With only one day left, residents of Trails End will soon find out whether their mobile park will get a new owner – a transaction many of them vigorously oppose.
Harmony Communities, a Stockton-based firm that buys mobile home parks and manufactures tiny homes and trailers, wants to buy the troubled property. The company says it proudly provides affordable housing to thousands of residents across the western United States.
However, disputes and lawsuits, including one in Fresno County, have engulfed the company in controversy. Despite the community debate, the court-appointed receiver says he will recommend at a court hearing on Friday morning, that Harmony Communities be approved to take over the park.
Is Harmony Communities a company that seeks to give low-income residents a fair chance at affordable housing or is it gouging renters and taking advantage of the housing crisis?
“Many hard-working, first-generation families that have integrated to the U.S. just wanting to do the best they can for their families have found a place to call home in one of my housing communities,” said Mathew Davies, the founder of Harmony Communities, in a 2021 interview posted on Medium.
GV Wire reached out to Harmony Communities for comment as part of the reporting for this story. However, the company forwarded all questions to the court-appointed receiver, Mark Adams.
32% Rent Hike at Another Local Mobile Home Park
Mariah Thompson, with California Rural Legal Assistance, represents farmworker families in Shady Lakes Mobile Home Park on Chestnut Avenue near Malaga.
Residents there filed a claim against Harmony Communities in 2019 after it took ownership of the park. The lawsuit remains active in the courts, and the residents created a co-op to purchase the park, which remains in the hands of Davies’ company. The lawsuit claims there was a 32% rent increase.
After three years of filing the claim, rent has increased 72%, said Thompson.
Now, Harmony Communities wants to buy the Trails End near Blackstone and Sierra avenues in Fresno. The park has had two fires, one of which resulted in the death of 56-year-old Ronald Richardson in April of last year.
Trails End Exhibited Severe Neglect
The troubling blazes that occurred at Trails End brought attention to the unsafe conditions that accumulated there under former owners.
The park was placed in the hands of the California Receivership Group, which was charged with overseeing the clean-up of the property and preparing it for sale. Harmony Communities paid $300,000 upfront to bring the community in compliance with Fresno’s code, Adams said. In addition, the receivership hired security guards to protect the park.
Adams told GV Wire that he will recommend that the park be sold to Harmony Communities at Friday’s hearing. Judge Kristi Culver Kapetan will decide the park’s future.
Residents say they oppose the sale to Harmony Communities because they fear their rents will increase and the park rules will be too strict.
In addition, a dozen or so residents are requesting extra time in the hopes that they can fundraise enough money to purchase the park. They have formed a cooperative with the help of CRLA attorney Thompson.
“That committee will represent us and through the city and all the help there is with banks we need to get the credit so that we can buy, said Trails End resident Jose Guadalupe Nieves. “And after that, we can start working on payment systems, security systems and decide on rules about what you can have or what you want to do.”
Harmony Communities Purchasing Power Continues to Grow
A New York Times article recently shed light on some of the company’s predatory actions after it bought a mobile home park in Denver, Colorado. Residents there said that they raised their rents 50% and put out a 12-page single-spaced list of new rules.
According to The Times, the company later offered to sell it to the residents, but at a far higher price than the company had just paid for it. When the residents said no to the high price, the deal fell apart in January of this year.
Mobile home park residents organizing to create a cooperative is not unusual, says Adams, but time typically is against them because parks that are sold must be up to code.
“So what I’ve recommended is, let’s complete the Harmony sale and then if the residents want to purchase it from Harmony with the co-op down the road, I’m not opposed to that,” said Adams. “I know there’s some talk about these co-ops, that you can wave a magic wand and they’re done in a couple of months, but that’s just not my experience and I think that’s naïve to think that it’s going to be a couple of months.”
History of Rent Increases
Thompson says the record shows that Harmony Communities has a track record of increasing rent after purchasing a property.
Adams counters that Trails End residents are protected from stiff rent hikes because of Fresno’s rent control ordinance for mobile home parks. He said that Shady Lakes residents don’t have that protection because they live in the county.
“I’ve specifically asked the people at Harmony Communities and they vow that they are going to abide by the rent control ordinance that exists in the city of Fresno,” Adams said. “There’s no way that they can raise the rents other than some limited ability under the rent control ordinance.”
Fresno’s rent stabilization ordinance, which took effect in 1988, states that it was created:
“(T)o protect mobile home park residents from excessive rent increases while at the same time providing mobile home park owners a level of rent sufficient to provide a just, fair and reasonable return on their investment in mobile home park property and to cover increased costs of repairs, maintenance, rehabilitation, capital improvements, services, amenities, upkeep, and insurance.”
The ordinance also noted that two-thirds of Fresno’s mobile home park residents are elderly or on fixed incomes and for “these residents, there is no economically feasible housing alternative to mobile home park living.”
Since then, housing in Fresno has only gotten scarcer and more expensive.
Harmony Communities Isn’t a Fan of Rent Control
Thompson claims Harmony Communities has sued cities for their rental control ordinances and she points to a case in which the company filed suit against a city in Los Angeles County as an example.
Davies, in that Medium interview, blamed rent increases and the state’s housing crisis on government regulation and NIMBYism.
“Housing, energy policies automobiles, and manufacturing are all great examples of areas where legislation impedes development,” said Davies. “Creating policies that discourage investment, such as — on the housing side — rent control has the countereffect of depleting the affordable housing supply and driving prices up.”