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A Layton-area mobile home park begins clearing out residents, raising fears among some of a homeless winter

By Staff | Aug 14, 2021

Editor’s note: The following story was reported by The Utah Investigative Journalism Project in partnership with the Standard-Examiner and The Salt Lake Tribune.

Layton — After receiving notices to vacate their homes by the end of this year, more than a dozen cash-strapped residents of the Cedarwood Mobile Home Park face an uncertain future and some fear being thrown into homelessness in the cold of winter.

The decades-old six-acre park, sandwiched between Interstate 15 and Main Street, sits within a stone’s throw of the Layton FrontRunner station. In late March, residents of 14 of the park’s 71 occupied mobile homes were given until Jan. 1 to leave the property.

Remaining residents also were informed in May that they can expect similar treatment down the road when the entire park is shut down. No time frame was given.

“It was kind of a shock when I came home and saw the letter on the door,” Jonathan Chu said. “I was hoping for compensation so I could put it toward a new house. But they said no … they didn’t offer any kind of assistance. They told me I could abandon the trailer if I want.”

Chu said he’d taken out a $3,000 loan to purchase the old rusted mobile home and paid $500 in monthly rent for the lot. With the clock ticking, he recently moved to a newer park where he now pays $780 per month to live in a manufactured home.

Chu said that money is tight these days.

While he said he gets “paid decent as a forklift driver” it remains a struggle “to afford food and rent.”

Moving is not an option for Nikkole Malan, who pays $495 in monthly rent for the Cedarwood lot for her single-wide mobile home.

“My mobile home is a 1973. You can’t place anything on a lot now that is earlier than 1976, based on HUD regulations,” Malan said.

In the absence of any real relocation assistance — combined with her inability to contact park owner McKay Winkel directly — Malan voiced deep frustration over the situation.

“I’m scared to death of being out on the street — especially when it comes Dec. 31 in the winter,” Malan said. She worries “I’ll be living at the train depot with the homeless people with everything I can fit in a shopping cart if I can find one.”

At 51, Malan said she’s studying to become a registered nurse while also providing care for her elderly parents. She had hoped to stay in her mobile home long enough to get on more secure financial footing.

“I have adult children. I could sleep on their couch. But that’s not the point,” Malan said. “I’ve used all my pocket change to make my house inhabitable.”

Opportunity zone/gentrification driver

Cedarwood lies within a federal “opportunity zone” due to its economically distressed status.

The federal program, created under the 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, was intended to stimulate long-term investment and job creation in low-income neighborhoods.

That designation can benefit the landowner by way of associated tax deferments. But according to the Center on Budget & Policy Priorities, the program offers little help to poor residents of the targeted neighborhoods.

“While the new tax break enables investors to accumulate more wealth, it includes no requirements to ensure that local residents benefit from investments receiving the tax break,” the January 2019 report said.

Put more simply, the tax breaks essentially subsidize displacement of low-income households.

“To me, it often just creates another tool that will make gentrification happen,” said Amy Rowland, president of the nonprofit Community Development Finance Alliance in Utah. “It won’t help make the jump to someone doing 100 percent affordable housing or something like that.”

Mobile home owners are particularly vulnerable when their parks evolve into other uses.

“For some, their entire investment is in that unit they thought was going to give them some stability in housing,” Rowland said. “As it turns out, it’s actually a giant [weight] around your neck … because moving is more expensive than it’s worth.”

With homelessness on the rise in cities across the United States, Rowland, who has advocated for affordable housing for more than three decades, worries that OZ credits help feed that fire.

“What used to be low-income neighborhoods are quickly becoming places they can’t afford,” Rowland said. “It probably is a good role for government to help figure out some kind of solution.”

Cedarwood development

In a May newsletter from management to Cedarwood residents, one paragraph aimed to “address the rumors of Cedarwood Park closing.” It acknowledged that in addition to the 14 homes that must be vacated by year’s end, “Yes, eventually the park will be closing. As of now, there is no date.”

Winkel also has indicated to Layton City officials his desire to issue an “open ended park closure notice” to all Cedarwood residents with future unspecified development planned.

Zoned for mixed use and transit-oriented development, Cedarwood’s future could include retail, office space, entertainment and high-density housing — uses that support Layton’s commuter rail station.

“We’ve seen plans that include market-rate apartments. We’ve seen plans with mixed-use buildings,” Chad Wilkinson, Layton community and economic development director said, noting they’re still in the conceptual stage. “Until something is officially submitted for Planning Commission review, we can’t make those public.”

Winkel is teaming with Holladay-based Rockworth Companies and Rimrock Construction on the project.

Cedarwood is one of nine Utah mobile home parks owned and operated by Winkel, who is president of Boulder Ranch L.C.

Winkel did not respond to requests for comment for this story, but emails obtained through a public records request give a glimpse of his plans.

In January, Winkel emailed Layton City officials saying he’d purchased property within the Rolling Hills Mobile Home Estates near Highway 193 and Hill Air Force Base. He hoped to build a new mobile home park on the six-acre parcel to eventually relocate residents displaced from Cedarwood.

However, part of that property requires a rezone, and the city said Winkel had not yet submitted that application.

Layton City Attorney Gary Crane explained that Winkel’s parcel needs state approval regarding an easement for the Air Force base and its flight path.

Part of the property is in an area designated for noise buffering, Crane said, and such improvements are possible for mobile homes. “That would likely be expensive, but not prohibitive,” Crane added.

He also noted the base’s cooperation: “We actually have a letter from the base commander that supports placement of housing in that location because it’s far enough out of the flight path that the only concern they had was the sound attenuation piece.”

However, that approval has yet to happen.

“We’re actually waiting for more of a commitment on the part of Winkel, because we don’t have a (development) plan in place yet,” Crane said.

Between a rock and a hard place

Jalysa Sanchez rents one of the 14 mobile homes impacted in the first phase of the impending Cedarwood redevelopment.

A single mother of two, Sanchez has lived there for four years and said “you can’t beat the rent.” At $730 per month (home and lot rent), her $16.67 per hour pay as a medical assistant stretches just far enough.

“It’s really hard to find something under $1,100. So I don’t know what I’m going to do,” Sanchez said. “I feel bad for the people who have been there for years. My sister and nephew just barely bought their trailers a couple of years ago … they might have five to six months longer to move out.”

Residents Ruben Pineda and Ana Lilia Perez have called Cedarwood home for more than 15 years. They own their older mobile home, and recently upgraded its roof.

“Last October we asked the park manager if we were allowed to build a new roof on our home. He said there was no problem in doing so but did not disclose the possibility of having to move our home,” the couple said by text. “We were also affected financially by the pandemic and had to use all of our savings. Our only request is to be compensated for our home and receive an extension to find a new one.”

When it comes to legal rights, Utah law tilts in favor of landowners rather than mobile home residents, even those who own their structures outright.

For years, advocates have lobbied on Utah’s Capitol Hill to strengthen residents’ rights, resulting in some incremental improvements to the landlord-tenant relationship.

For example, in 2008 legislation passed requiring that residents receive nine months notice when a mobile home park is changing land use. And in 2010, a bill passed to bolster mobile home resident associations.

Then in 2017, the law regarding lot leases and evictions was strengthened to improve communication between landowners and residents.

Nonetheless, any mobile home owners who rent the land they’re occupying risk eviction, and they generally have few options for affordable housing.

Help wanted and desperately needed

Richard Robinson headed up the Utah Coalition of Manufactured Homeowners until mid-July and said Cedarwood residents contacted him about the park’s pending closure.

“As a state organization, we haven’t been able to do a darn thing,” Robinson said, “because the rules are being followed.”

Cedarwood residents also reached out to the nonprofit community action and family support agency Open Doors Utah. Daneen Adams, the group’s assistant executive director, said she can step in with help — but only after people actually get booted out of the park with no place to go.

“Unfortunately they have to be literally homeless for my organization to help them with rapid rehousing funds. It’s so upsetting,” Adams said. “And when they’re paying $500 and the cheapest rent in Davis county is about $1,200, that’s a huge jump.”

Even worse, Adams said, is Utah’s housing crunch created by huge demand in the face of a dearth of affordable homes. “We’re in a spot where we have funding to help people because of CARES [Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act] — but if we don’t have the inventory, where are we going to put them?” Adams said. “We all face the same problem — lack of inventory for affordable housing.”

According to movity.com, about 22 million people in the U.S. lived in mobile/manufactured homes in 2020, paying average rent of $564 monthly compared to $1,057 for a home or apartment. Median income for mobile home residents was $34,000 compared to $59,700 for the rest of the population.

In its “Out of Reach 2021” report, the National Low Income Housing Coalition supplied data on how much someone must earn to afford a modest two-bedroom apartment. In Utah, that wage is $20.21 per hour.

Francisca Blanc, advocacy & outreach coordinator for the nonprofit Utah Housing Coalition, said the Cedarwood situation is especially worrisome for a number of reasons.

“What is frustrating to us is the lack of transparency from the park owner,” Blanc said. “These residents have been living there for a long time and their kids go to public school. They are contributing members in that city where they pay taxes. But nobody seems to care.”

Blanc took issue with Wilkinson saying there was nothing the city could do.

“It’s true that the property owner has a right to develop, but at the same time we’re living under critical circumstances,” Blanc said. “We’re still living during a pandemic, there is no affordable housing available at all in Davis County, and rents are so high that it’s really pushing people to the edge.”

Blanc described the situation as unsustainable and suggested that now might be a good time for state leaders to get involved on behalf of their struggling constituents — of whom many are essential workers, police officers, teachers and cashiers.

“We have a lot of federal funds coming into the state, a once in a lifetime opportunity,” Blanc said. “What will it take for our policy makers — who have the power to do something really good — to invest in affordable housing in our community?”

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