By Jason Cruz
Northwest Asian Weekly
Residents of The Firs Mobile Home Park received bad news from the state capitol in Olympia as a bill granting financial assistance to residents of the SeaTac site fell short of a vote before the end of the legislative session on March 2.
“It’s sad,” noted state Rep. Cindy Ryu. Relocating the residents could mean moving 200 miles away to another mobile home park, children changing schools, and parents needing to find new jobs. “It tears the fabric of communities,” said Ryu, who chairs the Community, Development, Housing and Tribal Affairs Committee.
City of SeaTac Councilmember Peter Kwon personally made phone calls to senators to push for a vote to the very end of the legislative session. But the efforts did not land a vote for approval. House Bill 1884 would have provided financial relocation assistance for low-income residents of mobile home parks like The Firs when they are displaced by landowners. The proposed legislation would amend current legislation which does not allow for adequate relocation assistance.
The owner of the land plans to evict the park’s 170 residents, including 90 children, from this 68-space mobile home site. In its stead, the land owner, Jong Soo Park, seeks to redevelop to capitalize on the economic boom. This may mean a commercial property, such as a hotel or an apartment building. He has offered $2,000 for each lot owner in the park. Currently, they pay $500 per month.
The state has offered $2.5 million toward the purchase of The Firs in an effort to save the homes. However, for 6.67-acre plot, the amount is far less than the $10.7 million fair-market value for the land. A February 2018 appraisal includes the note, “[T]he subject’s current use is not its highest and best use.” The King County Housing Authority (KCHA) estimated an additional $2-$3 million in infrastructure upgrades as well. Kwon estimates costs could grow to $16 million. Only if there is another buyer seeking to purchase the land for the value, plus the estimated additional costs and the owner approves of the sales term, would The Firs be saved. “It’s a symbolic gesture that provides false hope,” said Kwon of the $2.5 million offer.
“It just doesn’t pencil out,” added Ryu. Helping owners keep the parks open and profitable is a hard question to answer during a period of growth. The balance between affordable housing and a private landowner’s right to capitalize on an opportunity are at odds in this situation.
There are apartment buildings owned by the KCHA near the site of The Firs which might be available to the residents. However, according to Kwon, many of The Firs tenants do not want to move there.
Kwon first learned of the evictions in 2016, when residents showed up at a city council meeting. Kwon met with the homeowner’s association at The Firs, its residents, and the Tenants Union of Washington state to discuss what the city could do. The residents wanted to remain at The Firs. But, if that was not possible, they wanted to be able to find adequate housing in addition to financial assistance for the relocation.
Kwon indicated that the current law in Washington allows payment to mobile home owners for relocation. It pays $7,500 per single-section home and $12,500 per multi-section home. However, if a landowner provides payments for relocation, the amount is deducted from the state payment. For instance, the $2,000 proposed to be paid by Park would decrease the $7,500 to $5,500. In addition, the current payout by the state would be given to the homeowner in order to move or demolish the mobile home. It cannot go toward the first and last month’s rent or a down payment on a residence.
“House Bill 1884 was the only one to help The Firs,” stated Kwon. “There was no opposition to the bill.”
According to Ryu, the bill was a “Kumbaya moment” for residents and owners, tenants and landlords, as all parties seemed to agree on the parameters of the proposed bill. The bill would allow for assistance for displaced residence of mobile home parks to utilize money to relocate. They could use the state money to pay to demolish the mobile home, and use it toward rent or a down payment for a new residence.
But Ryu noted opposition from some Republicans regarding the source of funding for the bill and a proposal that the new bill be limited only to those 55 years and older. “The problem with this is that while it would help the elderly, it would not help families,” explained Ryu.
In lieu of the legislative attempts, the homeowner’s association of The Firs have filed a lawsuit against the City of SeaTac. It claims that the proper process for notifying the residents of the eviction were not followed according to the law. This includes the allegation of improperly translated documents into Spanish, as English is a second language for most.
Ryu hopes that the bill will pass in the next legislative session in 2019, so that future displaced mobile home residents might benefit. But the residents at The Firs face an uncertain future.
“I completely feel anguish for residents of The Firs.”
Jason can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.