Trailer Park. Just the term may invoke stereotypes of hopelessness and neglect. When I was growing up, some of my relatives, usually seniors on fixed incomes, lived in mobile-home parks. Even as a kid, I was aware of the stigma and kind of scared to visit them.
But viewed from a different angle, trailer-park living can be an appealing, low-income alternative in the midst of a housing crisis, a way to enjoy a little more ownership for a lot less money.
“I’m the most comfortable here. I just love this place,” says Jeff Holtzman, a longtime resident of the University Trailer Park on Northeast 88th Street near Wedgwood. “I like the small-footprint thing, and of course it’s inexpensive. But there’s something very comfortable about this place.”
But not for long. In the spring, Holtzman and his partner, Jill Haas, along with close to 100 other residents of the park, received notice that the park would close in May of 2017. The property will be developed into 89 townhomes.
“If a park is closing in Seattle, it’s hard to relocate in Seattle.”
It’s part of a trend throughout King County, which has seen a recent uptick in trailer-park closures.
“Historically, mobile-home parks close when the economy is good, and mobile-home parks will close if there is a housing crisis,” says Brigid Henderson, a program manager for Washington state’s Mobile/Manufactured Home Relocation Assistance Program.
She adds that, especially in urban areas, parks sometimes close to make way for mass-transit expansion.
The rising cost of property and the desire for more housing is too intense for these humble communities to go unnoticed by hungry developers. And as they disappear, residents are often forced to abandon significant investments. A trailer might look nice, but if it doesn’t meet safety and structural standards, it cannot be moved to a new location.
In the case of Holtzman and Haas, they’ve made improvements, such as a remodeled, art-deco-style bathroom, a bamboo, shaded back deck and a garden shed. But they’ll have to pay to demolish the trailer, including these investments, themselves.
The state offers some assistance (between $7,500 and $12,000) to help pay for relocation, including the demolition of an immovable trailer. But Henderson admits the amounts have not been increased since 2005, and that compensation is often insufficient.
In the case of the University Trailer Park, the seller is providing an additional $3,500 to each household, and has retained the help of a relocation specialist to assist residents in finding a new place to live.
Even so, Holtzman, who is eligible for $7,500 in state assistance, anticipates much of that will go to the demolition of his home. He says the additional $3,500 will be quickly swallowed up by moving costs and putting money down on a new place.
As for finding a new place to live, he says the relocation specialist can’t change that he and Haas, both freelancers, now face a rental market where monthly rent can exceed $2,000. He does graphic design and she’s a freelance copywriter and production artist.
“The apartments, there’s no point in any of us even bothering,” says Holtzman, who currently pays $425 a month to rent the land the trailer sits on, not including utilities. “They’re all one-bedroom and too expensive.”
And none of them will be the place he’s come to call home over the last decade.
“The reality is that this is a community of people of all stripes. There are students, there are families, there are nuts, there are seniors. We’ve got it all,” says Holtzman, as we walk around the park, where children’s bikes, Seahawks flags and flower gardens could be seen along with tinfoil-blocked windows and broken-down cars.
“If a park is closing in Seattle, it’s hard to relocate in Seattle,” Henderson says. Seattle has 13 parks with only 40 vacancies, according to the state Department of Revenue. “So a lot of times, they’ll choose to relocate in Snohomish and Pierce County.”
Henderson and Haas are waiting for approval to move to a mobile-home park in Olympia this November.