With little ado, the Portland City Council voted unanimously Wednesday to add a new zoning designation to 56 of the city's 57 mobile and manufactured home parks so that they can't be redeveloped for other uses.
The emergency ordinance, which takes effect immediately, was designed to protect what the city views as a key source of affordable housing during a time when home prices and rents — and redevelopment projects — are going through the roof.
In just the past two years, four mobile home parks have closed in Portland. For homeowners who rent space in those complexes, park closures often mean they lose their homes and can't find suitable affordable lodging.
Two more Portland parks are vulnerable to being sold for redevelopments right now, testified John Mulvey, who is active in East Portland, which is where 42 of the 56 parks are located.
"These parks can be the only homeownership option for many people," Mulvey testified before the council vote. "They are multigenerational communities where people look out for each other."
Mayor Ted Wheeler introduced the proposal to create a new "residential manufactured dwelling park" zone, with support from city commissioners Amanda Fritz and Chloe Eudaly.
"The city wants to support the long-term stability of these parks," Wheeler said.
Combined, Portland mobile and manufactured home parks provide affordable or moderate-priced housing for about 3,000 households.
"These are wonderful communities, wonderful places to live, with a real sense of belonging," Fritz said.
Living Cully, a coalition of four nonprofits active in that Northeast Portland neighborhood, has been working with residents of a string of mobile home parks along Northeast Killingsworth Street, and pushed the city to adopt the measure.
The entire public hearing and vote took less than an hour and a half late Wednesday afternoon.
Commissioner Nick Fish pushed back against those who argued the city was moving too fast, saying the issue has been two years in the making, starting with new language added to the city's Comprehensive Plan in 2016.
"This thing has been cooked for a long time," Fish said. "It has been carefully constructed."
Mike Connors, representing the state's largest mobile home park, on Hayden Island, provided the lone critical testimony Wednesday, during the public hearing before the vote.
Connors warned that the city faced many legal claims under the voter-approved Measure 49, because owners' property values could suffer when they lose the right to redevelop their properties for other uses, such as apartments.
"That's going to result in a loss of fair market value to the properties immediately," Connors said. Faced with having to pay compensation to the property owners, the city likely will void the zone change rather than shell out the money, he predicted.
But the ordinance, crafted by city planners to meet terms approved by the Planning and Sustainability Commission, included sweeteners that will add value to many of the properties, making it harder to justify Measure 49 claims.
Of the 56 affected parks, 52 will get the right to increase density of homes within them, said Tom Armstrong, the city supervising planner who helped manage the project. If the owners can't find space to add density, they can sell their density rights to apartment developers for use anywhere outside the central city.
Under the new zoning, many of the mobile home parks also will no longer be designated as "nonconforming uses" under the city zoning code, Armstrong said.
Several mobile homeowners showed up to support the ordinance.
Paul Scott, who lives at the Viking Mobile Home Park in Southeast Portland, said a new owner of the park quickly moved to raise space rents last year by 14 percent, plus 10 percent this year, and also closed the laundry facilities.
He appealed for help so that the tenants can buy the site from the owner.
A dozen parks in Oregon have been converted to co-ops owned by the residents. That gives them some security that they won't face such high rent increases.
Two more tenant buyouts are in the works, said Lisa Rogers, of the nonprofit CASA of Oregon, which helps finance those co-op efforts.
Andrée Tremoulet provided graphic evidence of what happens whan a park closes. She researched the problem for a doctoral thesis at Portland State University, published in 2010. After the owner closed down the Thunderbird Mobile Club in Wilsonville sometime after 2005, about 240 households were booted.
Tremoulet found about 60 percent of them abandoned their homes because they couldn't afford the $20,000 to $30,000 needed to move them, or couldn't land spaces in other parks.
She testified that only 8 percent of the households managed to move their homes to other parks, while 4 percent declared bankruptcy after the closure.
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