Fighting Community Closure and Re-development in Utah

(Steve Griffin | Tribune file photo) Shirlene Stoven, 80, at her residence at the Applewood Mobile Home park in Midvale on Friday, Dec. 9, 2016. Manufactured-home residents in Utah remain vulnerable to exploitation by park owners as highlighted by a recent legislative study. Source: http://www.sltrib.com/opinion/4747820-155/editorial-put-some-teeth-in-utah
Source: Salt Lake City Tribune (Steve Griffin | Tribune file photo)

Shirlene Stoven – Midvale, UT

Exciting update to Shirlene’s story, in early 2018 Shirlene and her neighbors successfully bought their community and will be running it as a cooperative! Read the coverage here: https://inequality.org/research/utah-seniors-form-co-op-to-keep-housing-affordable/

I live in a senior manufactured home community in Utah called Applewood Manufactured Homeowners Estates, Inc.  In 1994, I had my new home put into the community. At that time, it was owned by a gentleman who had turned his apple orchard into the park. He didn’t live on the premises, but he was very good at keeping the grounds and surroundings in good condition. In December of 2011, he sent out a memo about selling the community due to health issues. He assured each of us living at Applewood that the new owner had been carefully chosen.

For a couple of years, we didn’t hear anything from the new owner and didn’t know who the new owner was. We did receive a letter from a management company informing us they would be managing the property and to send our rent checks to them. There was no rent increase for two years. We were thankful for that, but didn’t realize that had been a condition on the sale.

In February of 2013, we received a letter introducing us to a new management company. The letter stated their goal was to ensure Applewood would remain a desirable place to live. The next communication from the new management was dated August 1, 2013. In the letter, they informed us of an $89 a month rent increase effective November 1, 2013 that would be followed with another $89 per month increase effective May 1, 2014. Before Applewood was sold, the yearly increase would average around $20. $168 rental increase in less than one year was a horrifying prospect. All of us wondered how we were going to afford the increase. We needed to get organized and fight back. I contacted the Utah Coalition of Manufactured Homeowners (UCOMH). UCOMH helped us form a local homeowners’ association, and I was elected president of the association.

I contacted my House Representative about this situation, and he was stunned. I also contacted the planning committee of Midvale City and was provided information concerning the new owner. It was a construction company called Ivory homes. They are a big construction company in the State of Utah. I learned ICO Development (commercial arm of Ivory Homes) had bought this property with plans to build a three-story apartment complex on the property. We felt their strategy was clearly based on financially evicting all of us by passing along huge rent increases.

We started a petition and gathered over 2600 signatures from homeowners in our community, and people living in the neighborhoods around Applewood. We went to a Midvale City Council meeting and received huge support from our surrounding neighbors. The Midvale City Mayor and City Council produced a statement expressing support for residents of Applewood. They felt Applewood was a unique housing asset for Midvale City and needed to continue as an affordable housing development. The media covered our story, and I was interviewed by two television stations and was on the front page of the local newspaper.

My House Representative submitted a bill to legislation asking for a task force to be formed to review some of the issues we as manufactured homeowners were facing. This all took place in 2013. The bill passed the house and the Senate, but in the last fifteen minutes of the legislation session it got “lost”.

That didn’t deter us. The next year we started another bill called the Utah Mobile Home Park Help Line. In 2014 the bill passed and allowed us to have a “Helpline” operated by the University of Utah S.J. Quinney College of Law. The Help Line was a resource for homeowners and landowners in order to register concerns involving mobile homes. While this was a significant step, it wasn’t as successful as we had hoped. Also, many homeowners were afraid to call the helpline stating anything against management or the owner for fear of being retaliated against. The helpline was put “to sunset”.

In 2017, we continued our fight at the state level and pushed for legislation that gives homeowners in any manufactured home community the opportunity to bring up cause of action against a mobile home park owner for damages or injunctive relief from a violation of the Mobile Home Park Residency Act. This law, which was recently signed by the Governor, states that a court may award reasonable attorney fees and costs to a homeowner that brings suit.

We continue to fight against the three-story apartment complex despite Applewood being zoned as a Transit-Oriented Develop (TOD) zone. This means the landowner is allowed to build anything from a one story on up on the property. There has been a huge outcry from neighboring homeowners, as well as, Applewood homeowners regarding the impact of making the Applewood community part of Midvale’s TOD zone. Midvale Planning Committee, Midvale City Council and Midvale Mayor are trying to make an amendment to that zoning. Our hope is that it will discourage Ivory Homes from moving forward with their plans for the apartment complex. It really helps that we have city council and the city planning on our side.

I feel a huge responsibility to homeowners in Applewood. Some of the homeowners are veterans, some homebound, and others with health issues. I am healthy and feel fortunate to be able to represent them and do this work. I will continue to work hard. I’m hoping our community continues to pull together so we can win this fight.