Where Do We Go From Here? : Closing a Trailer Park Can Mean Hardship for Tenants
Orine Noble and Lillie Fox have been friends and neighbors for 18 years, living modestly on opposite sides of a quiet and shady trailer park they have come to think of as home.
“Some of us have been here even longer, more than 20 years, so it’s hard,” said Noble, 73, as she pondered what to do when the Carson-area park closes in October, making way for condominiums whose construction the county approved Thursday.
Fox, also 73, had always thought her small trailer “would last me until I passed on.” But now she is trying to come to grips with moving. “We sure are going to miss it, because we made so many friends here,” she said.
However, the uprooting of Noble, Fox and their neighbors in the Pleasant View Mobile Park involves not only lost friendships but, for many of them, economic survival.
Many Immigrant Families
Owners of the trailer park, just north of Harbor-UCLA Medical Center on Vermont Avenue, say they will help tenants find new places to live.
But several of the park’s 130 residents, who include many senior citizens and immigrant families, say they don’t know where they can afford to go. Aging trailers--often their only asset--are not welcome at other mobile home parks. And they cannot afford apartment rents, which are at least double the $200 a month many now pay to rent spaces in the trailer park, they say.
Noble, for example, pays $280 of her $602 monthly income for rent and utilities. “I can’t pay $400 or $500 a month.” she said. “I have medicine I have to pay for. I have insurance (to pay for). I pay my rent. I’ve never missed a payment.”
The situation at Pleasant View Mobile Park, typical of many others in which trailer parks have been squeezed out of communities throughout Los Angeles County, was considered briefly on Thursday by the Board of Supervisors.
In allowing 66 condominiums to replace 68 trailer spaces, Supervisor Ed Edelman told developers that he hoped they would “not only follow the law, but do as much as possible financially” to help relocate park tenants.
State law is vague about relocation benefits, saying only that local governments may require payments to displaced tenants that do not “exceed the reasonable costs of relocation.” Though the law was passed in June, 1986, Los Angeles County, like many other local jurisdictions, has not yet adopted guidelines that describe which costs are reasonable.
That leaves residents at Pleasant View and at the declining number of other trailer parks countywide to wonder what their rights are.
Old trailer parks--often replaced by more profitable hotels, shopping centers and condominiums--have been closed in recent years in Torrance, Hawthorne, Lomita, Carson and Lennox. Parks are also closing in several San Gabriel Valley cities, the inner city of Los Angeles and in the San Fernando Valley.
State housing officials reported last month that the number of mobile home parks in Los Angeles County had dropped from 770 in 1986 to 740. Although that figure indicates some stability, officials said, it reflects both the growth of modern, higher-rent parks in suburban areas and the decline of older parks occupied by low-income tenants.
“A lot of these are small parks where the land value has gone up excessively and they’ve been closed down for new development,” said Julie Stewart, spokeswoman for the state housing department.
Although some cities and counties have clarified the state law with their own regulations, they are in the minority and many parks have been closed with scant government review, said attorney Kenneth H. Carlson, who has represented residents in several parks.
After prodding by Supervisor Mike Antonovich last September, the county began drafting guidelines that officials say could be presented to the supervisors for approval by May.
Gregg Kawczynski, who is overseeing that process, said the guidelines probably will require park owners to pay tenants the actual cost of moving, some compensation for loss of their trailers and a rent subsidy to enable them to get into an apartment.
Though those guidelines should be in place when Pleasant View is closed in October, about a dozen tenants interviewed last week said they had heard nothing from the owners about the possibility of cash payments.
“There’s been nothing about what they’re going to give us, if they’re going to give us anything,” said 84-year-old Mary O’Brien, a resident of the park for 22 years.
Noble said she has asked John Vann Jr., who owns the park with his two sisters, about relocation.
“He said, ‘I’ll promise you this, I’ll try to take care of you,’ ” Noble said.
In an interview Thursday, Vann said it is not clear how much assistance the county will require him to provide. In an initial attempt to determine reasonable relocation benefits, Vann said he met with a county official last fall.
“We asked him what his guidelines were, and he said he had none,” Vann said.
So far, Vann said, he has offered to find tenants places to move and he expects to provide financial assistance in some cases. He will also solicit bids for trailers that are so old they would not be acceptable to other parks.
“We have people who’ve been there a long time, and we feel a concern for those people,” said co-owner Linda Hills. “We feel an obligation.”
“Whatever we do will have the county’s approval,” Vann said.
“Our goal is to make this as easy for them as possible,” he said. “The senior citizens are our greatest concern.”
The county Housing Authority plans to work with Pleasant View park owners to move displaced tenants into public housing or enroll them in government rent-subsidy programs, Kawczynski said.
Tenant lawyer Carlson said that residents displaced from parks in unincorporated areas can now expect aggressive support from the county, even without the new guidelines being formally adopted.
In one recent case, for example, more than 20 trailer owners in an east Pasadena park each turned down a $1,500 offer from the owner. Eventually, with county support, they negotiated a payment of $6,000 each, plus the choice of selling their trailers or moving them to an adjacent parcel.
“The county made it clear that they were not going to stand by as these people were made homeless simply because the owner had found a more profitable use for the site,” Carlson said.
However, the legality of an ordinance in Carson, which requires park owners to buy trailers at their in-park values when residents are displaced, is being challenged in court by a park owner as an unreasonable relocation benefit.