Friday, November 13, 2009

Losing homesites

Wow. This story has a shit lede. But of all the work I did at the Keizertimes, the stories I did around the closing of manufactured home parks remain some of my proudest.

Published Jan. 28, 2005, in the Keizertimes

Jean Coons has lived in Keizer since 1977.

She owned Pet's Corner, a pet shop that was located in Creekside Shopping Center. Now retired, she spends 15 hours a week volunteering for a first-grade reading program in Clear Lake Elementary School. Keizer's community policing award is named in honor of her late husband, Joe, who died in 1998.

On Friday, the property she and 23 of her neighbors rent in Iris Village, a manufactured home park in North Keizer, may be sold from underneath them.

The park is owned by Brian Fitterer, a Newport Beach, Calif. man who also owns Briarwood Estates at 1301 Chemawa Road N. He purchased it shortly after the park opened in 1998.

Fitterer sent notices to Iris Village residents in November telling them that if they don't buy their lots, the land may be sold on the open market. A new owner would be able to continue to rent the land to the current residents or could cancel the contracts and evict them from it.

"I love Keizer," said Coons, who lives with her roommate, Otis, a standard-size pug. "I don't want to leave, but there are not many places left to go."

Due to a change in Oregon law, manufactured home parks can be declared subdivisions - as Iris Village was last August. That means that individual lots in the park can be sold separately.

Iris Village, with its spotless streets and clean lots, is home to many residents on low or fixed-income families or individuals. It's a small park, 28 lots, and therein lies the reason for it being sold.

"I'm trying to make more money off the investment," said Fitterer.

Fitterer is asking $50,000 for the smallest lots and nearly $55,500 for the largest ones.

He contends that it is an "opportunity" for the residents of Iris Village to build greater equity in their homes and property. However, even those who might be able to find financing doubt they would ever recoup their investment.

"I'm one of the lucky ones, I've already started looking at other properties. There are several people who live here who are paying mortgages on their homes, and to add another $50,000 is just unattainable," said Jim Dant.

Dant is under contract with the state to provide foster care for two young adults with disabilities. Other residents in the park also take care of elderly or disabled dependents.

Even if residents can find new locations, the cost of moving a home can range from $3,000 to $14,000.

Dant and Coons are two of the three original residents still living in the park.

Coons said she hopes to secure financing to purchase her lot, but that she has already put $16,000 in improvements into the lot and would like a credit toward the purchase price.

Residents Donna and Stephen Burleigh said that to move their home would cost $8,000 even with the pair of them doing most of the work.

The Burleighs were assistant managers at the park until Tuesday, when they were released from the position. They had also been performing light maintenance for many of their neighbors.

Donna has accumulated a small mountain of paperwork documenting the process since the park was first licensed.

"We wouldn't mind purchasing, but the price must be fair and Brian doesn't seem to be open to lower offers," said Donna.

The Burleighs are trying to secure a loan to buy their lot but are uncertain if they would be approved.

"The problem is everything that's been done is legal, and the residents seem to be the last people anyone considers," said Donna.

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