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Mobile home park resident on front lines of fight for 'fair rent'

Havenpark's proposed increases spur North Liberty woman to action

The home of Candi Evans is seen June 11 at Golf View Mobile Home Park in North Liberty. Evans has lived in her double-wide home for more than 20 years, making improvements to it and its landscape with her husband before he died several years ago. (Rebecca F. Miller/The Gazette)
The home of Candi Evans is seen June 11 at Golf View Mobile Home Park in North Liberty. Evans has lived in her double-wide home for more than 20 years, making improvements to it and its landscape with her husband before he died several years ago. (Rebecca F. Miller/The Gazette)
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NORTH LIBERTY — Candi Evans did not imagine she would one day find herself organizing a grassroots movement of neighbors.

But the 21-year resident of Golf View Mobile Home Court in North Liberty decided to act when she learned Orem, Utah-based Havenpark Capital bought the community and was preparing for a 58 percent rent increase on residents, from $284 to $450.

Havenpark has said it expects tenants to pay “fair market rent” for their lots, after years without increases under the previous owner. A “mass-eviction” event also could have ensued had Havenpark not paid $12.3 million for Golf View in March, and a developer had pursued luxury apartments or single-family homes on the land, the company said.

Information on archived versions of Havenpark’s website, which this year became password-protected, adds a different layer to the companies’ five known Iowa mobile home park purchases this year.

“Our fund invests in stable, high-cashflowing Manufactured Home Communities (MHCs) that provide a generous, dependable investor yield while steadily growing investor capital,” Havenpark’s website read from 2016 to 2017.

The company later elaborated that the parks often are the “only widespread alternative” to apartments for low-income families, a reality it said creates an “unusually stable” cash flow.

“Tenant turnover is also minimal since it is difficult and very expensive ($6,000-8,000+) for tenants to move their homes,” Havenpark’s 2017 site continued. “As a result, operating cashflow is among the highest of any real estate class.”

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The statements align with findings from a report the Private Equity Stakeholder Project released in February, noting a trend of multistate corporations buying mobile home parks from mom-and-pop owners and raising lot rents, leaving tenants “choosing between paying (higher) rent and abandoning” their homes.

As vice president of the eight-board-member Golf View Residents Association, Evans has knocked on doors, facilitated meetings with over 100 neighbors and continues to seek sit-down meetings between Havenpark representatives and the community.

Over about two months, the association has garnered support from officials of all stripes, including local and state government representatives and presidential candidates.

Havenpark also has made a few concessions since the group’s inception — first, a one-month delay of the rent increase, from June 1 to July 1, and more recently a $70 reduction in the increase through April 2020.

Still, Evans said her work will continue, as Havenpark seeks for Golf View tenants to sign new leases by July 1. Citing pro bono legal opinions, she and other organizers say multiple provisions of the lease violate state code, including parts requiring tenants to surrender fixtures installed on their lots after their leases end and letting the company move to possess homes where the resident has been absent over 14 consecutive days without notice.

Q: Tell me about your history with Golf View Mobile Home Court. How did you come to move into the community, and what are some fond memories you have of your time there?

A: Twenty-one years ago, my husband and I bought our home here and decided this was where we wanted to live out our days. We were living here when we got married. ... My husband and I built an addition on our home to use as an office while we still operated our (roofing) business. We sodded and landscaped the backyard and all around the house.

I have memories of my husband on his knees one night in the fall before he died (of cancer), planting tulip bulbs. ... We blended his children and mine and this was home to all of them. ... When he died, I continued on with the business and the addition remained as an office space until I sold the business three years ago and now it is a family room. He is a part of this room. ... His slippers are still next to the bed.

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Q: When did you learn that Havenpark had acquired Golf View and planned to increase the rent? What was your reaction?

A: I received a letter on the door in March. They basically went around and put letters in every door that Golf View had changed hands and the new owners were Havenpark. ... Letters came within a few weeks that they would be raising the rent to $450, and if you had a double-wide, $475.

I was in shock. I’m retired and on fixed income, and believe it or not, my Social Security doesn’t jump by 60 percent every year. I have a lot of friends here. They’re like my family. That’s what bothered me the most. A lot of them are disabled, retired veterans, a lot of people on fixed income, and when you’re on a fixed income, you can’t come up with an extra $200 a month, especially if you’re in your 70s or 80s.

Q: How did the Golf View Residents Association come together?

A: When I received the letter (on the rent hikes), I took it to my son, who lives in Iowa City. He was able to reach out to his friend with TeamCAN (the nonprofit social justice arm of Teamsters Local 238). She works in the labor center and immediately had me into meetings. ...By the following weekend, we were out knocking doors in the community, doing surveys, “if the rent goes up this much and they can’t stay, how many children will be displaced? How many people might be homeless?”

The following weekend, we had our first meeting of residents. Over 100 residents showed up. ... We wanted to fight for our homes. That’s what our whole goal was, to keep (the park) as affordable housing and have fair rent.

Q: What did the association do next?

A: We sought out legal advice and contacted a couple of attorneys, and researched Havenpark’s business and practices. We formed the association at our second or third meeting, and the residents voted on the board.... We’ve had to move fast, but I think we’ve done it methodically. We’re explaining to people why this is important. We’re not causing riots. We’re outraged, but we’re doing it in a civil manner, and we’re going to continue to fight.

Q: What response have you received from Havenpark so far?

A: We tried several times through TeamCAN and different resources to get them to come talk with us. They would not respond to any calls at all. I don’t even remember how many times we tried to contact them. Finally, after all this organizing, they came (May 23). Havenpark flew in from Utah and granted us an hour. When it came time for questions, we never did get any answers, they just kind of skirted around. ... Our work is for Havenpark to sit down with the association, not this kind of meeting like they had before, but a real dialogue.

Q: What inspired you to take a leading role in organizing the association?

A: The need to fight for people that couldn’t go out and do it for themselves. There’s so many people here that can’t go out. A woman who’s 80 years old and can barely walk across her yard, how’s she going to go out and fight or organize? I don’t like to do it, but I’ll keep up the fight. I’m not going to quit. Havenpark had no idea the kind of obstacle they were going to run into, I’m sure.

l Comments: (319) 398-8366; thomas.friestad@thegazette.com

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