The move comes on the heels of Santa Rosa’s own vote to enact rent limits to safeguard mobile home tenants.
By Marissa Endicott | Source |
On the heels of Santa Rosa, the Windsor Town Council voted Wednesday to enact stricter rent control for mobile home park residents, who’ve lobbied officials to rein in rent increases for months.
Windsor is the latest in a growing number of cities across California looking to shore up rental protections at mobile home parks, a rare source of non-subsidized affordable housing, where residents are often older and low-income.
A staff report prepared for the hearing noted that Windsor’s 437 lots across four mobile home parks “represent a significant portion of the affordable housing supply within the Town.”
Pictured: Residents of the Windsor Mobile Country Club Fran Reilly, left, Kendra Heath, Patti Restaino, Dee Raef, Sharon White, Vicki White, and Jeaneen Titsworth (Christopher Chung/The Press Democrat)
While occupants own the mobile homes they live in for the most part, they pay rent for the land underneath, and compounding increases have pushed some, especially those who rely on a fixed income, to the brink.
It’s a particular concern in Sonoma County and the state where older people make up an increasing share of the homeless population.
Rent control in mobile home parks is governed by different laws than other housing, with limits mostly tied to a percentage of the Consumer Price Index (CPI). In Windsor, Santa Rosa and most of Sonoma County, rent was previously tied to 100% of the CPI with a 6% cap.
Overall, Social Security adjustments have failed to keep up with the CPI, a shortfall that residents say sets the most vulnerable further and further back. For 2023, the CPI was 5.7%, higher than any year in at least the past two decades. An 8.7% increase in Social Security benefits eased the blow, but not enough to allay concerns for those already struggling through years of a pandemic, soaring utilities and record inflation.
With that in mind, going forward, Windsor mobile home rent will be limited to 75% of CPI with a 4% cap, matching Rohnert Park. In December, Santa Rosa restricted rent increases to 70% of the CPI with a 4% cap, the tightest limits in the county.
In pushing back against stricter rent control, park owners pointed to the extra and growing costs of operating mobile home communities. Investments in shared common areas and upkeep have been affected by inflation and labor shortages, they said, and insurance costs continue to rise.
In a Dec. 6 letter, Saulo Londoño of the Western Manufactured Housing Communities Association, a trade group representing mobile home park owners, operators and developers, urged the Town Council to vote down the proposed change and “to instead work collaboratively with owners and operators of these communities to find a solution that works for everyone.”
By law, park owners are entitled to a fair return on investment, something that can be invoked, triggering a “fair rate of return” hearing. Londoño warned these proceedings could result in “high and unpredictable rent increases for residents and hundreds of thousands of dollars in costs for the town,” adding that park owners in Santa Rosa and “at least one attorney” in Windsor were looking into pursuing such a move.
Previously, town officials asked if park management would voluntarily share information on revenues and costs to help them assess reasonable rent caps. Arbitration hearings would require owners to provide evidence of unreasonable profit loss.
Weighing that risk against threats to mobile home residents living on the edge, ultimately, the council was not swayed.
“It really was to address immediate concerns,” Windsor Mayor Rosa Reynoza said Thursday. “But, we want everyone to know that we continue to engage with our residents and the owners also. It could be amended at a later time.”
She added that she appreciated residents’ efforts to bring the issue to the forefront. “This comes at a time where we are seeing more older adults being unsheltered, so I’m really glad this group approached the town and asked for support,” Reynoza said.
While she hoped the council would establish an even lower cap, the experience was “completely empowering” for Patti Restaino, a Mobile Country Club resident, who was involved in efforts to educate and coordinate with other mobile homeowners, reach out to council members and learn from organizers in Santa Rosa.
Windsor mobile home residents spent months lobbying officials to amend its 30-year-old ordinance. The council took up their request after mobile homeowners raised the issue at a hearing on the city’s housing element plan, a state-mandated, eight-year blueprint due out this year.
“It was really heartwarming to see how many people in the park were willing to inform each other,” Restaino told me. “Given that it was after COVID and there had been such a lull in the park, it was really wonderful to see people reconnecting.”
She was impressed, too, by the council’s engagement on the issue and with residents, noting visits from some members and interest in quarterly check-ins.
“Half the people in the park are low-income, and all are seniors,” Restaino said. It “has a huge impact on our relationship with them and the feeling that there is somebody on our side and standing up for seniors.”