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For Utah mobile home residents, rezoning and redevelopment are often unstoppable forces

Riverdale mobile home displacement, Lesley's Mobile Home Park, sign
Kristine Weller
A sign at Lesley’s Mobile Home Park in Riverdale. Residents have received notice they must vacate the park by May 31, 2023.

Residents at Lesley’s Mobile Home Park in Riverdale were devastated when they received a formal notice to leave by May 31, 2023.

The 55-lot area has been rezoned to allow the development of apartments and townhomes. Some had been anticipating this, like Jason Williams, an outspoken Lesley resident.

He has been expecting a request to leave for six years after a number of people were kicked out and given nothing for their homes. He said back then, 15 lots were turned into a parking area for a nearby Ken Garff car dealership.

“It was just a matter of time,” Williams said, “I tried to slow that down and at least get something for our homes instead of getting nothing.”

Riverdale mobile home displacement, Lesley's Mobile Home Park, Jason Williams
Kristine Weller
Jason Williams stands in front of his mobile home at Lesley’s Mobile Home Park. He’s lived there for about 20 years and has been outspoken about what is happening at the park.

Walking through the park, he points out different trailers, recreational vehicles and mobile homes in various states of disrepair. Williams believes managers have let the park decline on purpose so they could get the zoning changed.

“If you take a Google map image, the last one that was posted, and drive through here virtually, the difference from then to now is unbelievable,” said Williams.

When asked to comment, Lesley’s Mobile Home Park managers referred KUER to their lawyers but did not provide contact information for them.

Lot rent increases have also been an issue for Lesley residents. Williams said six years ago, his lot payment was $350 a month. Now, it’s $825.

While Williams expected he would be required to leave, others had no idea. Karen and Jesus Rodriguez bought a mobile home at Lesley’s in May. They said the park owners and the person that sold the mobile home to them didn’t tell them the land was being sold and they would have to leave.

“I was so excited because it’s my first time I owned something,” Jesus Rodriguez said, “when I [found] out it really broke my heart.”

Riverdale mobile home displacement, Lesley's Mobile Home Park,  Jesus Rodriguez
Kristine Weller
Jesus Rodriguez stands in front of his mobile home at Lesley’s Mobile Home Park. He and his wife, Karen, have only lived here since May and didn’t know they would have to leave so soon. Neighbor Jason Williams is speaking to Karen in the doorway.

They bought the home for $20,000. Jesus was fixing windows and doors when Karen told him what was happening. While they own the mobile home, they don’t own the land. Theoretically, they could pay for the home to be moved somewhere else, but that can cost thousands of dollars, as much as half the price of the home itself. Even if the structure could be moved, some mobile home parks won’t allow old trailers.

Karen teared up when talking about their circumstances. “We lost all our money, and we [have] no place to go,” she said.

Residents said their homes are not being bought out. A friend of Jesus told him he should try and sell his mobile home as well, but he doesn’t want to leave someone else in the same situation.

Alessandro Rigolon, an assistant professor in the Department of City and Metropolitan Planning at the University of Utah, said Utah doesn’t offer much in terms of tenant rights.

“Laws are strongly tilted toward landlords, so much more than in any state,” he said.

There is no rent control in Utah. That means it’s legal for landlords to raise the rent so much that people would be forced to move. There’s also “no cause eviction,” meaning a tenant renting month-to-month could be evicted for no reason.

Rigolon said most American cities have lots of detached, single-family housing, which isn’t cheap. That’s why many are calling for denser mixed and middle housing, often referred to as the “missing middle.” That would include townhouses, apartments, duplexes and anything that isn’t a single-family home.

Lesley’s rezone is meant to do just that, build “missing” middle housing. Yet, people are still losing their homes and have nowhere to go. Rigolon considers this bad planning practice.

“Creating missing middle housing shouldn’t go at the expense of the most vulnerable, low-income population. It should be done in a way to avoid displacement as much as possible,” he said.

Riverdale mobile home displacement, Lesley's Mobile Home Park
Kristine Weller
One section of Lesley’s Mobile Home Park. There are 55 lots with trailers, recreational vehicles and mobile homes.

Public comment was taken on the rezoning request during a Riverdale City Planning Commission meeting on June 28, 2022. H&H - 39th Street, LLC is developing the site. KUER was unable to reach the developer in time for publication.

There are other ways to supply affordable housing. Developers can include a “right to return” policy, where new developments include affordable housing and the original residents are on the top of the waitlist.

There are also other options to build middle housing that don’t displace lower-income people. If the city wants to increase housing density, Rigolon said nonresidential land can be rezoned to include missing middle housing, like gas stations, strip malls or industrial land. He said this would then be a loss of businesses, not homes.

“It’s a judgment call, whether it’s worse to displace people from their home or to displace businesses,” Rigolon said.

Even then, there are still options. The ground floor of a residential multi-family building could remain a business.

Rigolon said density bonuses are also good options, where the zoning is contingent on the developer providing a share of those units as affordable housing. For example, 20% of the units could be at a price that is affordable for 80% of the area’s median income.

For now, it is unclear what will be done with the land at Lesley’s Mobile Home Park. The developer has not publicly announced any plans.

As for the residents of the park, many don’t know where they will go.

“Everybody’s just giving up,” Williams said. “They’ve lost all hope.”

Corrected: September 12, 2022 at 11:38 AM MDT
This story has been updated with the correct spelling of Alessandro Rigolon's name.
Kristine Weller is a newsroom intern at KUER. She’s only been a journalist for a year but is excited to see what the future holds.
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