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Proposition E Would Phase Out Rent Control In Oceanside’s Mobile Home Parks


Vacancy Decontrol For Oceanside Mobile Home Parks

There’s not much sound other than distant traffic and birdsong in the Mission View Mobile Home Park in Oceanside. But the apparent tranquility hides a growing sense of anxiety among homeowners, facing an initiative that would phase out nearly 30 years of rent control.

It’s important to make clear up front that mobile homes are not really mobile, so the homeowners’ security is inextricably tied to the owner of the land it sits on – the owner of the park.

Linda Walshaw bought a brand new manufactured home here four years ago, after she suffered a series of strokes and had to stop working.

Aired 4/25/12 on KPBS News.

Proposition E on the June ballot would phase out rent control for the residents of Oceanside’s 17 mobile home parks. Oceanside is one of a shrinking number of cities where rent controlled parks are a source of affordable housing for seniors and veterans.

Bob Ryan, Resident of Miramar Mobile Home Park in Oceanside
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Above: Bob Ryan, Resident of Miramar Mobile Home Park in Oceanside

“We’ve been priced out of stick built homes,” she said. “We've been priced out of apartments, and the only option that was really available to us was manufactured homes.”

Walshaw paid a premium for the new home - $120,000 at the peak of the market a few years ago. Because it was in a rent controlled park, she knew she would never be priced out. She has decorated the interior tastefully with art work and kept it in immaculate condition.

But last year the Oceanside city council passed an ordinance to phase out rent control in the parks. Walshaw said her home has lost value like every other house in San Diego but, without rent control, the value has plummeted.

“Because if they can raise the rent without limit, then no other buyer is going to want this house,” she said. “I’ve invested my life savings in this house. I’ve already lost a great deal of money since I’ve moved in and this will take the rest. If I lose this home, I lose everything.”

Who would gain from phasing out rent control? The mobile home park owners, whose profits have been gradually eroded over the years by rent control, imposed back in 1984 by the city of Oceanside.

Oceanside City Councilman Jerry Kern is pictured in this undated photo.
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Above: Oceanside City Councilman Jerry Kern is pictured in this undated photo.

City Councilman Jerry Kern, who is running for mayor this year, thinks it is time to overturn rent control. Speaking from his office, with a large map of Oceanside on the wall behind him, he said noone will be forced from their homes.

“The existing residents do not lose rent control," he said, "they get to keep rent control as long as they live in their coach - only after they move does it go to market rate."

Kern says the ordinance the council majority passed last year and the initiative on the ballot to put it to a pubic vote are actually “vacancy decontrol.” In other words, rent control ends after a home is sold and becomes vacant .

Oceanside passed rent control in 1984 to provide affordable housing for its seniors and veterans. But Kern said there’s no way of knowing if low income people are the ones living in the parks, because there’s no means testing for people who buy mobile homes. He said some people use mobile homes as their second home.

Kern argues the city has spent nearly $8 million on administering the program over the past twelve years. He bases that on a report produced by consultant Scott Barnett. But a city staff reports suggest that number is closer to $4 million and is covered by fees paid to the city by the mobile home owners and the park owners.

Kern argues the city should not be supporting a program that interferes with the market and private property rights.

“We cannot have the city paying for a program that in essence is taking away property rights from the land owner,” he said, “and transferring to somebody else.”

It’s a tricky situation - balancing the rights of the landowners with the rights of the homeowner.

Frank Merriefield, 84, has lived in the San Luis Rey Park for more than 20 years. Merrifield said he has property rights too. He invested in a manufactured home on a corner lot for $30,000 back in 1990.

"Since that time,’ he said, “I’ve invested over $30,000 in what we have here today.”

What he has is a spacious home with a remodeled living room, two bedrooms and a den, big enough to host his grandchildren. On the back of his car is a big sign that reads NO on E. He shows me a picture of an empty lot and another picture of a manufactured home surrounded by a carefully tended garden and asks, “Which kind of private property is more valuable?”

Mobile home owners rallied and collected more than 15,000 signatures, enough to get the vacancy decontrol ordinance on the ballot. Miramar Park resident Bob Ryan, a retired veteran, is fighting to defeat the initiative and overturn the ordinance.

“There are people in here that live on social security, that’s all they live on,” he said, gesturing up the rows of modest mobile homes in his park. “They get $900 a month that pays their rent, and food to live on, pays their utilities. It’s sad that these people are going to impacted by this. If I they aren’t impacted immediately they will be within a year or two. “

Ryan points to for sale signs in the windows of several mobile homes. He said some people have tried to sell their homes, perhaps to finance their transition to assisted living, but couldn’t find a buyer willing to risk hefty rent increases. He said they ended up selling to the park owner for pennies on the dollar. Ryan believes the park owners could raise rents as a way to force people out, and then turn the land over to more profitable developments.

At a recent forum on Oceanside’s cable channel, KOCT, Amy Epsten said that’s not going to happen. Epsten is part of a family-owned mobile home park business.

“We’re not in the development or apartment or any other business like that, “ she said. “We’re in the mobile home park business.”

Epsten’s grandfather built the Mission View Mobile Home Park decades ago. She said when rent control passed in the 1980s, it led to a gradual erosion of the parks.

“When vacancy decontrol passes,” Epsten said, “the owners will have pride of ownership again. They’ll want to create more amenities in the park and they’ll want to redo the streets, upgrade the electric and fix the pools. That stuff costs money, and right now there’s not money to do that, but with vacancy decontrol that money would be there.”

Epsten said several of Oceanside’s 17 parks are family operations. But most are run by large corporations, many from out of town. Park owners have poured almost $300,000 into the campaign to pass Proposition E

Tim Sheahan is with the Golden State Manufactured Homeowners League. He lives in a mobile home in neighboring San Marcos, one of ten percent of cities that still supports rent control in mobile home parks. He said the effort to phase out rent control is indicative of a political shift on the Oceanside city council.

“Traditionally the council had been very supportive,” Sheahan said, “and that’s why it’s so disappointing with this current council majority that they seem to look for any excuse to support these out of town park owners, rather than every reason they should be supporting their own residents and constituents. “

The Oceanside city councilwoman who originally brought in rent control in the parks back in 1984 is Melba Bishop. She said this is about more than politics.

“Remember,” she said, “that this is about your mom and your dad who can live in a place where they can take care of themselves or they can come and live with you! ”

The vote in June pits one kind of private property owner against another. The outcome could be a bell weather of the tide of Oceanside’s politics .

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Avatar for user 'Abe A'

Abe A | April 24, 2012 at 8:39 a.m. ― 4 years, 11 months ago

“The existing residents do not lose rent control," he said, "they get to keep rent control as long as they live in their coach - only after they move does it go to market rate."

So what's the problem?

These little slices of fantasy life really need to be brought into the 21st century. Why should trailer parks not be subject to the same market pressures or stresses of apartments or traditional homes?

Next up should be Prop 13, this horrible legislation needs to be overturned immediately. It, like rent other price controls, harms the market and is a relic of a bygone era.

Also, I think it's about time to do away with the term "fixed income" for seniors. I have a job and make a salary, how is that less fixed than social security? I have to budget my money around my salary just like someone on social security has to budget based on their monthly check.

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Avatar for user 'JamesN'

JamesN | April 24, 2012 at 10:09 a.m. ― 4 years, 11 months ago

It's nice to know that when Grandma tries to sell her mobile home to get into an assisted living home she'll probably get pennies on the dollar.

"Hey Martha, it's your our own fault for not preparing for the future What? You lost about 30% of your retirement in the stock market? Well, you shouldn't have pulled it out. Oh, you needed it to live on? Well, the free market is like that and sometimes there are ups and downs, winners and losers. However, if you're a corporation with an army of lawyers and lobbyists you'll probably win. I hope that comforts you as the society you helped create forgets you because you aren't as productive as you used to be. I think Walmart is hiring. Isn't that a wonderful retirement plan? You get to wear a blue vest with buttons and you get to say hello to new people everyday."

I hope that 3.6 percent COLA is able to carry you off to sweet oblivion because it seems to me there are those who are actively trying to take back the promises made to seniors. The baby boomers are quickly becoming the scapegoats to a failed system that has mismanaged the future.

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Avatar for user 'cazadero'

cazadero | April 25, 2012 at 11:05 a.m. ― 4 years, 11 months ago

ames111 and JamesN have made their point, callous and ruthless as it is. Clearly they have not asked themselves the question as to how or what would they do in planning for their retirement? Homeowners in manufactured housing communities have made a responsible decision, based on Law and now face having politicians manipulate the rules. All for the benefit a 16 wealthy campaign contributors, and corporate landholders. The sense of entitlement and air of disregard for others is the message that these two individuals, and the elitist few, seem to enjoy. Hopefully the voters of Oceanside will see value of integrity and Voting No on E

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Avatar for user 'onikitsune'

onikitsune | May 7, 2012 at 9:15 a.m. ― 4 years, 10 months ago

“When vacancy decontrol passes,” Epsten said, “the owners will have pride of ownership again.”

-- what she means is: When they 'pay more' they'll 'care more'.
1. That is wrong.
2. If Ms. Epsten truly beleives her own statement why doesn't she simply take up a 'collection' for park improvement? If the residents want new amenities They'll pay for them. If they don't they won't.

The truth is that owners such as Ms. Epsten are the ones that want the new roads and pools so that their property is more valuable. There is nothing wrong about having that motivation, but when you lie about it so obviously I get suspicious about wether you care enough about the well-being your current residents not to use nefarious tactics to get them to vacate when rent control is overturned.

Here is a story out of D.C. showcasing how people who stayed behind after rent decontrol are being forced out through neglect.

Rent control was put in place to curb the predatory practices of land owners. The statements I've heard in the past three months have done nothing to boost my confidence the land owner's desire to continue to provide a place for low income people to live.

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Avatar for user 'benz72'

benz72 | May 7, 2012 at 10:47 a.m. ― 4 years, 10 months ago

If landowners were charities then it would be reasonable to expect them to be interested in providing places for low income people to live. They probably have different motivations for the very understandable reason that they are not charities. Rent control limits the length of a contract to 'indefinite' and requires shifting the burden of payment onto another.

Pay for what you consume.

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Avatar for user 'kagantzer'

kagantzer | May 17, 2012 at 10:56 a.m. ― 4 years, 10 months ago

It seems as if its a fairly balanced approach considering most of the cities in California have done the same thing. I found these to be pretty interesting places to find additional points of views.

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