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Affordable housing bond to help create cooperative housing mobile home park

Friday, May 15, 2020 by Ryan Thornton

After five years of protesting increased housing costs and poor property management, City Council has approved a $2.5 million loan agreement so that residents of North Lamar Mobile Home Park in District 4 may purchase the land under their homes and run the site as a housing cooperative.

“I couldn’t be more inspired by the hard work and tenacity of these residents over the last five years,” Council Member Greg Casar said in a Facebook post following Thursday’s vote. “This community is not just a hub for those who live there but for people from all around our city.”

In 2015, park residents formed the Asociación de Residentes de North Lamar, or North Lamar Mobile Home Park Residents Association, in order to fight increased rent and utility costs, and with the help of Casar, filed a lawsuit against RV Horizons, the company that purchased the property in January of that year.

In a letter to the Austin Housing Finance Corporation, Roberto Sanchez, board president of the residents association, said the company began raising rents, voiding leases and issuing “absurd charges and evictions” soon after buying the park at 8105 Research Blvd. Residents also claim that the company simultaneously made arbitrary changes to community rules, decreased its management presence and failed to address inadequate outdoor lighting, overflowing trash bins and unusually high water bills.

Park residents claim combined housing costs have almost doubled over the past five years, rising by roughly $200 per household on a site where the reported average household income is less than 37 percent that of the average income of the surrounding area. According to the community’s application for city funding, each of the mobile home park’s 69 households has incomes under 60 percent of the median family income.

Legal action taken by Texas RioGrande Legal Aid led to a temporary stop in rent increases and changes to the community rules, but Casar said the community has been trying to come up with a long-term solution for years. After some negotiations, RV Horizons owners Frank Rolfe and Dave Reynolds, who also operate Mobile Home University, an educational course for profiting by purchasing mobile home parks, expressed interest in selling the land to the residents if they could pay the right price.

“Having the residents buy the community they live in, rather than an outside party, has numerous benefits to the owner,” wrote Rolfe in January 2016 for manufactured housing magazine The Journal. “The first is a great price.”

Rolfe explained that residents are often willing and able to pay prices “right in line with prices that can be achieved in the outside world.” RV Horizons purchased the park for $1.5 million in 2015; the company is now selling the property to residents for $6.5 million.

“Another benefit,” Rolfe continued, “is that you don’t have to worry about the buyer changing their mind or walking away from the deal. Once the vote has been cast to buy it, the train seldom derails.”

In the same article, Rolfe said his company was particularly fond of working with ROC USA, a nonprofit dedicated to helping residents purchase manufactured home properties. ROC USA agreed to cover a large chunk of acquisition and permanent financing costs on behalf of park residents, but without the $2.5 million from the city’s 2018 affordable housing bond, residents predict they would have needed to raise rents by nearly 50 percent to cover their costs. With the city’s help buying the property and making necessary improvements, the residents believe living costs can be kept at an affordable level.

Speaking in Spanish in a pre-recorded video Thursday, Sanchez said the funds “will strengthen us and allow us to support our low-income families. They will be able to realize their goals and be able to continue to live in our community.”

Photo courtesy of Google Maps.

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