By Steven Tavares.
During a prolonged housing affordability crisis in the East Bay, mobile home parks have been a low-cost option for many residents, especially seniors. But in relative terms, the monthly rental rates for mobile home owners in unincorporated Alameda County is still outpacing stricter controls in nearby cities.
It’s a trend that may continue after the Alameda County Board of Supervisors voted Tuesday to update its rent stabilization ordinance to include a drop in maximum annual percentage increases, but also grants full vacancy decontrol to park owners. The latter gives park owners the ability to offer rental plot at a market rate.
The ordinance also requires the Board of Supervisors to review the policy every three years and allows half of any administrative fees to park owners be passed on to residents.
In addition, rent increases are limited to four percent annually, down from five percent under the previous ordinance. The new maximum figure, however, is still higher than other nearby city’s mobile home rent ordinances. Fremont’s is 3.5 percent, while all eight others hover between 2-3 percent annually.
The affordability of mobile home rents is more acute in the unincorporated areas of central Alameda County. Nineteen mobile home parks reside in unincorporated Alameda County, by far, the most, followed by 10 in Hayward. In addition, half of the total mobile home units are located in Castro Valley, where the issue has percolated over the past two years. Fifteen public meetings were held over the same time, along with a Board of Supervisors approved moratorium on rent increases early 2015.
Supervisors Nate Miley, Scott Haggerty and Richard Valle voted yes. Supervisor Wilma Chan opposed the ordinance; Keith Carson abstained. But the ordinance’s sticking point was the issue of vacancy control of mobile homes, also referred to as coaches. “This is an issue Nate and I disagree on,” said Chan.
Chan, who along with Miley, represent the unincorporated areas, sought a board discussion specifically on the vacancy decontrol issue. Chan sided with mobile home tenants who support strict controls that limit rent increases on transfers to five percent. Meanwhile, Miley advocated for the more park owner-friendly full vacancy decontrol option. The Castro Valley Municipal Advisory Committee, whose members are appointed by Miley, supported the full vacancy decontrol option as did the planning commission.
Staff for the Alameda County Community Development Agency, though, had advocated for a compromise including a modified policy allowing full vacancy decontrol for circumstances such as eviction, abandonment and voluntary removal, along with rent increases on in-place transfers equal to three times the maximum four percent annual rent increases, or 12 percent. But the board sided with giving park owners more leeway for seeking market rate prices.
Once a coach becomes vacant, mobile home park owners should be able to take it to market, argued Miley. “If we don’t allow mobile home park owners to maintain that property, what they’re going to do is shut down that mobile home park. That’s their decision. They don’t have to provide the space for mobile homes,” said Miley. “Some of those people have lived there forever. They’ll probably never leave! It will never go to market,” added Miley, whose stances in recent years have backed property owners over tenants. During his re-election campaign last summer, for instance, Miley strongly opposed rent control measures for residential apartments in unincorporated Alameda County.
Supervisor Scott Haggerty, who represents the Tri Valley and Fremont, areas with strict rules on allowable annual rent increases for mobile homes, appeared torn during the hearing. “On the one hand, I understand the affordability, but on the other hand, land is expensive, asphalt is expensive,” said Haggerty. He ultimately sided with full vacancy decontrol, surmising rents will continue to be affordable, while expressing worry over blight in the event the parks fall into disrepair or shut down.