Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Bennett Disagrees With Governor's Ruling

Spaces at the new senior mobile home park on Maricopa Highway will not be sold, according to Ojai Valley Estates manager, Jill Saldana.

By Daryl Kelley
County Supervisor Steve Bennett, who helped lead a campaign to close a loophole that allows moderate-income residents to be priced out of mobile home parks, said this week that Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s veto of a reform bill does not end a statewide effort to change a flawed law.
“We’ll try again next year,” Bennett said. “There will be an effort, but I don’t know what would get the governor to change his mind. His veto certainly indicates he’s more responsive to pressure from park owners than park residents.”
Bennett described the governor’s veto of a bill that sailed through the legislature as devastating to mobile home residents who’d counted on low space rents to stretch retirement savings and low or moderate incomes.
“There are thousands of people who are going to get hurt by this,” he said. “You are going to see an enormous transfer of wealth from park residents, including low income, to park owners.”
All 13 mobile home parks in the Ojai Valley — and many hundreds of mobile home owners — -could eventually be affected by a 1995 state law that allows park owners to subdivide their properties and sell off each coach space.
The law generally protects low-income park residents as long as they don’t move and want to sell their homes. But it allows space rents of moderate-income residents to rise to market levels over four years, although they otherwise may not be forced out to sell their space.
An income of $51,600 a year or more is considered moderate income in Ventura County. The standard for a single person is about half that amount.
The owner of one local park, Ojai Oaks Mobile Home Park in Mira Monte, has begun the process of selling spaces to the highest bidder. In Ventura County, four park owners have applied, as have more than 30 statewide.
“With this veto,” Bennett said, “it will grow fast now.”
There are about 5,000 mobile home parks in California.
The effect of park owners selling spaces, instead of renting them under local rent controls, will be to transfer the ongoing value of the space from the renter to the park owner, Bennett said. So instead of renters being able to sell their coaches for a substantial amount, based on low rent for their spaces, they will have little left to sell, he said.
“A coach that could have sold for $75,000, will now sell for $5,000 or $10,000,” the supervisor said. “And that goes for low-income residents, as well, when they need to move into a care facility. The low-income protection for their space goes away when they move. So it’s a huge transfer of wealth.”
The bill Schwarzenegger vetoed last Friday would have preserved rent control protections for all park residents, not just those with low incomes. And it would have given 300 cities and counties that oversee rents in mobile home parks a veto over conversions.
In explaining his veto, Schwarzenegger said in a statement that rent controls for park residents who are low-income remain in place, because they are guaranteed by existing state law.
“While the bill’s intent is to preserve low-income housing, it also extends rent control in certain circumstances to mobile home owners in much of the state no matter what their income level,” he said. “It is unclear what state interest is served by the extension of rent control to those who do not have an economic disadvantage.”
The governor said he understood the position of senior citizens who’d contacted his office about the issue.
“I understand the importance of having stability in your living situation,” he said. “This need for stability was eloquently expressed by many seniors throughout California who have written to me on both sides of this bill.”
Some park residents opposed the reform bill, the governor noted. And representatives of a statewide park owners association have said that many residents like the law as it is, because it allows them to buy their spaces, improve their coaches and take advantage of equity gains like other homeowners.
An attorney for Ojai Oaks Mobile Home Park, for example, has said that 30 to 40 of the 125 renters at that Mira Monte park want to buy their spaces.
Schwarzenegger urged lawmakers to try again next year “to find a solution that provides true balance for all the stakeholders involved.”
But Bennett said Schwarzenegger’s argument was unconvincing, and that he didn’t yet see how either side could compromise on the key issue of dispute: whether to keep local rent-control ordinances in place.
As things stand, those local laws are replaced by a state law once a park owner notifies the local government that a subdivision will take place and a single space is sold.
Bennett maintains that the state law provides little protection, even to low-income residents, because there is no state agency to enforce it and residents would have to sue park owners to force them to follow the law. Most simply don’t have the assets to do that, he said.
When Bennett began his campaign to reform state law in the spring he told park residents that indications were that the governor favored the position of park owners. But over the summer, he said, Schwarzenegger received thousands of letters and e-mails from concerned residents, including perhaps 500 from Ojai Valley residents.
“The lobbying effort at least caused him to indicate that he had an open mind,” Bennett said. Now, coach owners must do it all over again, and try to find a way to gain some leverage with the governor, he said.
“But the bottom line is that park owners will not compromise the one issue, rent control, that we must have,” Bennett said. “So this veto is devastating.”

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