Seattle trailer park closure another blow to affordable housing

Jeff Holtzman and Jill Haas talk over coffee on the deck of their home at University Trailer Park in Seattle. The trailer park, one of the last in Seattle, will soon be closing for redevelopment. (Photo by Erika Schultz / The Seattle Times)
Jeff Holtzman and Jill Haas talk over coffee on the deck of their home at University Trailer Park in Seattle. The trailer park, one of the last in Seattle, will soon be closing for redevelopment. (Photo by Erika Schultz / The Seattle Times)

Trailer Park. Just the term may invoke stereotypes of hopelessness and neglect. When I was growing up, some of my relatives, usually seniors on fixed incomes, lived in mobile-home parks. Even as a kid, I was aware of the stigma and kind of scared to visit them.

But viewed from a different angle, trailer-park living can be an appealing, low-income alternative in the midst of a housing crisis, a way to enjoy a little more ownership for a lot less money.

“I’m the most comfortable here. I just love this place,” says Jeff Holtzman, a longtime resident of the University Trailer Park on Northeast 88th Street near Wedgwood. “I like the small-footprint thing, and of course it’s inexpensive. But there’s something very comfortable about this place.”

But not for long. In the spring, Holtzman and his partner, Jill Haas, along with close to 100 other residents of the park, received notice that the park would close in May of 2017. The property will be developed into 89 townhomes.

“If a park is closing in Seattle, it’s hard to relocate in Seattle.”

It’s part of a trend throughout King County, which has seen a recent uptick in trailer-park closures.

“Historically, mobile-home parks close when the economy is good, and mobile-home parks will close if there is a housing crisis,” says Brigid Henderson, a program manager for Washington state’s Mobile/Manufactured Home Relocation Assistance Program.

She adds that, especially in urban areas, parks sometimes close to make way for mass-transit expansion.

The rising cost of property and the desire for more housing is too intense for these humble communities to go unnoticed by hungry developers. And as they disappear, residents are often forced to abandon significant investments. A trailer might look nice, but if it doesn’t meet safety and structural standards, it cannot be moved to a new location.

Jeff Holtzman and Jill Haas talk in their kitchen at University Trailer Park. They're reluctant to leave the 500- square-foot-home and are looking for a new trailer in Olympia. (Photo by Erika Schultz / The Seattle Times)
Jeff Holtzman and Jill Haas talk in their kitchen at University Trailer Park. They’re reluctant to leave the 500- square-foot-home and are looking for a new trailer in Olympia. (Photo by Erika Schultz / The Seattle Times)

In the case of Holtzman and Haas, they’ve made improvements, such as a remodeled, art-deco-style bathroom, a bamboo, shaded back deck and a garden shed. But they’ll have to pay to demolish the trailer, including these investments, themselves.

The state offers some assistance (between $7,500 and $12,000) to help pay for relocation, including the demolition of an immovable trailer. But Henderson admits the amounts have not been increased since 2005, and that compensation is often insufficient.

In the case of the University Trailer Park, the seller is providing an additional $3,500 to each household, and has retained the help of a relocation specialist to assist residents in finding a new place to live.

Even so, Holtzman, who is eligible for $7,500 in state assistance, anticipates much of that will go to the demolition of his home. He says the additional $3,500 will be quickly swallowed up by moving costs and putting money down on a new place.

As for finding a new place to live, he says the relocation specialist can’t change that he and Haas, both freelancers, now face a rental market where monthly rent can exceed $2,000. He does graphic design and she’s a freelance copywriter and production artist.

“The apartments, there’s no point in any of us even bothering,” says Holtzman, who currently pays $425 a month to rent the land the trailer sits on, not including utilities. “They’re all one-bedroom and too expensive.”

And none of them will be the place he’s come to call home over the last decade.

Mailboxes for the hundred or so residents of the University Trailer Park. All will have to find new places to live by next Spring. (Photo by Erika Schultz / The Seattle Times)
Mailboxes for the hundred or so residents of the University Trailer Park. All will have to find new places to live by next Spring. (Photo by Erika Schultz / The Seattle Times)

“The reality is that this is a community of people of all stripes. There are students, there are families, there are nuts, there are seniors. We’ve got it all,” says Holtzman, as we walk around the park, where children’s bikes, Seahawks flags and flower gardens could be seen along with tinfoil-blocked windows and broken-down cars.

“If a park is closing in Seattle, it’s hard to relocate in Seattle,” Henderson says. Seattle has 13 parks with only 40 vacancies, according to the state Department of Revenue. “So a lot of times, they’ll choose to relocate in Snohomish and Pierce County.”

Henderson and Haas are waiting for approval to move to a mobile-home park in Olympia this November.

Sarah Stuteville

Sarah Stuteville is a print and multimedia journalist. She’s a cofounder of The Seattle Globalist. Stuteville won the 2011 Sigma Delta Chi Award for magazine writing. She writes a weekly column on our region’s international connections that is shared by the Seattle Globalist and The Seattle Times and funded with a grant from Seattle International Foundation. Reach Sarah at sarah@seattleglobalist.com.
Sarah Stuteville

6 Comments

  1. I suggest folks look into the west coast of Florida from FT Meyers north to Tarpon Springs area. Tons and Tons of very nice and affordable mobile home parks, mostly 55 plus but they are super cheap. Homes start from around $20,000 up to $100,000. The senior voting block is too powerful in those areas for developers to mess with them plus most of the land is co-op or deed restricted so you know you are safe. Just a suggestion if you are looking for an affordable housing in a good area.

  2. What I would Ike to see is fairness the owner of the park is getting 15,000,000 for the property and he’s only given his residence 3500 really what about all these people on fixed income and all the nice mobile homes that are worth more. He should be paying the residence fair value for their homes. I live here and I had my place sold for 20000 and a week later he sends later announcing the closing and my sale was off. He should pay me what’s fain considering he sold me the home in bad condition and I had to fix it up putting 10000 in remodel.

  3. Can you provide clarification as to why the tenants have to pay to demolish their homes? I don’t understand how that is legally enforceable. Can we possibly get some legal advice for these people? Thank you for the article!

    1. Hi Kaitrin,

      That is an excellent question!

      I think it adds up to: the trailer is your property but the land it’s on is not, thus you are responsible for removing it from that land when it sells.

      So, when I spoke with the State prog that advises these ppl they gave me a very convoluted and vague answer that added up to: It is not exactly the law that they have to demolish themselves BUT that if they don’t and just abandon the property, it could leave them open to prosecution depending on the specific case and county, parties involved, etc.

      I suspect a lot of the ppl in this park would appreciate some legal council to get more clarity around this though.

  4. The trailers are the personal property of the residents and not the Landlord. Under law, it’s the responsibility of that resident to remove/demolish thier home. The funds provided by the State protect the resident from that liability. In this case the landlord walks off with many millions.

    For us home owners, paying for the demolition of your home kinda feels like paying for the bullet that just executed your family in one of those repressive regimes.

    Much like liz above, I walk away at a loss of thousands.

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