‘Retaliation’: Mobile home tenants say closing park could leave them homeless

Residents of Little Woods Mobile Villa spoke out Tuesday over threats of closure.|

Residents of Little Woods Mobile Villa on Lakeville Highway worry they might end up homeless if the management company running their mobile home park makes good on its threat to close it.

That was the message of many park residents as they spoke out against a possible closure during a news conference held Tuesday evening at the park and broadcast over social media.

The news conference – organized by members of Littlewoods Neighbors United, a group of residents that formed in response to the threat of the park closure – was the latest in an ongoing saga of upheaval at mobile home parks throughout the county.

In Petaluma, an update by the city capping the annual rent increases allowed by mobile home parks was intended to strengthen protections for renters. But it resulted in upheaval after management at two of the parks – Little Woods and Youngstown – responded with threats of closure last July.

The residents at Little Woods were joined by members of the Sonoma County Tenants Union and North Bay Organizing Project at the news conference, with locals of all ages, from 13 to 70, sharing messages on the impact a closure could have on their lives.

“We feel that there is retaliation against tenants due to the amending of the mobile home park space rent stabilization program,” said Martin Contreras, a member of Littlewoods Neighbors United and a resident at the 78-unit mobile home park. “Because of this amendment, Harmony Communities, the group that (manages) the park, has informed us that they have to seriously consider closing down the park.”

A majority of the residents, approximately 75%, speak Spanish at Little Woods, and Spanish was spoken throughout the Tuesday event.

The amending of the rent stabilization program Contreras referred to was a move by city leaders to update tenant protections.

As of July 17, park owners can only either raise rent by 4% of a resident’s current rate or 70% of the change to the Bay Area Consumer Price Index – a measure of the average change in prices for goods and services – whichever is less, according to the city of Petaluma website.

Based on the current Bay Area CPI rate, the highest allowable rent increase rate is 2% for August 2023 through July 2024, according to the city website.

Petaluma was the latest city to update mobile home protections across the county, behind Santa Rosa and Windsor. Park owners and managers claimed the city’s changes were too onerous to allow them to run the parks profitably.

Little Woods is operated by Stockton-based Harmony Communities and owned by Little Woods Mobile Villa LLC.

Despite having “mobile” in the name, it costs thousands to move mobile homes, and often they can’t be moved after they’ve been parked in a space for many years.

Contreras, a teacher and resident of the park for 23 years, said residents feel the “urgency of facing potential displacement in a town and county that is getting less and less affordable.”

“If they were to close the park, we’d be practically living on the streets, because it’s not easy to find a place to live due to the cost of rent and increasing costs and more than anything, in my case, I’m the sole provider for my family,” said Juan Magaña, who has lived in the park with his wife and two daughters for the past seven years.

Behind speakers, tenants stood side by side, holding various signs.

One sign, in colorful block letters, read: “I live here, I am 10 years old and I am scared and afraid of what we are experiencing.”

You can reach Staff Writer Jennifer Sawhney at 707-521-5346 or jennifer.sawhney@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @sawhney_media.

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