Buena Vista Mobile Home Park homeowners would get a minimum of $31,000 for their mobile homes under the terms of a "resident impact report" submitted by the Jisser family for closing Palo Alto's only mobile-home park, according to papers submitted to the City of Palo Alto on May 2.
Homeowners occupying 98 mobile residences would be paid the on-site fair-market appraised value for their homes, plus an $11,000 lump-sum relocation payment if the home cannot be moved. Persons moving their homes would receive only the $11,000 in moving assistance. Renters in 12 studio apartments and a single-family home would not receive any money, according to the report.
An appraiser found most of the mobile homes were so deteriorated that they could not be moved, according to the report. Of 68 units that had been modified or had additions, 66 lacked permits.
In many cases, the homeowner doubled the square footage of the mobile home by enclosing the home in siding and continuing the siding as walls. But those homes could not be sold or moved, and they could not be restored to their original, permitted state. The appraiser found those 66 units to have no legal transferable market value.
The problem is compounded because most other mobile-home parks in the Bay Area only accept new mobile homes in an effort to improve the appearance and desirability of the park. Residents with older units might have to move out of Santa Clara County. With the exception of one mover, all mobile-home movers contacted said they only move new homes, primarily from dealer lots, into mobile-home parks, the report found.
The Jissers notified residents in September 2012 of their intention to close the park. The owners have an agreement with developer Prometheus to purchase the property and build up to 180 high-end apartments for technology workers. Jisser filed a development-review application with the city in November 2012.
Buena Vista began as a tourist camp in 1926 and became a trailer park in the early 1950s. It has 104 spaces, but only 98 are currently occupied. The property was purchased by Toufic Jisser in 1986. It is the only mobile-home park in Palo Alto, and is considered to be a valuable resource for low-income housing by fair-housing advocates. The city's comprehensive plan also identified Buena Vista as a critical low-income housing resource.
The city enacted a 2001 Mobile Home Conversion Ordinance to help control skyrocketing rents. The ordinance allows the owners to close the park, but it outlines procedures for closing the park, providing relocation assistance and compensating mobile-home owners if they are forced to leave.
The conversion ordinance is consistent with the state's Mobilehome Residency law, which recognizes the vulnerability of mobile-home owners and protects them from eviction except under certain limited conditions. Mobile-home owners own their homes, but rent the land on which the home is located.
For the majority of residents, the option would be to be given a lump for purchase of their existing homes, the report noted. The average fair-market value of Buena Vista homes is estimated at $18,816.
About 59 percent of the total 98 homes are worth less than $20,000, but the property owner would pay a minimum of $20,000 for those homes, while paying more for homes with additional value, according to the report. The highest valued home in the park is appraised at $45,000; that homeowner would receive a lump sum of $56,000, according to the report.
A March letter to the City of Palo Alto from the Law Foundation of Silicon Valley and the Western Center on Law and Poverty said that homeowners must be moved to comparable housing in Palo Alto, but in the report, the owners said they would not provide housing in condominiums, since there are no "comparable condominiums" in Palo Alto or any surrounding cities.
The average price for a condominium in surrounding cities for the past 12 months is $575,867; in Palo Alto, the cost is $881,750. The average cost is 30 times the amount of the average site value of a home at Buena Vista, the report said.
Of 71 reporting households, Buena Vista has 173 adults, 21 who are 62 years of age or older, and 21 households reported having at least one member who is disabled. Among reporting households, 69 appear to fall at or below the "low" income level established by the Department of Housing and Urban Development. There are 74 children who attend Palo Alto schools.
A big bone of contention between the property's owners and residents and their supporters involves the definition of the city ordinance's meaning of "comparable housing." Continued education in Palo Alto schools for the 74 students is seen as an important part of any mitigation for loss of their homes, and that would mean finding and paying for housing within the city, proponents have said.
But the report's authors maintain the city's ordinance defines comparable housing as being "similar in size, number of bedrooms and amenities to the mobile home that is being displaced and is located in a community that has similar access to shopping, medical services, recreational facilities and transportation," and it does not use the words "comparable schools" or "access to comparable schools."
The quality of education in surrounding communities such as Redwood City, Mountain View and Sunnyvale is also high, so housing in those communities which is otherwise comparable in those communities meets the ordinance criteria, according to the report's authors.
The full report can be viewed here.
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