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Mobile home park residents challenge developer after receiving 60-day notice to vacate

Thursday, July 21, 2022 by Emma Williams, KUT

Dewain Willmore calls his home in the Congress Mobile Home and RV Park a “sanctuary.”

“Once you get off the street in here,” said Willmore, who has lived in the park for 21 years, “everything just slows down.”

Over the past two decades, Willmore has become a leader in this close-knit community on South Congress between Stassney Lane and William Cannon Drive. He moved in with his mother to help take care of his ailing brother in 2001. When his mother was diagnosed with dementia years later, he became the primary caretaker for them both.

“I tend to take people under my fold and watch over them and do my best for them, just be a person with compassion,” he said. “I guess to be a caregiver, you have to really be one.”

A man stands in a sleeveless gray T-shirt holding a booklet that says BASTA on it.
Patricia Lim/KUT. Dewain Willmore has lived in the Congress Mobile Home and RV Park for over 20 years and has become a leader in the community.

Willmore and the other 70 or so residents of the Congress Mobile Home Park now have 60 days to vacate the property.

It’s a story that has become all too familiar in Austin. In December, a California-based real estate company with a multibillion-dollar portfolio bought the land the mobile home park is on. A few months later, residents got notices from Paydar Properties that they had to leave the homes most had lived in for decades.

“You can’t move all your goods  no matter what you’ve got  if you’ve been in a place, in a home … in 60 days. It’s just not really feasible,” Willmore said. “Plus, the temperature of the air is killer.”

Sixty days is a quick turnaround for anyone, but for mobile home owners, it’s particularly challenging. Most of the families have lived at the Congress Mobile Home Park for more than a decade, and some of the homes are so old that moving them is impossible.

And the cost to move a mobile home in good enough condition can be exorbitant. Noelia Mann, an organizer for the the tenant advocacy group BASTA, says some residents have been quoted $14,000 just to relocate their homes.

On top of that, the number of mobile home parks in Austin is dwindling and most have strict regulations.

“There’s the additional challenge of finding a mobile home community that will actually accept you,” Mann said. “Many mobile home communities won’t accept trailers that are older than 2015, and many of the residents at Congress Mobile Home Park have trailers that are much older than that.”

After the notices started appearing, residents reached out to BASTA. The organization helped prevent tenants from losing their homes once before. In 2019, an apartment complex developer tried to buy the land. With the help of BASTA and the Austin City Council, residents were able to get the land rezoned for mobile homes only.

Residents didn’t expect that only three years later, a developer would be able to buy the land with the intention of adding it to his fleet of luxury mobile home parks.

Now, BASTA and Council Member Vanessa Fuentes, who represents the area, are trying to help residents again. This time, however, there doesn’t seem to be any possibility of the tenants avoiding eviction.

A woman leans over a table to write something on a paper on a clipboard while another person watches.
Patricia Lim/KUT. Noelia Mann, an organizer for the the tenant advocacy group BASTA, helps a resident of the mobile home park apply for affordable housing funds on Tuesday.

“The sale has already happened. The transfer of ownership of the mobile home park happened back in the winter,” Mann said. “What is possible now is to put pressure on this new owner to give residents more time and some kind of resources or compensation as they are trying to move.”

Residents requested a meeting with Reza Paydar, the CEO of Paydar Properties, so they could voice their concerns directly to him, but he has reportedly refused.

“Tenants wanted to come out of this with a meeting with the owner, so that he can meet the people whose lives he’s impacting,” said Gabby Garcia, a project coordinator for BASTA.

Fuentes was able to arrange a meeting Monday with Paydar’s on-site property manager and his lawyer. Garcia said initially Paydar’s representatives did not want tenants at the meeting, but Willmore and another resident attended.

“The tenants, and myself and the Council member, tried to remind them that it’s his right as the business owner to do what he wants with the property, but to look at it from a human perspective. … The fact that you are displacing families with children, families who have people with health issues, caretakers, and also a very vulnerable population,” Garcia said. “They can’t really afford a lot of the real estate that’s around them and popping up currently.”

Homelessness is a real possibility, Mann said, because many residents cannot find a new home or an affordable place to put their mobile homes.

“They’re stressing out, they’re not sleeping,” said a resident who asked not to be named out of fear of retribution from Paydar Properties. “I know that a lot of people are not sleeping over this. I’m not sleeping very good.”

The tale of displacement is nothing new in Austin. Average monthly rents in Austin rose nearly 20 percent in 2021 and now are about $1,700 for a one-bedroom.

Paydar Properties has the legal right to stop renting to residents of the Congress Mobile Home Park; they’re all on month-to-month leases. And it has complied with Texas law, which states a landlord must give a mobile home owner a minimum of 60 days’ notice to vacate.

Fuentes said the issues at the mobile home park represent more systemic failings.

“What is happening right now with the Congress Mobile Home community is showing what is happening throughout our city, which is the active displacement of our working-class communities,” she said. “It’s not OK for someone who has their entire family and life centered around their neighborhood for decades to receive notice that within 60 days they’re expected to find somewhere else to live. That is not OK. There is not enough existing affordable housing in this city to allow for that type of notice.”

City lawmakers have little power to change housing laws, because state laws would supersede any tenant protections they created, Fuentes said. What the city could do, she said, is provide tenant relocation funds, establish a mobile home preservation network and offer guidance through a displacement navigator program, which is set to be implemented in the fall.

The Paydar representatives said Monday they would tell Reza Paydar that residents wanted to meet with him. At the time of publication, it was unknown whether he agreed to that request. Paydar Properties did not respond to multiple requests for a comment on this story.

The first round of 17 residents must vacate the mobile home park by the end of the month.

This story was produced as part of the Austin Monitor’s reporting partnership with KUT.

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