Windsor considering tighter rent control for mobile home park residents

The city joins other Sonoma County towns in taking a closer look at such laws as it struggles to provide enough affordable housing.

Windsor officials considered whether to change the local rent control law that governs mobile home parks at a city council meeting Wednesday night.

The hour-and-over discussion echoed the growing demands of mobile homeowners in other parts of the county and California to rein in rising rents as residents, who are often older and rely on a steady income, struggle to keep up.

“We live from month to month on a fixed income that we completely deplete each month,” said Robert Winds, a 75-year-old disabled veteran and one of the many residents of the Windsor Mobile Country Club to speak.

Faced with soaring rent increases, he told the council, “Somewhere in the next four years, we’re going to become financially insolvent. Please don’t put us on the street.”

In fact, mobile homes have been a rare option for affordable housing, especially for seniors who are becoming California’s fastest growing homeless population.

Governed by laws different from other dwellings, rent increases on the land below a mobile home are a local governance problem. Nearly 100 cities and counties in California have some form of rent control with annual increases often tied to a percentage of the Consumer Price Index (CPI), the measure of the prices of goods and services paid by consumers in an area.

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While that number fluctuates from year to year, Social Security payments have generally failed to keep pace, putting some residents at risk of being evicted, especially now that they face high utility bills and record inflation.

Like most other Sonoma County jurisdictions, Windsor, which has four mobile home parks, limits rent increases to 100% of the CPI to a maximum of 6%.

This means that residents of mobile homes in Windsor will face a 5.7% increase in rent next year.

The nearby Rohnert Park boundary increases to 75% of the CPI with a maximum of 4%.

Calistoga in Napa, Ukiah in Mendocino, and San Rafael and Novato in Marin are the only cities in their counties that have mobile home rental control.

At the September meeting on affordable housing schemes in Windsor, mobile home owners requested a change to 50% of the CPI with a 3% cap, halving the current allowable increase.

The order prompted township officials to investigate an update of a 30-year-old ordinance.

Meanwhile, mobile homeowners — retirees, former public school teachers, Wal-Mart workers, veterans, parents and grandparents, native Windsor residents and transplants — have sent dozens of letters to officials.

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“My kids are helping out with supplements, and I’ve been to the food bank once or twice,” a 76-year-old mobile home park resident wrote in one message. “It has been priced out of my house. I am currently spending at least half of my income on housing with all fees… I am left with nothing but my dignity.”

“Although I am not a single wager from living on the street, I find it difficult financially,” the 83-year-old wrote in another message. I’m not retired because of the high cost of life, and I don’t think I’ll have enough money to retire. The truth is that everything goes up except income.”

According to a task force report prepared for city council, more than half of mobile home park residents are over 65 and nearly three-quarters rely on Social Security as their primary source of income. The analysis also noted a low 1% vacancy rate for mobile home parks and the “exorbitant” cost of moving a mobile home.

“This is the right to affordable housing and it needs to be preserved,” the report said. “There is a great need to prevent excessive increases in space rents, which can lead to health and safety threats and potential economic evictions.”

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Recognizing mobile homes as one of the few affordable options available in a state in a housing crisis, many cities have re-examined often decades-old rental laws, and state lawmakers have moved to strengthen residents’ rights and close loopholes that affect affordability .

Santa Rosa, which also uses 100% of the CPI, will decide to make a change later this month, after months and even years of regulation and advocacy by local park residents.

Maurice Priest, president of the nonprofit that owns the Mobile Country Club park in Windsor, told the city council that while the next rent increase would be around 6%, in other years where the limited CPI increases below 2%, the park has had to do it. A decrease in reserves to cover expenses.

“I don’t even think of the term fair return on investment,” the pastor said. “My concern is to make sure that at least the CPI increases we receive are enough to keep up with the increasing costs of motorhome park maintenance, street maintenance, paying for insurance, all of those things that are required for proper maintenance of a first class community like ours.”

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