WARRENTON — In April, Michael Fallert and the other residents of Warrenton Mobile Home Estates received notice that the owner was looking to sell. The park includes 37 spaces for low-income residents over 55 years old, many on fixed incomes.
“We were facing a pretty stiff rent increase here, especially if another owner bought this,” Fallert said, adding he and his wife already had their rent hiked twice since moving to the park in 2013.
“There was a rumor that a mobile home park was for sale, that the residents would be moved out.”
Fallert reached out to neighbors and learned the purchase price. One neighbor knew about a program through the housing nonprofit Community And Shelter Assistance Corp. — CASA of Oregon — that could help, he said.
With help from the nonprofit, the residents organized Elk Meadows Homeowners Cooperative and recently bought their park from Warrenton Estates LLC for $1.7 million.
Helping residents form Elk Meadows and secure financing was Julie Massa, an organizational development specialist. The nonprofit is a local affiliate of Resident Owned Communities USA, a national organization based in New Hampshire
“The Warrenton group was the quickest we’ve ever done,” Massa said. “The owner wanted the money immediately, Nov. 1, so we did the best that we could.”
As a community development financial institution, the nonprofit can access funds to finance projects with underserved populations. Since 2008, the group has helped buy 13 parks, including four this year.
Between 2000 and 2007, about 70 parks closed in Oregon, Massa said.
“We’d hear about it after a sale would happen,” she said. “Some of the residents weren’t even being notified.”
In 2007, residents from the Thunderbird Mobile Club in Wilsonville, many of them older and on fixed incomes, were evicted at the height of the housing boom to make way for new development. The closure led to tenant protection laws. The Opportunity to Purchase Act passed by the state Legislature in 2014 provided residents of the Warrenton Estates the right to organize the purchase of their park.
Out of the 37 spaces in the park, 34 chose to join the cooperative. Each now has a share, along with upkeep responsibilities. Fallert is the president of an interim, five-member board of directors. Next month, residents will vote on a permanent board.
The park recently hired a separate property manager to handle collection of rent, part of the third-party oversight required by lenders. Community And Shelter Assistance Corp. will stick around for the life of the loan to make sure the members of Elk Meadows are following the statutes of a cooperative.
The park will no longer have an on-site manager to handle maintenance. Board member Doug Lyle, who moved to the park eight years ago after relocating to the region to help take care of his mother, has been surveying the park’s utilities and compiling a list of contacts for residents with electrical, plumbing and other issues.
“We’re trying to keep (costs) down,” Lyle said. “We’ll be mowing our own lawns here and all that. Everybody donates their time and effort.”
Residents of the park have so far avoided another rent increase in the takeover, aside from a maintenance fee for nonmembers. Out of all the parks the nonprofit has helped purchase, Massa said, only one has faced a rent increase, because of a cable contract.
“Basically what this is about is guaranteeing affordable housing for people,” Fallert said. “If the water goes up 50 percent, then we’ll have to deal with that, things like that. But we won’t have the kind of economic pressures that a private single owner would have.”