By Jason Cruz
Northwest Asian Weekly
Earlier this month, Gov. Jay Inslee signed a bill into law which updated protections for tenants of mobile and manufactured homes that may be displaced by landowners. Last year, after the state legislature was unable to come through with a comprehensive plan to help displaced tenants at the Firs Mobile Home Park in SeaTac, Wash., state Rep. Cindy Ryu, with the help of City of SeaTac Councilmember Peter Kwon, made a concerted effort that they would not come up empty this legislative session.
The bill is “a good step forward to continue to talk on more changes,” said state Rep. Mia Gregerson.
To increase the chances of a bill to pass, stakeholder meetings were convened to determine the needs of each group. This included tenants, landlords, and trade associations within the mobile home and manufactured home industry.
“There were half a dozen meetings in the last couple months,” said Kwon. The common goal was to ensure that a new law passed and meeting with the people affected by the new rules to ensure little, if any opposition. Approximately 30 people showed up at SeaTac City Hall to work together to put a plan into place for this legislative session.
“The law helps people on the low end of the economic spectrum that don’t have a lot of options,” explained City of SeaTac spokesman Kyle Moore, who sat in on the meetings. “By providing them with financial assistance, it will give them a new start.”
Rep. Ryu continued the meetings in Olympia once the legislative session began this year. With two other mobile home communities on the brink of closing, there was motivation for a new law to be written.
“As we talked more and more on how [a new law] would work and educate one another regarding the dynamics, we started to get into the entire lifecycle,” Ryu explained. “What are we doing ‘upstream’? With no new inventory coming on board, what do we do for those in manufactured home communities and how could we help them become sustainable?”
Among the contents within the bill signed into law on May 9, it allows for displaced manufactured/mobile home park tenants seeking relocation assistance from the Mobile and Manufactured Home Relocation Assistance Program, to receive other funding for relocation purposes without reducing their eligibility. It also allows manufactured/mobile home park tenants to use Relocation Assistance Program funds to secure housing that is not a manufactured home.
Previously, the old law would have paid $7,500 to single-section homes and $12,500 per multi-section home. However, these payouts were offset by any money provided by the landowner. In addition, the payout by the state would be given to the homeowner in order to move or demolish the existing mobile home on the property, but could not be used toward the first and last month’s rent or a down payment on a residence.
Last year, residents of the Firs Mobile Home Park faced eviction after the landowner decided to convert the property into a hotel and apartment complex.
Jong Soo Park offered $2,000 to each lot owner in the park. They were paying $500 per month. A February 2018 appraisal noted that the property was not at its “highest and best use.” While affordable housing is a concern, the private landowner does have a right to convert the land. But, the way in which it was done may have come into question. The residents, who were mostly Spanish-speaking, filed a lawsuit against the landowner and the City of SeaTac in King County Superior Court, claiming that the notices were not provided to them in Spanish.
They also claimed that SeaTac city leaders discriminated against them by not listening to their concerns.
Last month, a legal settlement was announced, although it has not been confirmed by court order as of this writing. The proposed settlement would allow the residents to stay rent-free at the Firs through June 2020. Each household will also get $10,000 for relocation expenses. This would be an increase over the original amount offered. Despite the settlement, homeowners interviewed by KOMO News said that they had no choice but to take the offer. The landowner indicated that the settlement was fair.
Under the new law, residents of the Firs will be able to take advantage of the new law as it goes into effect this July. Through the proposed settlement, it would allow the residents time to find new places to live.
Jason can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.