Twice a month, every month, dozens of Huntington Beach residents gather in the city council chambers to make a common prayer.
“I beg you,” Robert Herold, 90, told council members at a recent two-week meeting. “Amend city charter to highlight mobile home parks.”
This “candy” will provide rent stabilization for the approximately 6,000 people who live in Huntington Beach’s mobile home parks.
Mobile home occupants face different circumstances than apartment tenants. In most cases, they own their houses and only rent the land below them.
“We are kind of locked in our little houses,” said Allison Plum, 72. “We can’t just pick up and go.”
Rental rates across the country have risen over the past few years as institutional investors snap up mobile home parks in what was once a family-owned industry. About 22 million Americans live in ready-made homes, a quarter of which are now owned by private equity firms.
In Huntington Beach, the percentage is even higher, with seven of the 18 mobile home parks owned by corporations.
For example, the Skandia Mobile Country Club on Bolsa Chica Street has been family owned for five decades. Then, in August, it was taken over by the Utah-based Investment Property Group.
IPG, which owns more than 100 mobile home parks across the country, paid $58 million for the 17-acre site of 167 apartments.
IPG then raised the rent for the premises from $1,445 to $2,195 per month for new residents. For existing residents, the increase is $75 a month for the next three years – with the possibility that the rent could increase again in three years.
“When land rents skyrocket, the value of our homes plummets,” says Scandian resident Carol Rohr.
Rohr, 66, president of the park’s homeowners association, said the two houses were under contract to sell when IPG bought Skandia. Both potential buyers declined to participate.
A retired lender, Rohr, like most of her neighbors, lives happily on a fixed income. But a sudden massive increase in the rent for her premises would rob her of her comfort limit.
“It is very expensive to transport a mobile home, and where would I get it?” she said. “I love my home. I don’t want to leave.”
IPG Regional Manager Valerie Ayala did not respond to a request for comment.
Julie Rodriguez, president of property management at IPG, told the city council at a February meeting that the company must cover the property tax hike. Proposition 13, passed in 1978, withheld taxes until the site, which had grown in value significantly, was sold to another owner.
“Property taxes were recalculated at $290 per lot per month,” Rodriguez said at the time.
In 2019, the State of California passed the Tenant Protection Act, which prohibits landlords from raising rent by more than 5% plus local inflation for one year. But the law does not apply to mobile home parks.
Huntington Beach’s charter also does not offer any relief to mobile home residents. In 2002, the City passed an EE Measure prohibiting the Rent Stabilization Ordinance (RSO).
Save Our Seniors supporters want the city council to include in the November vote a measure that would allow them to make a discount, since they have no other guarantees. 86 California cities have some form of rent protection for mobile home renters.
In April, the Huntington Beach Mobile Home Advisory Board, made up of representatives from mobile home parks as well as residents, voted 5–4 to recommend the measure to the council. But the council members showed little interest.
“They got bogged down pretty deep,” Rohr said.
Councilman Dan Calmick doubts conservative Huntington Beach will take any measure that sounds like rent control.
“Mobile home associations will spend huge amounts of money to maintain the status quo,” Kalmik said. “Residents won’t be able to run a million dollar campaign to change their minds.”
Kalmick now plans to ask council staff at an upcoming June 21 meeting to explore potential public assistance programs for low-income seniors living in mobile home parks.
“We are trying to find something suitable to solve the problem of turning housing into a commodity,” Kalmik said. “Houses should be treated as a necessity, not just something that trades on the derivatives market.”
Plum, who serves on the city’s Mobile Home Advisory Council, said she appreciates what “some on the council think of us.”
“Dan Calmick is trying to give us an olive branch, but it’s a very small branch,” Plum said. “You have to be desperate to qualify for the rental assistance program.”
Private equity firms have found a goldmine in nursing home parks, Plum said: “We are obedient, tidy and quiet.”
The retired flight attendant lives at the family’s Del Mar Estates, paying $1,200 a month to rent her space.
“My landlords are wonderful,” Plum said. “I have not heard any hints that they plan to sell. Seriously, how long can you wave $50 million in front of you and not take it?”