Currently five of the nine have rules calling for one occupant to be 55 or older. A plan to increase the number of parks with the provision along with setting aside the number of spaces for, at least, 80 percent seniors, was overwhemingly favored by the council. The plan was included in the city’s list of 2010 priorities.
Local park owners balked at the proposal saying they only learned of the city’s plan a month ago, but accepted the city’s proposed task force comprised of residents and park owners to hash out future problems. If approved, the committee will produce a report in the next six months.
“Doesn’t it benefit everybody and a win-win situation when you review every angle of the legislation and make a decision?” said Don Urie, one of the owners of Spanish Ranch I. “I don’t think that can be done when we’ve only had a couple of weeks.”
Doug Johnson of the Western Manufactured Home Community Association urged the council to listen to the concerns of park owners. “I don’t think it’s more regulation or strengthening regulations in the city of Hayward, I think we need a fairer mobile home regulation,” he said.
The council, though, was more interested protecting access to the park as a vehicle for affordable housing to its residents, many of whom are seniors on fixed incomes. Hayward’s nine mobile home parks house 5,000 residents. Throughout the state, a trend by park owners to maximize profits by converting mobile home parks to other forms of housing above the reach of low-income residents has gained steam. Johnson told the council the trend does not appear in Hayward, but exists state-wide due to increased regulations by municipalities that have forced park owners to find other ways to pad their bottom line.
“Park owners have been successful in court,” said Councilman Kevin Dowling. “They have been successful in Sacramento, unfortunately, and I think the community’s are going to continue to have these issued raised and be under constant threat to losing their affordability.” Dowling, who is running for Alameda County supervisor, also objected to tying rent increases to the Consumer Price Index (CPI). Seniors on a fixed income receive increases to their monthly Social Security checks also tied to the CPI, he said. “Any increase would go straight to their rent,” said Dowling.
Councilman Bill Quirk was clear to park owners which constituents the council was siding. “I can assure you that this council is going to listen very carefully to the residents. You need to listen to the residents as you go through this. My guess is, if the residents say no, we don’t agree with x, y and z, I would be very surprised if the council said, well, we’ll do it anyway. I don’t think that’s going to happen,”said Quirk.
Others aspects of the city attorney’s presentation included park-wide water submetering tied to a decrease in rents since mobile home residents typically use less water because of smaller households and a lack of landscaping and vacancy decontrol where park owners can raise rents when tenants move and better communication between park owners and tenant regarding capital improvements to the area. Hayward Mayor Michael Sweeney said he has not heard the issue of submetering at the forefront of any conversation among mobile home residents, but he along with every councilmember viewed vacancy decontrol as a non-starter.
Councilman Barabara Halliday also questioned why park owners were are not required to have insurance in common areas, like swimming pools. The city is only seeking to assure a level of coverage is available to residents, said Lawson, who speculated it may be a way for outright owners of parks to increase bottom without having insurance with total replacement cost.
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