In July, president-elect Donald Trump declared via Twitter that home ownership rates have been their lowest in 51 years. He wasn’t wrong.
At the time, the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis showed the U.S. home ownership rate had plunged to its lowest depths since 1965.
Since then, Trump has given housing issues scant attention, even if his signature red hats declaring “Make America Great Again” harken back to a time when a single wage job could buy a home.
Douglas County’s home ownership rate is lower than that of the state and the country, according to 2014 census data. It has a higher level of poverty — about 20 percent of Douglas County people are living below the poverty level, compared to 17 percent in the state.
It also has a significant senior population. Nearly a quarter of Douglas County residents are 65 years or older, compared to 16 percent in the state.
Harvey and Jean Kloos’ home is crumbling beneath their feet.
For low-income workers and retired seniors on a fixed income, the manufactured home promises home ownership at an affordable cost. For $2,000 to $100,000 — a price tag reflective of a home’s age, size and condition — a person could get a house with a lawn. There could be a yard where the kids could play, a space to build a garden, a garage to store the car, a chance at the American dream.
Manufactured park dwellers gain a sense of ownership after they purchase their homes and pay a small sum for space rent. But that ownership is limited; landowners have the final say when it comes to rent prices, land development and even the color of residents’ homes.
State laws around manufactured home parks have changed since 2007, when the state was hit by a wave of park closures due to the recession. Now, when a park is up for sale, owners need to give residents a chance to purchase the land and own it as a cooperative.
A cooperative grants tenants the power they might have lacked before they owned the dirt beneath their homes. As a collective, they can vote on park rent increases, infrastructure improvements and general park rules.
Only a handful of parks have taken on the state’s idea of cooperative ownership. One of those is in Douglas County. Tenants of the Forrest Ranch Mobile Park in Idleyld Park, an unincorporated community on the other side of Highway 138 from the North Umpqua River, purchased the park last year and converted it to a co-op. With assistance from CASA of Oregon, it has taken on over $2 million in health and safety infrastructure improvements.
Purchasing the land ensured the 110 spaces were safe from being sold to a corporation or business developer, said co-op board member and resident Sharry Ison.
“In order to save our homes and not have them be demolished, we had to do the best we could,” she said.
The park, now named the Umpqua Ranch Cooperative Mobile Park, has experienced some growing pains since becoming a cooperation. Though board members get some guidance and training from Resident Owned Communities USA, a co-op resource center, this is the first time many of them have had to balance books or manage property.
Despite battling these challenges, Ison, who was born and raised in Glide, is proud to see her park gathering strength.
“The cooperative owns the land, which is all of us,” Ison said. “We all own the land.”
In a response to the closures, Gov. Kate Brown called for a coalition of state and nonprofit agencies to compile a toolkit for communities facing park closures.
The guidebook provides two preservation models that can give residents stability and security: cooperative ownership, and ownership through nonprofit or housing authority.
NeighborWorks Umpqua took on such a project for the first time this spring, when it purchased Sterling Mobile Home Park in Roseburg. NeighborWorks manages a crop of affordable housing units across Douglas County, but this is the first time it has taken on a manufactured home park.
The nonprofit purchased the park to save it from potential closure, said chief executive officer Merten Bangemann-Johnson.
“Our goal is to rebuild the park,” he said. “It’s seen a lot of deferred maintenance over a decade now. We want to provide a place where folks can live that is safe and nice and clean and functions well. And, at the same time, remains affordable.”
Rickety plyboard patios, threadbare awnings, chain-link fences and metal signs surround the …
The park has since been renamed Newton Creek Manor. NeighborWorks plans to rebuild its water lines, sewer lines, roads and roadway lighting. It has already cut down a few dozen dead trees that threatened residents’ homes.
The nonprofit will fund infrastructure improvements through grant dollars while keeping rent prices at $365 a month.
After NeighborWorks purchased the park in April, it invited residents to a pizza night dinner where it discussed improvement plans.
“They were the kindest to all of us,” resident Phyllis Davis recalled. “I imagine most of the people living in the park had not had much respect shown to them in years and years and years.”
The best part for her, she said, was when they sent letters to residents addressing them as ladies and gentlemen.
“When I saw that, it gave me goosebumps,” she said.