Santa Rosa votes to limit rent control in mobile home parks
Santa Rosa mobile home park residents will get more peace of mind when it comes to rent increases under a new plan tentatively approved by the City Council late Tuesday.
The move to tighten rent controls and make them the strongest in Sonoma County is the culmination of years of grassroots efforts by Santa Rosa mobile home residents that intensified in recent months.
“It was a victory … It feels great,” said Tom LaPenna, president of Santa Rosa Manufactured-Homeowners Association and a resident at Sequoia Gardens Mobile Home Park who played a key role in developing the new policy. “We’re leading the way now for the county.”
At the council meeting, which stretched late into the evening, mostly older mobile homeowners filled the chamber, holding bright homemade paper signs with phrases like “save our housing” and “new faces of homelessness (without) rent control.”
Mobile homes are one of the few unsubsidized affordable housing options, especially for older adults, who account for the fastest growing share of the unhoused population in California, a trend also reflected in Sonoma County.
After more than two hours of discussion Tuesday, the City Council tentatively voted 5-2 to amend its mobile home rent ordinance, which was last updated in 2004. Natalie Rogers, who sponsored the amendment, Mayor Chris Rogers, Vice Mayor Eddie Alvarez, Dianna MacDonald and Victoria Fleming voted in favor while Tom Schwedhelm and John Sawyer voted against. The change will go to a second reading of the ordinance and a final vote next week.
It’s up to local governments to set limits on the rent mobile homeowners pay for the land below their residences, different laws than govern other types of housing.
About 100 California cities and counties have some form of rent control. Yearly increases are mostly tied to a percentage of the Consumer Price Index (CPI), the measure of prices for goods and services paid by consumers in an area.
Currently, 16 of Santa Rosa’s 19 mobile home parks with rent control set yearly increases based on 100% of the CPI with a 6% cap, like most other Sonoma County jurisdictions.
If the new amendment holds, rent increases will be tied to 70% of the CPI with a 4% cap. It would also allow park owners to increase rent by 10% for in-place transfers, which occur when a mobile home is sold to a new buyer.
The closest comparison is Rohnert Park which uses a slightly different CPI calculation with a 4% limit. The City of Sonoma ties rent increases to 80% of CPI.
Average mobile home space rents across Santa Rosa are $721 per month, though this varies considerably park to park and lot to lot, according to city calculations. Without the new ordinance, the average would increase to $762 in 2023.
Mobile homeowners from Petaluma to Windsor have been pushing for similar changes, part of a grassroots trend throughout California and more broadly. Most recently, the Windsor City Council took up the issue at a meeting earlier this month.
Proponents of tighter rent control argue that current limits risk pricing out many of the predominantly older people living in mobile homes who rely on Social Security, payments that have failed to keep pace with CPI over time.
Twelve of Santa Rosa’s 16 rent-controlled parks are for residents who are 55 and older.
“Some of my neighbors are already walking a tightrope between paying rent and buying food and necessary medicine with little or no space before falling into homelessness. Personally I’m not yet at that homeless abyss, but my calculator says that I will be there if rent increases keep on going with the trajectory they’ve been going on,” said Dianne Monroe, a Santa Rosa mobile homeowner who testified at the Tuesday hearing. “You’re in a position to help keep senior citizens in their homes.”
Another speaker described how her rent has gone from $650 per month to $800, and with soaring utilities, she’s facing a recent bill of more than $1,100. “I wanted you to look at what a 77-year-old woman who has saved all her life for security when she retired and a place to live,” Macy McFarland of Sequoia Gardens said. “I wasn’t equipped for that when I retired.”
Most recently, an 8.7% cost of living bump to Social Security payouts was announced for 2023, the highest in 40 years to account for record inflation. That eased the impact of an upcoming 5.7% rent increase based on current law a bit, but not enough for many already struggling to cover other rising costs.