LAYTON — Late last December, as had happened previously, sewage started oozing from a manhole cover near Vern Job’s mobile home unit.
“It was raw sewage. It smelled,” remembered Job, who lives at Ridgewood Estates, a manufactured housing park in Layton. The problem, discovered Dec. 30, didn’t get fixed until Jan. 2, after residents called the Layton Public Works Department, which advised Ridgewood to get a plumber with the special equipment needed to address the issue. Job still bristles at what, for him, was a hassle.
“I’m getting too old to put up with crap like that,” he said.
Others at Ridgewood complain about roads at the manufactured housing park and other aspects of the community, home to around 200 units and 600 residents, and they have launched efforts to force the owners to address their concerns. On Feb. 9, they gathered outside the U.S. post office in Layton and collected letters from residents outlining their complaints and mailed them to the park’s owner, Impact Communities.
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“The main issue is the aging infrastructure and the fact that the new owners do not listen to residents nor do they answer questions. If they do answer a question, it’s a very generic answer such as we’re working on it, or we’re getting bids,” said Val Moody, a resident there and president of the homeowners association, Ridgewood Estates Community Connection.
Demoine Whitworth, a regional vice president in Denver with Ridgewood’s owner, Impact Communities, disputed the residents’ characterizations. Impact Communities, owner of other manufactured housing parks around Utah, acquired Ridgewood, located at 2875 N. Hill Field Road near Hill Air Force Base‘s southern entrance, in January 2017.
Impact came in with a plan to address infrastructure in the park and, notably, is in the process of implementing a $2 million plan to upgrade the water and sewer lines in Ridgewood, Whitworth said. The streets received an asphalt overlay in late 2017, though she acknowledged there may be some potholes due to the wintry weather, and the paperwork she has shows that park officials respond to tenants’ complaints.
“Our company is committed to our residents and the local community around us,” she said.
Indeed, the New Year’s Day holiday complicated efforts to find a contractor to fix the sewage backup that irritated Job, she said. But Ridgewood officials were mindful of the situation and working all along to get it fixed. “I just think they’re exaggerating, I guess,” Whitworth said.
Even so, Kevin Borden with Manufactured Housing Action, or MHAction, a nonprofit group that advocates for tenants in mobile home parks and owners of manufactured homes, said large corporations, equity firms even, are increasingly acquiring mobile home parks. Impact Communities, a spinoff of RV Horizons, is one such corporation, Borden said, and the trend means mobile home park owners are becoming more and more removed from tenants, hampering a sense of accountability.
“There’s a social distance there that we haven’t seen before,” said Borden, who has been helping Ridgewood residents in their efforts with the Ridgewood owners. He hears stories “over and over and over again” about rent increases, new fees and flagging attention to infrastructure when large corporate owners take over mobile home parks.
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Owners of manufactured homes pay rent for the space they occupy in mobile home parks, and since moving such dwellings is hard, if not impossible. They can be beholden to park owners, as Borden sees it. What’s more, mobile home parks sometimes draw those with less social capital — immigrants, the working poor, seniors on fixed incomes.
Mobile park owners “know they have a trapped constituency and they’re taking advantage of it,” Borden said. MHAction advocates for rent-stabilization laws and other legislation at the local and state level to protect the interests of those living in mobile home communities.
‘LOVE MY NEIGHBORS’
Some of the letters the Ridgewood residents sent that Saturday were written on toilet paper, meant to underscore their irritation with the Dec. 30 sewer backup and prior sewer issues.
Reps from the Davis County Health Department monitored the cleanup last December and in January to make sure the backup was remedied, according to Rachelle Blackham, acting director of the agency. Last Tuesday, she added, her office received another complaint about a sewer issue at a different location inside Ridgewood.
“I think it’s clear they have sewer pipe issues,” she said.
At any rate, those on hand Saturday cited other complaints, too — not properly insulating exposed water pipes serving some trailers, what they say is the bumpy street network and more.
Moody, head of the Ridgewood homeowners association, said the residents’ hope is to get a meeting with Impact Communities owner Dan Reynolds to discuss their issues.
“I love where I live. I love my neighbors. I want (Impact Communities officials) to take as much pride in this community as I do,” she said.