Out within a year, and take your home with you

It’s early October 2015, and I’m on a site visit to the Archdiocese of Seattle. As part of the visit, I am attending a meeting at an out-of-the-way strip mall just south of Seattle. The meeting is for displaced manufactured home owners, and among those present is an organizer and a translator from the Association of Manufactured Home Owners (AMHO) of Washington State, a current Catholic Campaign for Human Development (CCHD) grant recipient.  It’s their work in action that I’ve come to see.

AMHO meetingThe room is filled with about 45 people. All Latinos, all restless. Their children are playing in an adjacent room. I can see that these are working families dealing with the struggles of poverty.  The atmosphere is filled with fear, anxiety, confusion, uncertainty, and mixed with anger and emotion, as they now have a new struggle to address.

In September, they all received a letter on their front doors, a note to vacate their plot of land in the manufactured home park. Out within a year, and take your home with you. 

The owner plans to develop the land for an apartment building. Here, as in most parks, the families own or rent their manufactured home (such as mobile homes or trailers), while paying monthly rent to the landowner per the lease.  These manufactured homes provide affordable housing for low-income families, and they are not subsidized by state or local public funds.

The park owner offers $5,000 to help families with the move, but many families have no place to relocate their home. Homes built before 1985 are not welcomed in most communities, and many families own these older homes. Even with a newer home, it is still very difficult to find a new park with a plot vacancy. Then there’s the extra money needed to make such a move.  The average cost to move a manufactured home is anywhere from $7,000 – $25,000, depending on the size of the home.

These families face the loss of land, possibly the loss of their home, the loss of their community, and added financial hardship. They contacted AMHO to explore organizing an association so they could work together to find a solution and save their homes and community. That contact led to this meeting.

“What am I going to do? Where will I go with my home?” they ask each other.

One man says he just bought a doublewide home. The lawyer present wishes him good luck. Moving this larger home will be very expensive, and it will be even more difficult to find a vacant lot in another park. “But I just purchased it,” the man says solemnly. “I was planning to stay here for a long time.”

Some stand up and emphasize the need to stick together, to act together, and confront the situation. As they talk about action the energy in the room changes; they are in this together.

The AMHO organizer discusses the next steps that the homeowners can take to organize their association. They have already sent forms to the State of Washington to become incorporated as a non-profit association, and tonight they complete forms to seek relocation assistance from the state.

The AMHO organizer suggests that all of the tenants should plan to attend future meetings of the City and County Councils. They must tell their stories, fears, and concerns, and seek a solution together. The people want more information, they want to discuss this idea.  The organizer points to a woman in the front row nursing her infant, “Your children should go with you, bring your infant to the council meeting.” Someone in the crowd responds, “She has FIVE children.”

Everyone laughs a little, but there is nothing else funny about this situation.

As a Grant Specialist with CCHD, I have seen situations like these before, and I know that there is hope in empowering people to seek solutions to the problems in their lives by working together. This work is critical. That’s why CCHD supports the work of organizations that empower tenants and homeowners.

As Pope Francis has stated,

[T]he “home” represents the most precious human treasures, that of encounter, that of relations among people, different in age, culture and history, but who live together and together help one another to grow. For this reason, the “home” is a crucial place in life, where life grows and can be fulfilled, because it is a place in which every person learns to receive love and to give love. (5/21/13)

Sean Wendlinder is a Grant Specialist with the Catholic Campaign for Human Development.

AMHO was founded by homeowners in Lynnwood who successfully saved their community from being redeveloped.  As a result of AMHO’s advocacy in Washington State, “mobile home park” zoning ordinances have been passed in Tumwater, Marysville, Lynnwood, and Snohomish County between 2008 and the present.

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