When Wall Street Came to My Mobile Home Park

A mobile home park in Tennessee in 2019. (ddatch54, Flickr, CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

For the last 20 years, I have lived and thrived in a mobile home community. I loved where I live — right up until Wall Street bought the park and threatened the well-being of myself, my neighbors, and my family.

Mobile homes are a vital source of affordable housing for around 3 million households across 45,000 communities in the United States. These households have a median income of about $36,000 and include vulnerable populations like seniors, the disabled, and immigrants.

Our mobile home community was the sort of place where every neighbor helped everybody. If my grass wasn’t cut, the neighbor across the street would cut it. If their grass didn’t get cut that week, I would take care of it. That’s just how we were.

But things started to get harder in 2012, when RHP Properties — a corporation entwined with Brookfield Asset Management, a Toronto-based private equity firm — took ownership of our mobile home community in Spring Valley, New York.

Mobile home communities exist in part to give disadvantaged, lower income, or retired people like me the opportunity to have their own space. It’s your own yard, with your own driveway.

But RHP properties saw only a profit opportunity. Soon after they took over, the money we were required to pay to have our home in the community, called the land fee or lot rent, started going up.

Higher Fees & New Fees

Way up. My land fee alone reached nearly $1,400. But that wasn’t all.

RHP also started charging for services that were once included in the rent, like water. Meanwhile the services we pay for got skimpier and skimpier. Potholes started developing in driveways and on roads, trees were collapsing across people’s yards, and garbage began to pile up. Maintenance requests now go unanswered for months.

The situation has been developing for some time. According to a report by Americans for Financial Reform and MH Action, an organization I work with, Wall Street’s involvement in mobile home parks is a national phenomenon.

Corporate and private equity acquisitions of mobile home communities have left residents across the United States helpless. In some cases, they have jacked up prices by up to 60 percent, layering on school taxes, trash fees, and administrative charges on top of the rent — all new costs that weren’t charged before.

Many also kicked out residents during the pandemic, despite federal rules against evictions.

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We need change and we needed it yesterday.

At the state level, we can protect mobile home residents with laws to guard against excessive rent increases, and lay the legal groundwork for community-friendly ownership models that help residents preserve the family-like atmosphere that made my house a home.

At the national level, we need Congress to begin a fundamental restructuring of the predatory private equity industry by passing the Stop Wall Street Looting Act. The law would make private equity executives personally liable if they cause damage and close tax and regulatory loopholes that benefit wealthy executives.

These reforms would benefit far more than just mobile home residents. Across the country, private equity firms are price gouging people for many forms of housing, as well as shortening life expectancy in nursing homes, destroying retail jobs, and devastating local newspapers with ruthless cost-cutting,

The private equity industry, in short, is responsible for some of the most harmful business practices in the United States.

My neighbors and I love where we live, and we refuse to back down and abandon our homes. It’s time for our elected officials to act.

Francine Townsend is a longtime resident of a New York mobile home community. She’s a member-leader with MHAction who organizes her neighbors to protect affordability and advance racial and gender justice in housing.

This op-ed was distributed by OtherWords.org.

The views expressed are solely those of the authors and may or may not reflect those of Consortium News.

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5 comments for “When Wall Street Came to My Mobile Home Park

  1. TimN
    October 22, 2021 at 08:31

    If you’re counting on your “elected officials” to help you battle Wall Street, well now, I’m afraid that your headed for disappointment, to say the least. The President himself has very publicly stated that its okay to be a billionaire and that he’s a capitalist, and Wall Street is all about that, don’t you know.

  2. Vera Gottlieb
    October 21, 2021 at 09:01

    Piranhas aren’t just fish…they can also be found among humans. Whatever happened to ‘live and let live’???

  3. Piotr Berman
    October 21, 2021 at 08:23

    In my area, the most attractive large trailer park vanished, and within “urban area” — university town with OK public transit and many service sector jobs, there is very little of affordable housing. With small town industries mostly gone, people with lower paying jobs commute large distances. In urban areas on that scale, it would make sense to have public housing in the form of trailer park. Cost would be low so subsidies would be not needed, and both availability and standards could be preserved. Alternatively, zoning and municipal code, although that would not prevent gouging.

    It is possible that the business plan of the corporate owners is to depopulate the trailer park and convert into a strip mall, residential subdivision or whatever, and in the interim squeeze cash.

  4. TomG
    October 21, 2021 at 08:01

    I really sympathize with Ms. Townsend. When we started looking for an affordable 55+ option last year we were dumbfounded by some of the lot rents being charged at franchised parks and the lack of guarantee on future pricing and services. We started narrowing our search to resident-owned communities and lucked into one of the best, if not the best co-op, in central Florida. Certainly, I would advocate any privately held community organize to try to buy out their owner(s) before they are sold down the river to private equity investors. They seem to like nothing better than extracting every red cent from anyone poorer than they. If you are already community owned, read your bylaws and make sure the board can’t sell it out from under you. Don’t assume you are protected from the vulture capitalists.

  5. Taras77
    October 20, 2021 at 15:28

    Just another horrible example of the death of the lower income and middle class in America, hence the death of America! This is just the tip of the ice burg of the unlimited greed and manipulation.

Comments are closed.