KENMORE — Thirty years ago, Chuck Gippe moved into a mobile home in Kenmore intent on saving enough money to buy a house on his own property. He realized he liked Inglewood East, a well-kept mobile home park next to the Sammamish River.
“I liked it so much that I’m still here,” said Gippe, whose double-wide is on the waterfront.
For two years, he and residents of Kenmore’s six mobile-home parks worried that their parks would join the others in the region and close, as owners living elsewhere opted to take advantage of the region’s housing boom and sell their properties. But they’ll now get to stay for the foreseeable future, thanks to Kenmore’s recent decision to rezone the communities, restricting the potential for them to be redeveloped — 10 years for four of the parks, and a longer, but unspecified, term for the two others.
The City Council approved the zoning resolution in April after two years of discussions with city officials, park owners and residents. The change from residential zoning to a new zoning type — Manufactured Housing Community — means only mobile homes (the city uses “mobile homes” and “manufactured housing” interchangeably) can be placed on the properties.
“At first we were all a little wary of what they were doing, but then we realized they were trying to help,” Gippe said. “I’m feeling a lot better.”
Mobile-home parks have largely been casualties of the region’s skyrocketing housing costs and property that sells for premium prices. There are only two mobile-home parks remaining in Seattle. Residents of a Kirkland mobile-home park were evicted after the park was sold in 2015. At Firs Mobile Home Park in SeaTac, residents recently learned they have to leave by June 2020.
There are 111 registered parks in King County, and 1,227 in Washington, according to the state Department of Commerce. Five mobile-home parks in King County have closed in the past five years. Many are home to residents who once worked blue-collar jobs and are finding that their once-rural neighborhoods are surrounded by new buildings, said Kylin Parks of the Association of Manufactured Home Owners, who advocated for the Kenmore parks.
City officials have grappled with how to help residents of these communities, but often only after learning parks are for sale.
Kenmore’s situation is unique, in part because of the significant number of homes and residents — about 600 people live in the 250 mobile homes, according to residents — and because city officials decided to address the issue in advance of any changes, said Kenmore Senior Planner Lauri Anderson.
Before the City Council’s decision, Kenmore didn’t have any regulations related to park closures.
“Addressing the issue proactively was really important,” Anderson said. “It’s a different conversation when someone is in immediate danger of losing their home.”
Kenmore, on the northern shore of Lake Washington, hadn’t seen the rapid growth of neighboring cities like Bothell until a few years ago. Those pressures led the city to adopt a housing strategy plan, with one of the focuses on preservation of affordable housing, including mobile-home parks.
The city placed moratoriums on park redevelopment, but debated what to do after the temporary restrictions expired.
“It’s a unique housing situation,” Anderson said. “It’s unsubsidized, single-family housing. If you’re addressing affordable housing, that’s a good place to start.”
Two park owners declined to comment and lawyers and representatives for others did not respond to interview requests. But during meetings with city officials held over the past year, owners or their representatives expressed concerns over the age of some of the parks, the financial viability of maintaining the parks and what role they would have in providing affordable housing in the future.
Kenmore city officials said their regulations were modeled on similar zoning done by the city of Tumwater a decade ago. After the city enacted the ordinances, a group of property owners sued, alleging the changes violated their constitutional rights. The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in favor of Tumwater, saying that the city had a valid public interest in preserving the parks, and the ordinances didn’t create an additional economic hardship for the owners.
Residents say the Kenmore parks provide a sense of community and autonomy at a price they wouldn’t find anywhere else. Two parks are for people 55 and older, and many of the residents are retirees living on fixed incomes. The four others are for families, and kids play in the narrow roads alongside signs that remind drivers to slow down.
Monthly space rent averages around $550. That’s about $1,000 less than the average apartment rent in the area. The initial price to purchase a mobile home is usually about $60,000, while the median price of a Kenmore home is around $600,000.
“The kids are all friends, the schools are close, and it’s cheaper (than elsewhere,)” said Rita Amaya, who lives in Kenmore Village.
City officials weighed different options with the parks’ owners, whose short- and long-term plans for their properties ranged from wanting to sell now to having no plans for at least 15 years.
One option discussed by the city and the landowners was rezoning the parks for more density, allowing the owner to redevelop the land with apartment buildings or condos — but with some units set aside for park residents who would be displaced. Residents responded that the rents would be higher than what they were paying, and while some could move their mobile homes to another park, others are too old to be moved.
“The people who were being left out were the ones who needed help the most,” said Stacey Valenzuela, who lives in Lakewood Villa. “You would have been putting 600 people on the street for market-rate units.”
But, she said, the city listened to the concerns of the residents, ultimately deciding to place restrictions on all six parks. Now the focus is on the four parks with the 10-year restriction; the planning commission will consider options for those parks in the next few months.
Valenzuela’s home isn’t in one of those parks, but she says she’ll continue advocating for the residents. She’s lived in her home for two years, and, like her neighbors, has no plans to move.
“This is what I can afford, and a way I can still maintain my own place,” she said. “That’s what the majority of us are fighting for.”