Iowa Democratic Rep. Dave Loebsack is looking into a business that’s buying up mobile home parks in the state and then jacking up monthly bills for residents. Utah-based company Havenpark Capital plans to raise rents on tenants in Iowa by as much as 60 and 70 percent.
Loebsack met with residents of the Golfview Mobile Home Park in North Liberty on Tuesday morning. Tenants here are facing a rent hike of 60 percent by next April, after Havenpark Capital bought the community of a couple hundred trailers in March.
Resident Candi Evans hosted a group of neighbors at her home to meet with the congressman. She says the rent increases are a particular burden for people like her who are trying to pay their bills on Social Security or disability benefits.
“And a lot of the people here, like myself, are retired. We’re on a fixed income. We can’t go get another $40 an hour job and earn more money. Earn them another $200,” Evans said.
Havenpark Capital has said it plans to invest some $2 million in repairs and renovations in the North Liberty and Waukee locations, and says it has a reputation for managing “outstanding manufactured home communities." The group owns some 36 properties amounting to 7,500 home sites across the country.
Evans says multiple families have already left the neighborhood, some managing to sell their trailers, though she suspects others will simply abandon their homes if they can’t find a buyer, losing their equity. While some residents have paid off their homes and own them outright, they don’t own the land they sit on.
Residents say the term “mobile home” is a misnomer. Many of trailers would lose their structural integrity if they were moved. Others simply aren’t worth the cost to relocate them. This leaves tenants stuck, says Evans, who with Don Lund oversees the Golfview Residents Association.
“They’re predators,” Evans said. “Some people will not even be able to move their home. They can’t!”
For Lund, Golfview is more than just the building he’s lived in for decades, it’s having neighbors to grill and garden with. It’s home, he says.
“I put a purple ash, a yellow ash and a white pine,” Evans says, describing the yard he’s cultivated over the years. “Gotta a couple tomato plants in. Ethel’s my green thumb, she comes over. She’s 80 years old and still out there working on it…We had a barbeque yesterday, we cleaned the bike trail. The neighborhood came over and stuff and we had a good time.”
The message is part of a series of letters Warren has sent to mobile home companies across the country, citing a nationwide trend of investors buying up and raising rights on financially vulnerable communities. Warren is one of two dozen Democrats running for president in 2020.
“We’re asking Havenpark a series of questions about basically their practices not just here but around the country, just to see how they operate. And look, the fact of the matter is these increases, like I said are really exorbitant. We have to put public pressure on those folks,” Loebsack said.
In speaking with residents at Golfview, Loebsack said much of the regulation of housing sites and tenants’ rights is left up to local and state governments. Democrats in the Iowa Senate did attempt to pass expanded rights for mobile home residents this past session, but the legislation didn’t make it past the House.
Still, Loebsack says it’s worth members of Congress looking into the companies to see if they’re running afoul of federal programs.
“It’s gonna be interesting to find out if they are taking advantage of any federal programs in their operations," he said. "And I think if they are then I think we need to investigate that.”
Havenpark Capital has bought several mobile home parks across Iowa in recent months, including sites in North Liberty, Waukee, Iowa City and West Branch. Local residents and organizers feel they’ve been somewhat successful in pushing back against the rate hikes.
Golfview residents now have a $70 a month credit on their rent increases, which go into effect July 1st. Residents at Midwest County Estates Mobile Home Park in Waukee say they’ve negotiated for staggered rent increases as well. Compared to other communities in other states, some residents feel they’re handling the increases in stride, even staying “ahead of the curve."
Still, Golfview resident Michael Aurand says scraping together an extra couple hundred dollars a month is significant, and some in the neighborhood are worried about the stark reality of homelessness.
“There is no ‘ahead of the curve’ when you’re only a few months away from living under a bridge,” Aurand said.