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Home Sweet Home: After the dust has settled mobile home owners wonder if they are better off 

Hoby Herron's neighborhood consists of tightly clustered homes and single car garages nestled up to narrow asphalt streets that evoke some of the intimacy of

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Hoby Herron's neighborhood consists of tightly clustered homes and single car garages nestled up to narrow asphalt streets that evoke some of the intimacy of Bend's older Mill-era neighborhoods.

Cascade Village, as the neighborhood is identified by the sign outside the entrance, is one the surviving manufactured home parks in Bend following a wave of redevelopment projects that have, so far, eliminated half a dozen parks totaling 380 spaces in the past five years.

With the real estate industry grinding to a virtual halt in Bend, the frenzy seems to have abated.

But that hasn't stopped residents here from fretting over their precarious position.

"There are people here whose homes are a major portion of their total assets, if they lose them they are really going to be in trouble," Herron said a recent interview at his home.

Last month a petition circulated among Cascade Village homeowners urging them to lobby the City Council to overturn its recently enacted manufactured home ordinance - a law that was designed to protect mobile home park residents by guaranteeing that park owners who close parks pay moving costs for residents.

A similar law was enacted by the Oregon Legislature this year to address the statewide rash of closings.

While there's been no indication that Cascade's owner is planning to close the park, the petition, which Herron says was handed out by park managers, told residents that unless the local ordinance was repealed they could be saddled with significant rent increases.

Cascades co-manager Jackie Elliott said the petition was actually written by a concerned resident and that managers only helped facilitate the distribution at an informal meeting in November.

"(Residents) get afraid. They hear things are going on and parks are closing and people are losing their homes," she said.

City councilors, including Mayor Bruce Abernethy, who saw the letter said that it appeared to be a form of coercion.

Given that the city's mobile home ordinance was designed to protect people like Herron by forcing park owners to pay relocation costs, or at least a portion of them, it was a strange position for residents to take and likely not in their best interest.

Herron, who reviewed a copy of the letter obtained by the Source said he didn't fault the park's managers for circulating the petition and believes they were only trying to protect residents. And park owner Paul Brewer has publicly disavowed any knowledge of the petition. None the less, park residents got a notice that their rents were going up by $65 to $480 per month soon after the city council voted to uphold its ordinance.

Park manager Elliott said the rent increase had nothing to do with the mobile home ordinance.

"I see the two things as totally unrelated," she said.

While increases on the order of $60-plus dollars aren't unprecedented, the move raises questions about whether mobile home park owners will try to hedge against relocation costs by bumping owners' rents. Or, in the worst case, simply jack up rates until owners can't pay the tab.

Elliott said that's not the case with Cascade Village.

"I know the owner of this park and he has no intention of closing this park," Elliott said. "And that would be my main concern - closure."

"He's not going to raise (rents) to a point where everybody is going to walk out, I know him, he's not that dumb."

Still, she acknowledged that Cascade may not stay in its current configuration forever. The park is aging with no sewer hook-ups. It also happens to border on the city's planned high tech industrial park, known as Juniper Ridge - making it a prime candidate for redevelopment.

But if Cascade Village is starting to gather rust, it's not apparent from the outside.

The park's well-maintained manufactured homes bear no resemblance to the stereotypical "trailer park." There are, in fact, no trailers here. Herron's home features a large living room, small study and spacious kitchen.

Most of the residents at Cascade are older couples, retirees who downsized or chose the convenience of minimal maintenance.

Herron, for example, is a retired engineer who worked for General Motors in Rochester, N.Y., and designed the carburetor for the Corvair. He moved to Bend from Arizona to be closer to his family.

And while Herron's been retired for a quarter of a century he's still sharp. A former city councilor in Arizona whose been through a university sponsored rural leadership training program in his former home state, Herron is a detail man who keeps a file of notes on all the books he has read and is planning to launch a talk show on KPOV.

When I visited him, he was as interested in pitching a new column for the newspaper as he was on the topic I came to discuss: the recent flap over the mobile home ordinance.

Herron said that when he bought his home, he and his wife had no intention of moving again. Despite assurances by park owner Brewer, Herron worries that they could be forced out by rent increases or an outright closure. He said the city should have stuck by its original, temporary ordinance that required park owners to pay the full cost of relocation plus room and board during the transition.

Right now, neither the city ordinance nor the state law would compel the park owner to cover the actual cost of moving their home, which would have to be manually disassembled and moved in pieces.

"They pay you $8,000 to $10,000 at the very most, while you can't move these places for that kind of money," said Hoby's wife, Ida.

Herron's concerns call into question whether the city ordinance and state law amounted to too little, too late for some of the state's most vulnerable population.

According to figures compiled by the state of Oregon, 63 parks totaling more than 2,700 mobile home spaces were eliminated in the past five years. While those figures didn't include information about occupancy, it's probably safe to say that closures displaced thousands of individuals with little or no compensation. By way of contract, state data indicate that Oregon saw just 106 manufactured home spaces - spread out over 16 parks - close between 1997 and 2002.

Between 2002 and 2007 Deschutes County led all counties outside the Portland metro area in mobile home park closures - all of which occurred in Bend.

Bend City Councilor Peter Gramlich acknowledged that the city was late in taking up the cause when it enacted its original ordinance in May 2006, just as the real estate boom was losing steam.

Gramlich who was not on the council at the time, but testified in favor of the ordinance, pointed out that the city ultimately enacted its ordinance under an emergency provision to speed its implementation.

"I think any time an ordinance is passed as an emergency, there is a tacit acknowledgment that we should have this already and we need to stop the bleeding before the patient is dead," Gramlich said.


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