Stakeholders all over Johnson County come together for a mobile-home task force

Havenpark Capital’s purchase of numerous mobile-home parks in Johnson County and proposed lot-rent increases has spurred the creation of a mobile-home task force.


Katie Goodale

Sunrise Village is seen on July 28, 2019. (Katie Goodale/The Daily Iowan)

Andy Mitchell, News Reporter

A coalition of local officials, activists, residents, and other stakeholders have formed to respond to recent developments in Johnson County mobile-home parks.

A task force for mobile homes, led by the Johnson County Affordable Housing Coalition, has held one meeting so far this summer with Iowa City City Councilors Rockne Cole and Pauline Taylor, Sen. Zach Wahls, D-Coralville, and representatives from Coralville, North Liberty, and other places in the county. They plan to have their next meeting this week.

“We got off to a really strong start,” Cole said at the July 2 Iowa City City Council meeting. “It’s a very complicated issue; we’re all sort of evaluating what authority we do or don’t have and ways that we can constructively work together.”

The task force was formed in response to Utah company Havenpark Capital’s purchase of mobile-home parks GolfView in North Liberty and Sunrise Mobile Home Village in Iowa City, as well as parks in Waukee and West Branch.

Havenpark announced in March that it would raising lot rents 58 percent in GolfView and 20 to 33 percent in Sunrise and West Branch.

Candi Evans, the vice president of the GolfView Residents Association, has lived in the neighborhood for 21 years and is currently retired and on Social Security. Most of her neighbors are retired, disabled, or young families who would not be able to afford a 58 percent lot rent hike, she said. Before Havenpark bought GolfView, lot rent was around $300.

Evans said she, along with others in the neighborhood, were blindsided by their park’s purchase and rent increases when they were notified by letters that GolfView was bought. With the help of the Local 238 Teamsters and the Center for Worker Justice of Eastern Iowa, GolfView residents organized into a residents association.

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Evans said Havenpark has not yet agreed to a meeting with the residents association. In May, Havenpark held a town-hall meeting with residents, barring members of the press, legal aid, and the organizing community. A public rebuking of Havenpark by Democratic presidential-nominee candidates Sen. Elizabeth Warren and Julián Castro put the company on a national stage.

While Havenpark planned to increase lot rents by 58 to 63 percent by June 1, Evans said, it lowered the rent increase by $70 until April 2020, when the full increase is set to go into effect.

Sara Barron, the executive director of the county Affordable Housing Coalition, said it’s concerning to see companies such as Havenpark purchase mobile-home lots and increase the rent.

“Mobile homes across the country and especially in Johnson County are one of the most affordable housing options for families and houses on limited incomes,” Barron said. “The people who live in mobile homes are some of the most economically vulnerable of our community.”

A lot-rent increase out of the price range of most of the park’s residents could cause mass displacement. Barron said GolfView residents had not faced the problem of mass displacement before Havenpark bought the lot. While the members are still gathering information, she said, one of the goals of the task force is to develop a set of recommendations to implement by the cities to prepare them for dealing with similar situations in the future.

In 2016, Minnesota-based company College Fund Properties II bought the Rose Oaks Apartment Complex, which has since been renovated to become The Quarters, across the street from the Procter & Gamble plant, resulting in a mass displacement of the complex’s residents, some having less than a month to relocate. Some 207 households were offered $250 by the city of Iowa City.

Barron said Iowa City can use its experience of dealing with mass displacement to other members of the task force.

Overall, she said, she’s optimistic about the task force, and the members want to put plans together for the next legislative session, while responding to more immediate problems in the county’s mobile-home parks.

Wahls said Iowa law does not offer protections to mobile-home residents that it offers to renters, and he wants to work on getting them better statewide protection.

Evans said if residents of a mobile-home park had to relocate because of lot-rent increases such as Havenpark’s, it would cost thousands of dollars to move the home and risk the structural integrity of facilities that could be decades old.

“We deserve the right to fight for our homes the way we want to fight for our homes and not the way Havenpark dictates,” Evans said.