Fallout from San Jose mobile home eviction threats: widespread fear

Fallout from San Jose mobile home eviction threats: widespread fear

By Louis Hansen | lhansen@bayareanewsgroup.com | Bay Area News Group PUBLISHED: January 20, 2020 at 5:00 am | UPDATED: January 21, 2020 at 3:50 am

Family confirms possible redevelopment of San Jose park


San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo held a news conference announcing the city’s recommendation to accelerate protections for mobile home park residents on Thursday at the mobile home park.

The letters warning of a possible eviction that circulated around Westwinds Mobile Home Park this month shook more than homeowners — fear has rippled out to residents in other parks.

Mobile home owners, worried about their parks closing, flooded local officials and real estate agents with calls, texts and emails.

Martha O’Connell, an activist and mobile home owner in San Jose, said owners feared additional eviction threats and felt renewed anxiety that their parks would become prime targets for redevelopment. “It’s insane,” she said.

Silicon Valley has seen several major parks change ownership and face redevelopment in recent years. Many sit on choice real estate in a region of high property prices and soaring demand for housing.

Santa Clara County has 108 parks, including 59 in San Jose, according to state figures. San Mateo has 24, Alameda has 56 and Contra Costa has 72.

But city and park officials this week sought to reassure residents, with San Jose council members introducing a new measure to protect two parks zoned for high-density housing: Westwinds and Mountain Springs.

Westwinds is one of the biggest parks in the state and the largest in San Jose with 723 homes and 1,600 residents. A dispute between property owners Nicholson Family Partnership and park managers MHC Operating over the park’s future has spilled over into Santa Clara County Superior Court.

MHC accused the family partnership in court of demanding that MHC evict all residents by the end of the management contract in August 2022. Both sides say they support park residents and seek to preserve affordable housing for the community.

The family partnership said in a new statement to this news organization they plan to redevelop the property while preserving affordable and stable housing for park residents. The family declined to release any project details, and no proposal has been submitted to the city.

“Our intention is to work collaboratively with the city to arrive at a long-term redevelopment of the property that protects the tenants, while simultaneously offering a positive outcome to help ameliorate the city’s housing shortage, including the provision of an affordable housing component,” Bruce Nicholson, co-manager of the partnership, said in a statement.

MHC, a division of Chicago-based Equity LifeStyles, owns or manages more than 200 manufactured home parks across the country. The local management sent Westwinds residents another letter on Jan. 10 laying the threat of eviction on the family partnership.

San Jose city leaders on Wednesday re-started a proposal — stalled late last year — to add redevelopment regulations for Westwinds and Mountain Springs. The new proposal would deem them mobile home communities and stiffen requirements for redevelopment.

The proposals are expected to receive at least three public hearings and culminate with a City Council vote in March.

San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo said the primary purpose of the new zoning was to require City Council approval for any redevelopment of the two parks. “The second purpose is to enable 700 families to get a good night’s sleep for the first time in two weeks,” he said. “Council is not going to allow for any redevelopment unless the overwhelming majority of residents think it’s a fair deal.”

But mobile home park advocates and residents fear more disruption ahead.

O’Connell, an advocate with the Golden State Manufactured-Home Owners League, and Ryan Jasinsky, a representative of local park owners, wrote in a joint letter to the San Jose City Council that they have been “overrun” with calls from residents.

O’Connell and Jasinsky, members of the city housing and community development commission, scolded council members for keeping them in the dark about the potential redevelopment. “By working together, we can help stem the hysteria,” they wrote.

Licccardo said city officials would continue to provide updates through public hearings and city websites.

Sunnyvale real estate agent Denise Casey, who specializes in mobile home sales, said she’s received a steady stream of calls from panicked homeowners.

Casey advised her clients to sit tight, and pointed to the recent settlement mobile home owners in Winchester Ranch received under a deal finalized Wednesday by the San Jose City Council. Displaced residents will be reimbursed for the value of their homes, and are eligible for rent subsidies and units in that park’s new development.

Protections for mobile home owners during redevelopment in San Jose include a fair-market-value purchase of their home, moving assistance and rental subsidies. Sunnyvale, home to the two largest parks in the Bay Area, has special designations for mobile home parks, and any redevelopment requires multiple public hearings and approval from the City Council.

“In every conversion I’ve seen,” Casey said, “the (home) owners made out.” Her best advice, she added, was to “hold on and see what happens.”

Westwinds residents said they’re unsure what comes next — and that worries many.

Jim Canova, a longtime resident and school board member, said residents need to form a homeowners association and take steps to purchase the property. A resident-owned park, he said, would give the community long-lasting stability.

“This is our neighborhood,” Canova said. “We have to get rid of that cloud.”

Walt Blanchard, 64, moved into the park in 1990. “We could afford it,” he said, “and it was close to where we worked.” Blanchard would be happy to stay in the park, but the eviction warning has been stressful for his family.

Blanchard’s 27-year-old daughter, Theresa, loves the tight-knit Westwinds community. “I would like to stay here. This is home,” Blanchard said. Now, she said, “it’s definitely scary.”

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