Groups offer lifeline to Woodland East Mobile Home Park residents
Two investment groups have a plan to protect Woodland East Mobile Home Park residents from skyrocketing rents by building a new park in Woodland and selling it to residents. But they need the Woodland City Council’s help, they say.
The 55-and-older park residents have seen the rents for the land below the homes they own increase by around 250 percent since Michael Werner of Deer Point Meadows bought the park in 2017. In March, they’ll start paying $1,250 a month in lot rent. Residents say they’re reaching a breaking point.
When residents found out their park was for sale, they felt a sense of hope. If they could buy the park, they could eventually stabilize the rents. But Werner’s asking price for the park is $33 million — a price the residents can’t afford and brokers say is highly inflated.
The Columbian reported earlier this month on the residents’ plight, which attracted the attention of various investment companies.
“I was pissed off when I read that article,” said Matt Davies, owner of Harmony Communities, which owns and operates mobile home parks in Oregon and California.
He wondered how he could help the residents buy their community from Werner.
“It seems disgusting to me that the help would be by lining the Werners’ pockets at an evaluation that’s 50 percent higher than its fair market value,” Davies said. “There must be a better solution than that.”
So staff of Harmony Communities and the investment company Three Pillar Communities are working together to offer residents an escape plan: The companies would develop a new park in Woodland and sell it to residents for around two-thirds of the price Michael Werner is asking for Woodland East.
Residents could move their homes into the new park or buy new homes. Relocating a mobile home somewhere local costs between $5,000 and $13,000 depending on its size, according to Forbes.
“It’s a free market solution that doesn’t require government subsidies,” Davies said. “But it requires political will in order to break down the barriers of the development codes to make this project a reality.”
Woodland East Homeowner Association President Meg Freimarck, 77, said the possible development is a glimmer of hope for residents.
“It’s a little shining star for us to look at because it was a solution,” Freimarck said. “A little out of the box — but a solution.”
Freimarck thinks most residents will move due to their limited options.
“We’ve given it a great consideration,” Freimarck said. “I know that, as seniors, we’re really (settled) in, but this isn’t a regular scenario. We can’t pay the rent. We know that it will soon be $1,250. But in November, what will the next rent be? And every year it will keep going up.”
Woodland East is also located in a flood zone, according to a Federal Emergency Management Agency flood zone map, so residents may be in a safer area by moving, said Victoria O’Banion, ROC Northwest’s marketing and acquisitions coordinator.
The residents had a 70-day timeline, as outlined by state law, to make a bid on the park. Just before the deadline hit on Wednesday, residents submitted a $16 million bid to buy Woodland East. They anticipate it will be denied.
“(Woodland East residents) are in a very hard place specifically because they can no longer afford the current rent,” O’Banion said. “As an older adult living on a fixed income, you can’t necessarily increase your income.”
The residents are concerned that if the park is bought for $33 million, rents will go up. But O’Banion said rents could go up no matter who owns the park.
“Even if it’s sold to the nicest person in town, the nicest person in town can change that lot rent to whatever they desire,” she said. “That’s a deep concern.”
If this new park becomes reality, residents would have the control.
O’Banion reached out to Woodland City Council members to set up a meeting. In February, she’ll meet with Mayor Todd Dinehart, Community Development Director Travis Goddard and the developers.
Like in other Clark County cities, available land is scarce in Woodland. The investors say they will need the city council’s help to find land and rezone it. In turn, the city council could preserve 130 units of affordable housing.
“I think if the municipality can help make this come true, by either providing surplus land at a cheap price or forgiving some of the typical development fees that are charged into development, then we can … partner with residents to create a brand-new community where folks can live with stability long term,” said Daniel Weisfield, one of the founders of Three Pillar Communities.
The Columbian asked Deer Point Meadows, which is owned by Michael Werner and his wife, Denise, for a response.
“I’m not going to comment on any of it. It’s just childhood games,” Denise Werner said.
The Columbian also reached out to the mayor and city councilors (except for Councilor Doug Freimarck, who lives in Woodland East) for their reactions. Only Councilor Monte Smith responded.
He said he contacted Goddard a year ago to see how the city could help residents but found there wasn’t much the city council could do because the park is a private entity. Now, he’s curious whether these developers might present a viable option.
“My heart breaks for the people in that community,” Smith said. “If there’s something I can do, and our city residents are OK with it, then yeah, absolutely, I would be good with doing it.”
A listing site called Loopnet shows the park is already under contract, with a message at the top saying the property is no longer being advertised.
The status of the contract is unknown. But if Woodland East sells for the asking price of $33 million, other mobile home residents across the state may give up hope of buying their parks, O’Banion said. Park owners look to other sales to set their asking prices.
But if all of the residents decide to move out of Woodland East, the new owners would have no income to pay off the $33 million bill.