Iowa lawmakers are gathering Saturday to hear from mobile home residents in the state following this year’s reports of double-digit rent increases by out-of-state landlords.
Concerns that the state is not upholding the rights of mobile home communities arose at the end of last legislative session after Utah-based corporation Havenpark Capital Partners purchased four parks across the state and hiked rents up by nearly 70 percent with little notice. Now, a group of bipartisan legislators is seeking comments from members of the public at 1 p.m. in the Statehouse before drafting legislation and reforms ahead of this session’s January 13 start.
“Iowa law should treat residents of manufactured housing (i.e. ‘mobile homes’) with dignity and respect. Earlier this year, Democrats and Republicans came together to take the first steps in the right direction, and now it’s time to finish that bipartisan work,” said Senator Zach Wahls of Coralville. “Iowa law should protect those who have worked hard for their piece of the American Dream from predatory out-of-state landlords taking advantage of Iowa’s unequal protection for manufactured housing residents.”
One of the mobile home parks, Golfview mobile home court in North Liberty, was told of the hikes during a meeting closed to the public except for residents.
“[The meeting] was very quickly planned at a bad time, it was on a weeknight that was hard for some people to get to,” said Senator Amy Nielsen of North Liberty. “From what I understand, what came out of the meeting was [Havenpark] had absolutely zero scruples and they are out to make money, and it’s very obvious. There was really no concern over the hardship that the raising rents were putting on the residents.”
Some residents moved, but the high cost of moving a mobile home led a number of residents to stay and organize to save their homes. Some of their mobilization efforts have involved sitting down with 2020 Democratic Presidential candidates.
“It’s kind of like [big companies] come down with a vacuum cleaner and then vacuum up as much money as they can. They figure out how many accounting tricks, how many business tricks they can use to up their short-term profits,” 2020 Democratic candidate Elizabeth Warren said as she toured the Golfview in September. One man told Warren his rent was going up from $285 to $450 per month.
“Whoever’s job gets destroyed, whoever’s pension gets destroyed, whoever’s place that they live in a nursing home, in a mobile home park like this, it’s not their problem. They’re making their money and they are long gone.”
Sara Barron, executive director of the Johnson County Affordable Housing Coalition, last June created a mobile home task force including local and state elected officials and housing after manufactured communities in her county were subject to rent spikes.
“We created the mobile home task force to talk about the stability and future affordability of that affect the mobile housing communities in Johnson County,” she said.
The average rent of a two-bedroom apartment in Johnson County is somewhere between $900 and $1,000 a month, Barron said. Lot rent in these mobile home parks are generally between $250 and $400 a month, on top of that people pay monthly to own or rent their manufactured home— which still amounts to less than a two-bedroom apartment.
“There are about 3,000 Johnson County households that are manufactured housing communities, and manufactured housing constitutes a significant portion of our affordable housing stock,” she said. “It’s really a segment of our housing market that’s critically important to preserve.”
The task force last month released a final report of twelve recommendations that would influence local policy and state laws to keep manufactured housing as a safe and affordable living option.
Last session, legislation to improve the rights of mobile home residents was approved unanimously by the Iowa Senate but was then held up in the House. Nielsen said she hopes the house might turn Democratic in the next state election cycle in order to push forward more manufactured housing reform.
“That’s the first thing we need to do, is get a majority democratic house. Because then we can start working on the kinds of protections and things that are really needed to be done instead of fighting and talking,” she said.
by Isabella Murray