In a 6-0 decision, the Fresno City Council on Thursday rejected a plan to close a northside mobile home park. And, at least one council member expressed interest in the city taking ownership of the property.
“Given the housing crisis that we have in our community, to me, I think the city should pursue the eminent domain pathway.” — Fresno City Councilmember Luis Chavez
But even as the city has stopped the sale of the park, evictions there continue.
Councilmembers agreed with the city attorney’s office that Harmony Communities’ plan to close La Hacienda Mobile Estates lacked sufficient details on how the company would compensate tenants for their homes.
Attorney Sarah Papazian with the city of Fresno said appraisals of the mobile homes were not credible and did not provide reasonable estimates of market value.
Councilmembers agreed with her conclusions.
“All of those things are so off-base in what was estimated on the applicant’s report versus what it actually costs in the city of Fresno, in a city that has essentially a 0% vacancy rate when it comes to new housing, especially housing that is affordable for seniors on fixed incomes,” Fresno City Councilman Miguel Arias said.
Attorney Mariah Thompson with California Rural Legal Assistance represents tenants at the park.
She said during the council meeting they have an investor and a nonprofit who may be able to purchase the park. They would use state funds but need city assistance as funding from the state only happens once a year.
Councilmember Luis Chavez said he would be open to using eminent domain to take over the park.
“Given the housing crisis that we have in our community, to me, I think the city should pursue the eminent domain pathway,” Chavez said.
The park is at 104 E. Sierra Ave., east of Blackstone Avenue.
Alternate Buyer Might Mean Those Evicted Could Come Back
While the city action doesn’t keep resident Patricia Shawn in her home, for her neighbors, stopping the closure means having a place to stay for another year, she said.
“It means that my neighbors get to stay there, it just means that they’ve got a shot,” Shawn said. Shawn has lived at La Hacienda — formerly Trails End Mobile Home Park — since 1997.
Shawn had a chance to talk with a representative from the company who told her he would bring back as many people as he can.
Attorneys would not disclose what nonprofit was interested in buying the mobile home park.
Over half of the park has either left or been evicted, Thompson said.
Shawn keeps regular contact with many of those who left the park.
She found out one former resident, 50-year-old Clyde Helms, died from health complications. He had been evicted in May. He had been living with a friend and had been going back and forth to the hospital.
Another single mother and her children have been living out of a motel, Shawn said.
More Than Half of Tenants Have Left or Been Evicted Since April
California law requires 12 months ‘ notice before a mobile home park can be closed.
Fresno, like many other cities, goes even further, requiring mobile home park owners to file reports on what impact shutting a park down would have.
It also requires a plan outlining how residents would be compensated for their property.
Harmony Communities sent out notices the park would close in April, accompanied by a tenant impact report in June. A report from the city attorney’s office stated the report lacked the required appraisal.
That appraisal didn’t come until September.
During that time, numerous eviction notices were given to residents.
Shawn estimates about 19 people have been evicted since the first notice went out.
Thompson said six evictions have been filed since the company’s last hearing before the council, most of whom are tenants she represents.
Another resident, David Willis, received an unlawful detainer notice Friday. He is one of the residents suing Harmony. He also sits on the rent control committee.
The notice is identical to six others, Thompson said. The notice claims Willis is a squatter with no rights and has to give up his home within five days.
Inadequate Plan by Harmony: City Attorneys
Papazian said the appraiser for Harmony used the same five comps for all the trailers, regardless of the age, type, or size.
Upon investigation, Papazian said, three of the comps came from the same buyer. One of the comps at a different mobile home park was a sale between family members.
The report from Harmony stated that only residents in good standing would be eligible for the relocation plan.
Attorney Jason Dilday for Harmony said their appraiser is state certified. He also said the company doesn’t need city approval to close the park down because it hasn’t applied for a change of use.
An active lawsuit against the city of Petaluma from Three Pillars Communities and Little Woods Mobile Villa LLC disputes the constitutionality of cities being able to prevent the closure of the park.
A statement from Harmony to GV Wire stated that it isn’t involved in the Petaluma lawsuit, but the address of one of the plaintiffs — Little Woods Mobile Villa LLC — shows the same business address as Harmony Communities.
The lawsuit contends that given rent control and park closure rules, companies are forced to operate at a loss.
Harmony’s report on La Hacienda Mobile Estate also states the reason for the need to close involves extensive upgrades that need to be done to the property.
Thompson said Harmony is intentionally operating at a loss to justify closing the park.
“This investor knew exactly what they were getting into,” Thompson said. “They were very familiar with the conditions in the park. They are a sophisticated entity with more than 50 parks that know that when you buy a park like this you lose money for the first couple years.”