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Palm Beach County mobile home park residents fear they are being pushed out


It’s tough being a resident of a mobile home park these days.

Some are being booted from what they once saw as their islands of affordable housing. Others have had the land sold from underneath them. Some say park owners are using “slum-lord tactics” to elbow them out.

“I’m thinking of leaving. That’s what the owner wants. When they own the land and the mobile home, they can rent it out for more than folks like me are paying,” said Bonnie Benamar, 63, a retired art dealer who owns her mobile home and pays $545 monthly for water and maintenance in Lago Palma, a 200-unit park near Greenacres on Lake Worth Road.

A mobile homes spokesman denied park owners are looking to chase out residents. Bringing in older homes and fixing them up is simply a response to more demand for rental housing, said Jim Ayotte, executive director of the Florida Manufactured Housing Association in Tallahassee.

“Property owners have the right to develop their land. And the government has the responsibility to make affordable housing available to citizens, especially for the elderly and low-income. There has to be some type of balance,” Ayotte said.

Developers covet mobile home parks. In many cases, the large lots are on main roads, zoned high density and have utilities. Benamar’s mobile home park, for example, is 47 acres. That’s just 3 acres smaller than Downtown at the Gardens, the outdoor shopping center in Palm Beach Gardens.

As the economy revs up, more developers will be knocking on park owners’ doors. They will want the land for shopping centers, residential developments and entertainment areas. Municipalities might welcome the change because commercial development would bring more tax revenue than a mobile home park, said Marie York, president of Jupiter-based York Solutions, a planning consulting firm.

“Mobile home parks are golden, especially now,” York said.

Such a developer sale is what happened to the residents of Whitehaven Senior Adult Mobile Home Park in Jupiter.

Military Trail was a dirt road when Bob and Loretta White opened the 131-resident park in the early 1960s on 29 acres of mango farms. Jupiter-based FLF 1030 LLC bought the property this year. Planned are 351 apartments and 60,000 square feet of retail and medical office space. When the last Whitehaven residents who owned their mobile homes left early this spring, they were paying about $400 monthly. That included water, sewer and garbage collection.

“And we mowed the lawns,” said Bob White, 64, one of the four White brothers and two sisters in the family who grew up in Lake Park.

Lago Palma and Whitehaven are not the only mobile home parks where residents have either left or are being forced out of their parks.

  • Suni Sands, on 10 prime waterfront acres in Jupiter east of A1A, recently sold for $16 million. The 120 residents, some who have lived there 30 years, have been told by management they can stay at least two more years.
  • Residents of Royal Manor Estates senior mobile-home park in Boynton Beach gathered at the community’s clubhouse last month to discuss concerns about alleged harassment by the park’s management company.
  • About 24 mobile home owners in Hi Acres Mobile Home Park in suburban Palm Beach Gardens must leave to make room for extending Congress Avenue from Alternate A1A.
  •  

    A Garden Walk mobile home park residents say beat-up mobile homes are being brought into their park on Military Trail near Palm Beach Gardenas rentals.

 

“Housing is so expensive in Palm Beach County. There’s always someone who will pay, no matter what the condition of the structure,” said A Garden Walk resident Ed Sankowski, 61, who is president of the homeowner’s association.

While mobile home parks likely will become increasingly attractive to developers, any idea they are going extinct is greatly exaggerated, Ayotte said. Buying parks in Palm Beach County — such as Wal-Mart replacing the 70 mobile homes in Sunshine Village in Palm Springs three years ago — is popular because land here is so valuable.

“Baby boomers are retiring. People are living longer. The need is growing for affordable housing,” he said.

Stepping around a mobile home with wrinkled aluminium siding and brown tape on broken windows, Sankowski said there are about two dozen such beat-up homes that have been recently brought into the park. Plastic tarps were on some of the roofs. Exposed wiring was visible on a few more. Wooden beams showed termite damage in another.

Sankowski acknowledged that contractors were busy on ladders fixing roofs and patching walls. A few had new air conditioning units. Some had new vinyl siding.

“Those are just cosmetic changes,” said Sankowski.

Sankowski owns his trailer and pays the park $620 a month. The park owners would be glad to see him leave so they could put in their own mobile home, he said. Park owners could then charge the $620 monthly fee as well as rent the mobile home, he said.

Many of the older mobile homes coming into A Garden Walk — and other parks in Palm Beach County — are from Hollywood Estates, a mobile home park closed by the Seminole Tribe in Hollywood, Ayotte said.

The 1,500 residents in the 55-and-older park were told they had to leave by this summer. A single-family development is taking its place.

Some who owned mobile homes in good condition sold them or or just left the park. Owners of older homes, some built in the 1970s and not compliant with current wind standards, left their rigs at the park.

Palm Beach County officials can’t keep the older mobile homes out even if they don’t meet wind standards. That’s because of a state law passed in Florida in 1994 to maintain affordable housing and protect property rights.

The law states that in Palm Beach County and 13 other coastal counties, mobile homes must withstand winds of 110 mph. But exceptions are allowed if the homes come from a mobile home park that has had a land-use change.

“We will inspect the slab, tie downs, stairs, air conditioning and plumbing to make sure there is no immediate threat to occupying the structure,” said Rebecca Caldwell, executive director of the county’s planning, zoning and building department.

Engineer reports will be required on all mobile homes brought into the parks. County inspections will be done after the engineers’ reports are received, Doug Wise, director of Palm Beach County’s building division, wrote in a July 9 e-mail to an A Garden Walk resident concerned about the older structures in her park.

“No one on county staff is ‘turning their heads’ to ignore this challenge,” according to Wise’s e-mail.

Mobile home owners who are required to move are eligible for between $3,000-$6,000 in state compensation through the Florida Mobile Home Relocation Trust Fund. The money comes from licensing fees paid by mobile home owners to the Florida Department of Motor Vehicles.

Skokie, Ill.-based Lake Shore Management, Inc., owner of Lago Palma and A Garden Walk, did not return a request for comment and an employee at Lago Palma’s office declined to answer questions.

Residents who see a beat-up mobile home out their kitchen window should be patient, Ayotte said. Eager for rent, park owners will soon bring the mobile homes up to county code, he said.

“I know it’s discouraging. But my advice to them is to sit tight. A rising tide lifts all boats,” he said.

Staff writers Willie Howard, Kevin Thompson and Ana M. Valdes contributed to this story.



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