Mobile home community residents demand more rights and protections
Residents from Ray’s Mobile Home Colony and Engleside Trailer Park on Richmond Highway gathered at a Nov. 15 press event to express concern about their adjacent properties’ new ownership by an out-of-state real estate investment firm.
Pacific Current Partners, a California-based owner and operator of manufactured housing and RV communities, officially acquired the mobile home parks Tuesday after paying $24.2 million to Ahora Company LC and Rapido Company LC — both owned by Alexandria-based attorney James Turner. Residents had been informed about the sale of the parks in mid-September and had a 60-day window of time to make a counteroffer; however, despite their success in joining with advocacy group Tenants and Workers United (TWU) to secure Habitat for Humanity as a potential buyer, they were unable to get the necessary financing from Fairfax County.
Now, residents are worried that the mobile home parks’ new owner will raise rents and make it financially impossible for them to stay there. They also are left wondering if the new owner’s long-term plans include selling the parks to developers.
One 14-year resident of the community, speaking in his native Spanish, said he’s enjoyed living there with his family and proudly considers it home. “Just to know that in this property, there could be an increase in our rent … it’s a place where we wouldn’t want that to happen,” he said.
Another resident by the name of Hector explained how he and his fellow homeowners were taken by surprise at Turner’s decision to sell the parks and not consider a resident-led counteroffer.
Hector also expressed frustration at the county for an alleged lack of transparency, making decisions “behind closed doors” and leaving families “out of the process.”
“Fairfax County had offered that they were going to support this community; they even came to this community, but at the end of the day, they said that they weren’t able to raise the funds,” said Hector. “Therefore, they couldn’t help us, and to know that they haven’t been transparent with the process … that’s something we’re disappointed [about] with Fairfax County.”
According to Marianela Reynado, a community organizer with TWU, residents of the mobile home community met Oct. 5 with Mount Vernon District Supervisor Dan Storck and Tom Fleetwood, director of the Fairfax County Department of Housing and Community Development, to discuss the impending sale and potential counteroffer. However, following a closed session of the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors (BOS), the residents were told that nothing could be done.
In a Nov. 16 call, Storck said he and county staff had spoken or met multiple times with TWU and other stakeholders over the past months and did everything in their power to protect homeowners’ interests; however, he had also made it clear to residents that it would be very difficult to prevent the property’s sale to Pacific Current Partners given the organization’s “top-dollar” cash offer to Turner, current limitations in state law, and Turner’s declining to consider other offers.
Storck explained that the BOS met in closed session about the matter because business-related discussions about property assessments and potential county purchases can’t be discussed in public.
“We made a good faith effort to put together financing … but in the end, two things made this incredibly difficult to do – one was the big-dollar amount and the other was having less than 60 days to do it,” said Storck, noting it took several weeks to start pulling the necessary information together.
He added that county staff spoke or met with Pacific Current Partners on several occasions and received assurances from them that they are a “buy and hold operator” with no interest in flipping the homes or redevelopment. The new owner told both county staff and mobile home community residents that they would make upgrades and investments in the property. While they wouldn’t commit to limiting future rent increases, they did indicate that any increases would be on a comparable level to the previous owner and wouldn’t take place until at least next year.
“We understand the importance of Ray’s-Engleside as an affordable, supportive housing community,” wrote Storck in a recent update on the sale. “Fairfax County and I are determined to continue to work with and support the residents of Ray’s-Engleside both during this ownership transition and for years to come.”
Advocates for the mobile home community are hoping to secure more legal protections for homeowners at the state level. According to Delegate Paul Krizek’s office, Krizek has sponsored or supported several policy changes benefiting mobile homeowners. This past session, he passed HB 1065, which created a stakeholder workgroup to develop a sample manufactured home park model lease. The workgroup has convened twice so far, and Krizek plans to introduce a bill next session based on the workgroup's recommendation, his staff said. Also in 2022, he passed budget language for the creation of the model lease by the Department of Housing and Community Development and ensured that it would be available in at least two languages: English and Spanish.
Two years ago, Krizek passed HB 334, which requires prior notice to residents in advance of the sale of their mobile home parks to a developer and $3,500 in moving expenses from the seller for residents in planning district 8, and $2,500 in the rest of the Commonwealth.
Affordable housing advocates view the challenges facing mobile home communities as a racial justice issue since most tenants are low-income Latino immigrants.
“Because Fairfax County has only eight mobile home parks, every sale threatens what is already very little affordable housing opportunities for low-income residents,” said Larisa Zehr, an attorney from Legal Aid Justice Center.
Zehr said that state and local policies give mobile home residents little recourse for preventing park land from being sold from under their feet. When competing with out-of-state investment companies with significant resources, the short window of time (60 days) under state law in which owners are required to give notice to residents about an offer, the fact that owners aren’t required to accept a tenant counteroffer and that residents don’t have right of first refusal, all make it difficult for residents to make an acceptable offer, she said.
This situation could be rectified if Fairfax County dedicated funding for purchasing a mobile home park prior to it being put up for sale or to buy a park before it’s offered to an investor, said Zehr.
Mary Paden, chair of the South County Task Force — which together with Good Shepherd Catholic Church’s Hispanic Ministry has played an active role in supporting affordable housing and local mobile home residents — agreed that the county should take proactive steps to preserve the remaining mobile home parks, including by purchasing them in advance. However, she acknowledged that the large cash offer made by Pacific Current Partners — reportedly nearly double the amount at which the park lands had been assessed by Fairfax County — would have made it challenging for county leaders to put up the necessary funds.
Nearly a year ago, the county agreed to finance a much smaller counteroffer made by TWU and CFH for the Harmony Place Trailer Park in Hybla Valley; however, in the end, the owner also opted to sell to a private buyer, according to Paden.
Now, Paden is keeping a watchful eye on the county’s Site-Specific Plan Amendment (SSPA) process. In January 2021, the Board of Supervisors put on hold a plan amendment from a developer who had proposed consolidating the property from Ray’s and Engleside mobile home parks with land from Bestway, the former Holly, Woods and Vines, and some adjacent commercial properties. The plan amendment was deferred for consideration until the county’s Manufactured Housing Task Force could finish making recommendations to the Board on how to protect manufactured homes — the county’s new term for homes that are owned by occupants on land rented from a separate entity.
Now that the task force has presented its recommendations to the BOS, community engagement on a countywide manufactured housing policy amendment is expected to begin in early 2023, according to Fairfax County’s Department of Planning and Development. Any resulting changes in county policy on manufactured housing will need to be considered when assessing the deferred plan amendment affecting Ray’s and Engleside, said Planning Division Director Leanna O’Donnell.
Another factor impacting the Ray's and Engleside communities is the impending Richmond Highway expansion. According to the Virginia Department of Transportation’s plans, the new roadway and cycle track/sidewalk will be located 54 feet closer to residents’ homes than at present, and 14 structures will need to be removed.
For now, residents of Ray’s and Engleside hope to meet with their new landlord to find out what is in store for their community. They also plan to keep pressuring county and state lawmakers for more rights and protections, including more than just 60 days advance notice of an offer to purchase park land and more processes to better protect homeowners.
“The people united won’t ever be defeated,” chanted homeowners at the end of the Nov. 15 event.