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As developers eye valuable mobile park home land, some residents have found a way to fight back

Anna Boiko-Weyrauch May 4, 2018
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Next-door neighbors and Duvall Riverside Village homeowners Stephanie Rosevear (L) and Danelle Knapp (R) return home from a walk.
Anna Boiko-Weyrauch for Marketplace

In SeaTac, Washington, the airport is booming, property values are rising, and Francisco Rodriguez says he’s feeling squeezed.

“It’s been really stressful for everybody, for my kids, for me, and my wife you know,” he said.

Rodriguez has lived at the Firs Mobile Home Park in SeaTac for 11 years. There are plans to redevelop the land into apartments and a hotel, and he doesn’t know where his family is going to go, he said.

“I don’t want to see this happen,” Rodriguez said. Mobile home owners like Rodriguez own the structure of their houses, but they pay rent on the land underneath it — at this park that’s $500 a month. Rent that low is rare here, let alone home ownership. Mobile homes are one of the last vestiges of affordable home ownership in the Seattle area, where the median home price in King County is around $625,000. Many mobile homeowners are being pushed out by skyrocketing real estate values, but some owners are finding new ways to stay put.

“The rental housing in the region is getting increasingly less affordable, so this just adds to the pressures,” King County Housing Authority executive director Stephen Norman said.

Around 9,000 households live in mobile homes in the county, and all of them are at risk for redevelopment, Norman said, so the residents could become homeless. In the past two years, five parks have closed in the county, displacing over 200 homes. A lot of mobile homes are too old to move.

“In many cases if you picked up the home it would fall apart,” Norman said.

Occasionally the housing authority steps in and buys a park. But this one is valued at over $10 million, so housing officials say it’s too expensive.

Nearby, some mobile home owners are finding another way. About 45 minutes from SeaTac, Danelle Knapp is playing tag with the 2-year-old from next door, who giggles and runs away.

“The community is kind of like a family,” she said. Knapp lives at Duvall Riverside Village, a 25-unit mobile home park. In 2012, the residents formed a nonprofit, got a loan and bought the land under their homes for $1.18 million dollars. Instead of rent, the homeowners pay dues — at around $500 a month — to the association, which pays the loan on the land.

Duvall Riverside Village is one of about a dozen resident-owned mobile home parks in Washington state, and about a thousand across the country. The residents are financially and emotionally invested, Knapp said.

“It’s ours, we’re going to take care of it. You know if there’s a water leak somewhere, we’re quicker to fix it, together as a community,” she said.

The homeowners also run the park with a board of directors, so they control the finances. Knapp is the treasurer.

“We get to choose what we spend our money on,” Knapp said.

And the future of their park is in their hands.

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