Rick Valley is known for his attention to his neighbors in Plaza del Rey; watch them, bring groceries, run groceries. When he sees something that needs to be done, the neighbors say, he comes forward and does it.
Last May, Valley decided to do something to skyrocket rents for Plaza del Ray land. So, one Saturday morning, he made posters protesting the increases and set up a chair and a table in the street.
“I was just fed up with $ 2,000 and more [rents], “he said.” It’s higher than any other local park. May 1st I sat down with six signs. Now 50 to 100 people come out on Lawrence, Tasman and Vienna Drive every Saturday morning to protest the rent increases.
The protests attracted Mercury News and Congressman Ro Khanna. Plaza del Ray owner Hometown America responded by expelling television and newspaper reporters from the property. Residents say it violates the law and suggest they could take legal action.
Difficulties for limited income
At 25 percent of the price of conventional homes, mobile homes are affordable. But the house is only part of the cost. The other expense is the rent for the space, which makes landlords vulnerable like any other tenant in Silicon Valley to rising rents.
Two years ago, private mobile home park operator Hometown America bought Plaza del Rey from private equity firm Carlyle for $ 237 million – Carlyle paid $ 150 million for it in 2015.
Previously, rents averaged $ 1,000 / month and did not increase when homes changed owners. After Carlyle became a homeowner, rent for new owners rose 16%, 22% the following year, and 20% the following year, doubling in five years.
Since Hometown bought the park, the new owner’s rent has increased by 25%, the rent for current residents by 7.5%.
“The increases at most parks are nominal,” Kameda said. “But Plaza del Rey rents have continued to increase by 4% per year.
“Forty percent of our residents have social security or have a disability,” he continued. “The average Social Security check is $ 1,500. Many of our residents are spending every penny and saving money. “
Even higher income homeowners are in a hurry. Loan rates for mobile homes carry higher interest and shorter terms, resulting in higher monthly payments.
Rent goes up, equity evaporates
Rent increases have a double whammy. Each increase of $ 100 reduces the owner’s equity by $ 10,000, says Kameda. Homes linger in the market as prices drop steadily. Some brokers will not list Plaza homes because they are not selling. Mortgages are under water.
“Buyers… can buy a comparable house across the street at Casa De Amigos where the rent is $ 1,300,” Kameda said. “A comparable house in Casas sells for between $ 100,000 and $ 120,000 more than Plaza.”
Most everyone knows someone who is at risk of losing their home because they can’t sell or can’t pay the rent.
“People are leaving the park because they couldn’t afford the increases,” said a resident of Cor van der water. “My neighbor was thinking of leaving. She has almost no equity.
Resident Dorie Maciel tells a similar story about another elderly resident who had to move out. “She lowered the price to get out of here, but she couldn’t sell, so she should have left it behind,” Maciel said. “If she doesn’t pay the rent the park takes, she gets nothing.
As residents’ equity declines, Hometown America’s equity grows in line with growth in income and land values - something residents do not share. There is no downside to Hometown America; they can rent the repossessed accommodation.
In April, the Sunnyvale Council unanimously approved a memorandum of understanding developed by the owners of Hometown American and Plaza, rather than imposing a rent stabilization order. The Housing Commission memorandum of understanding will review the draft final agreement on July 13.
Hometown America says the memorandum of understanding will address residents’ concerns about rents and fairness. “We have worked in good faith with residents, other park owners and the City on a memorandum of understanding process, with the goal of bringing certainty and stability to the market,” said a spokesperson for the company.
“We are engaged in this process and are happy to say that we are making significant progress. We believe we are close to a resolution that will address the most pressing issues and bring immediate relief to residents.
There is a third option: the owners or a public body buying the park. In Palo Alto, the City and County Housing Authority purchased Buena Vista Park to protect this pocket of affordable housing. The owners of Plaza del Rey have already tried to buy their park, but have failed financially.
Recently the congressman Ro Khanna introduced a bill to increase residents’ rights to mobile home parks, provide grants to residents to purchase parks, and provide financial incentives to landlords to limit rent increases.
Until there is some action, however, residents of Plaza del Rey will be on Vienna Drive every Saturday morning.