After living in University Trailer Park for 14 years, Steve Chichester got an unpleasant surprise back in March. Posted to the door of his and the 60-odd other homes around the park was a note explaining that the land had been sold and would be converted into a posh development of 89 townhouses.
Evidence of Seattle’s housing crisis is everywhere, from the ongoing raids on encampments to contentious relations between tenants and landlords to simply the act of trying to find a place within the city limits that a low-income person can afford. One of the lesser-known issues, and something that isn’t often discussed in these conversations, is the situation Chichester finds himself in — the closure of mobile home parks forcing large numbers of homeowners to find alternatives, often at the cost of demolishing their homes and a significant financial burden.
This is far from a new phenomenon. Parks have been closing at a steady clip for years, and, needless to say, there aren’t a slew of new parks opening up to fill the void in King County, forcing what essentially amounts to mass relocations. For the owners of these parcels of land, the choice to sell is often a no-brainer, turning land often acquired for a pittance into a multi-million dollar bonanza. Particularly as areas such as Lake City Way and Northgate connect to the city center via new transit options, prices will likely continue to spike for real estate in the farther flung reaches of Seattle.
Encouragingly, the Seattle City Council and Mayor Ed Murray, not to mention the population at large, are certainly taking the affordability issue seriously. At the tail end of November, Councilmember Lisa Herbold managed to secure $29 million for affordable housing through some creative accounting in the new city budget. In addition to the $290 million housing levy passed by a 70 percent majority of Seattle residents back in the summer, this shows a positive trend toward concrete, albeit possibly “quick fix,” solutions to the city’s housing crisis. Even with these measures in place and because they must be phased in over time, affordability remains one of the biggest issues facing a significant number of Seattle residents, be they homeowners or renters.
Another strategy comes via Councilmember Rob Johnson. He sponsored a $190,000 measure, recently included in the 2017–18 budget, that earmarked funds specifically to assist those affected by Seattle’s development boom to move from properties gobbled up by developers to other locations. Like the measures mentioned above, the figure represents a tangible, straightforward effort to help those whose lives are being upended by the city’s exploding real estate market. Once again, however, such programs are perhaps cold comfort for the residents of University Trailer Park, whose lives have already been irreversibly impacted.
When parks close, residents struggle to relocate within Seattle, Brigid Henderson of Washington’s Mobile/Manufactured Home Relocation Assistance Program told The Seattle Times earlier this year. Park closures often force residents north and south to Snohomish and Pierce counties, which have seen many of their own mobile home parks close in recent years as well.
“No one’s happy about it, obviously,” Chichester said. “Some people have moved on, others are sticking around for now.”
For his part, Chichester says he’s still searching for a new park to move to in the suburbs: Kent, Renton, Bothell or Kenmore, havens of affordability in an increasingly more expensive area, but a considerable distance from his job at the Sound Transit facility near SoDo.
“The deciding factor is, is it affordable, number one,” he says, adding that in one SeaTac park he looked at, new homes cost as much as $60,000, out of his price range. “And number two, is it close to where I need to be?”
While some mobile home owners’ residences are able to make the trek from one park to the next, many are unable to withstand the move, leaving demolition as the only option. Demolishing a mobile home can cost as much as $25,000, depending on whether it can be demolished on-site or must be moved. The Washington State Department of Commerce has instituted the Mobile and Manufactured Home Relocation Assistance Program to assist with the financial burden placed on homeowners facing eviction. It kicks in up to $7,500 for a single-wide home and up to $12,000 for a double-wide for qualified applicants, with any money remaining after transportation or demolition to assist with other moving costs.
Chichester makes just enough to disqualify him for that type of financial help because he has a relatively well-paying job with Sound Transit. The landlord, though not legally obligated to pitch in given the circumstances, has offered to cut Chichester a check to cover the cost of demolition. Not every evicted homeowner is so fortunate, nor every park owner so generous (though many tenants claim that the additional money is still a far cry from what’s necessary to help with their moving costs). Regardless of the paltry relocation assistance provided, the fact remains that there will be 66 fewer affordable homes available for purchase in Seattle when University Trailer Park closes next year.