Baltimore Sun

Parking cash in mobile homes

Rents, worries rise sharply after institutio­nal investors’ purchase of park properties

- By Michael Casey and Carolyn Thompson

LOCKPORT, N.Y. — For as long as anyone can remember, rent increases rarely happened at Ridgeview Homes, a family-owned mobile home park in upstate New York.

That changed in 2018 when corporate owners took over the 65-year-old park located amid farmland and down the road from a fast-food joint and grocery store about 30 miles northeast of Buffalo.

Residents, about half of whom are seniors or disabled people on fixed incomes, put up with the first two increases. They hoped the latest owner, Cook Properties, would address the bourbon-colored drinking water, sewage bubbling into their bathtubs and the pothole-filled roads.

When that didn’t happen and a new lease with a 6% increase was imposed this year, they formed an associatio­n. About half the residents launched a rent strike in May, prompting Cook Properties to send out about 30 eviction notices.

“All they care about is raising the rent because they only care about the money,” said Jeremy Ward, 49, who gets by on just over $1,000 a month in disability pay. He was recently fined $10 for using a leaf blower.

The plight of residents at Ridgeview is playing out nationwide as institutio­nal investors, led by private equity firms and real estate investment trusts and sometimes funded by pension funds, swoop in to buy mobile home parks.

The purchases are putting residents in a bind, since most mobile homes cannot be moved easily or cheaply. Owners are forced to either accept unaffordab­le rent increases, spend thousands of dollars to move their home, or abandon it and lose tens of thousands of dollars they invested.

“These industries, including mobile home park manufactur­ing industry, keep touting these parks, these mobile homes, as affordable housing. But it’s not affordable,” said Benjamin Bellus, an assistant attorney general in Iowa, who said complaints have gone up “one hundredfol­d” since out-ofstate investors started buying up parks a few years ago.

Driven by some of the strongest returns in real estate, investors have shaken up a sector that’s home to more than 22 million mostly low-income Americans in 43,000 communitie­s. Many aggressive­ly promote the parks as ensuring a steady return — by repeatedly raising rent.

“You went from an environmen­t where you had a local owner or manager who took care of things as they needed fixing, to where you had people who were looking at a cost-benefit analysis for how to get the penny squeezed lowest,” Bellus said. “You combine it with an idea that we can just keep raising the rent, and these people can’t leave.”

George McCarthy, president and CEO of the Lincoln Institute of Land Policy, a Massachuse­tts think tank, said parks containing about a fifth of mobile home lots nationwide have been purchased by institutio­nal investors over the past eight years.

McCarthy singled out Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac for guaranteei­ng the loans as part of what the lending giants bill as expanding affordable housing. Since 2014, the Lincoln Institute estimates Freddie Mac alone provided $9.6 billion in financing for the purchase of more than 950 communitie­s across 44 states.

A spokesman for Freddie Mac said it had purchased loans for less than 3% of the mobile home communitie­s nationwide, and about 60% of those were refinances.

 ?? LAUREN PETRACCA/AP ?? Jeremy Ward, who receives disability payments, was fined $10 for using a leaf blower near his New York mobile home.
LAUREN PETRACCA/AP Jeremy Ward, who receives disability payments, was fined $10 for using a leaf blower near his New York mobile home.

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