Rent, frustration rising in Michigan’s mobile home parks
James Grant, a retiree who lives on Social Security, bought a manufactured home and moved into South Valley Estates mobile park in Swartz Creek in 2018 to escape high living costs he faced while living in a condo. But, with rising lot rents and outdated state oversight, the once affordable haven of manufactured housing is losing its luster.
When Grant moved into the park, he paid about $300 per month for his lot rent, the area on which his manufactured home rests, and additional fees. Today, according to Grant, he is paying $432 a month with nothing included except basic lot rent, bringing his total to about $530 when paying additional fees — a 77 percent increase in four years. In 2019, the average lot rent with trash pick-up bundled into it was $258 in Michigan, according to ManufacturedHomeLiving.org.
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Housing costs are rising around the country, both in home prices and rent. Those increases are hitting hard in Michigan’s mobile home parks, where many residents survive on fixed incomes or low-salary jobs. For them, increases in monthly rent of $50 or $100 for the property where their manufactured homes sit can be the difference between breaking even, and not being able to afford medical care or having to sell plasma to pay the bills.
“I've had to forgo medical procedures because I couldn’t pay my part,” Grant said. “I got missing teeth I can't get fixed because I pay this extra $200 a month that I didn't have to pay before.”
Advocates say these increases are partially a result of Michigan laws surrounding mobile home parks not being updated since 1987, laws that have left a vacuum for corporate owners and private equity firms to buy mobile home parks and raise lot rents.
Grant told Bridge Michigan that he has seen this first hand, with his rent increasing after Havenpark Communities, a Utah-based investment firm, bought his park. Grant has also seen how rising rent has impacted his neighbors.
“It's been very difficult for a lot of families,” Grant said. “A few dozen people leave just because (they) couldn't afford it…Some people move out, one guy was homeless…In a mobile home park we don't have many options.”
Rep. John Cherry, D-Flint, who co-sponsored a bipartisan package of bills to update the 1987 Michigan laws and crack down on firms like Havenpark, said moving is not always an option for owners. Cherry noted it can cost anywhere from $10,000 to $20,000 to move a manufactured or mobile home, and if a manufactured home has remained in one spot, it could damage the structural integrity of the home if it were to be moved.
“It creates a situation where you can own the home but not own the land it’s on,” Cherry said. “You're almost held captive to whatever the landlord does if there's not proper regulation.”
“The colloquial expression is a ‘mobile home’ (but) it’s not truly mobile in the sense of that name implies,” Cherry added.
The package has three main components: it fixes issues regarding titles to abandoned homes in mobile home parks, alters leasing requirements and revises licensing requirements for owners.
House Bill 4304 would ensure that a mobile home park owner who wants to acquire an abandoned home would have to compensate the homeowner for the value of the property. Subsequently, this rids a company of economic incentive to pursue title to an abandoned property, according to Cherry.
House Bill 4302 also requires that mobile home park owners offer at least a year-long lease or rental agreement to tenants. A year-long lease is not currently mandated for mobile home park owners to offer, which makes those without a year-long lease susceptible to any changes a landlord wants to make at any time, according to Cherry.
House Bill 4298 would require owners instead of operators, as the law is currently written, to abide by revised requirements to acquire and renew a mobile park owner license. House Bill 4301 would also require there be a database of mobile home park owners, their contact information as well as licensing information.
Cherry said these bills are a way to “prevent bad actors from engaging in businesses in the state of Michigan while making sure that the good actors…were not being punished.”
“There's a power imbalance because of the way that you do not own the land that your house that you do own sits on,” Cherry said. “The importance of getting it passed now is so that we can protect the residents of Michigan. How long do you want to wait before we decide we want to protect consumers?”
The six bills passed the Michigan House of Representatives with overwhelming bipartisan support, but negotiations around the package came to an abrupt halt in the Senate when the Michigan Manufactured Housing Association (MMHA), which represents industry leaders in Michigan, including Havenpark Communities, pulled their support from the bill after working on it with other stakeholders.
Cherry said MMHA’s reversal of support was “surprising and disappointing because all the changes that we had made to the package … were made with consensus of all folks at the table.”
In a statement to Bridge Michigan, MMHA wrote that after being worked on by various stakeholders, including the MMHA, the resulting bills “represented changes to the existing regulatory structures for the manufactured housing industry in Michigan that the industry could not support.” MMHA did not specify what exact new measures in the bill package they opposed.
MMHA wrote that the companies involved with MMHA “would be supportive of certain legislative changes to strengthen regulation of the industry,” but did not specify what kind of changes they would support.
Jim Shaafsma, a housing law attorney at Michigan Poverty Law Program who has been a part of negotiations surrounding the bill, said that without the industry’s support, the package might struggle to pass through the Senate.
“The negotiations collapsed because that interest (group) was an essential part… in the current Legislature, without that group's support, these bills had very poor prospects for passage,” Shaafsma said.
The bill package is awaiting action from the Michigan Senate Regulatory Reform Committee.
Rising rents, rising frustration
The stalling of the bill came as a disappointment to Holly Hook, a resident in Swartz Creek Estates and co-founder of Michigan Mobile Home Residents for Affordable Housing, who has helped organize residents and advocate for these bills. Hook was also appointed to the Manufactured Housing Commission by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer in 2021 and testified before Congress about living in a mobile home park also owned by Havenpark Communities.
“We need these bills very badly right now,” Hook said. “Because right now, residents have no recourse. These corporate owners can come in and charge whatever they want. And we have no means to fight back.”
Nationwide, industry leaders told the Washington Post in June that average lot rent prices rise about 4 percent to 6 percent each year.
Prices of manufactured homes are also on the rise. Across the Midwest, the average sale price for a new manufactured home was $74,200 In January 2020 while in February 2022, it was $115,500, according to Census data. The average sale price for a new house in the first quarter of 2022 was $430,500, while the average in the first quarter of 2020 was $337,000, according to Census data.
In Hook’s park she said she has seen her lot rent increase by over 50 percent since July 2018, with extra fees also becoming unbundled from the base lot rent price. Havenpark Communities is just one of many private equity firms, in Michigan and across the nation, that have bought thousands of manufactured home communities across the country.
Havenpark Communities has bought at least 18 mobile park communities across Michigan since 2018, which are home to 4,881 sites, according to the Manufactured Housing Action.
Havenpark Communities also recently announced plans to double the number of manufactured homes in the River’s Edge mobile home park in Clinton Township.
Bridge Michigan was unable to independently verify the scope of rent increases. In a statement to Bridge Michigan, Josh Weiss, a spokesperson for Havenpark Communities, wrote that “the vast majority of our properties in Michigan have had annual rent increases ranging between $20-30” and that rent “increases help offset rising operating costs and provide part of the funding needed to upgrade community infrastructure and amenities.”
Weiss added that “since we came into the state over 3 years ago, we have invested far more in community upgrades and improvements than we have received in incremental rent increases.”
In Alpine Village, Crissy Hale, a cashier and single mother of a son with Down syndrome, told Bridge Michigan that she has not seen any improvements in her park with the lot rent increases. Prior to Havenpark Communities buying her park, Hale said she paid $365 a month for lot rent with additional fees included; she said that total has jumped to $457 with additional fees not included.
In addition to working as a cashier, she has also turned to donating plasma to keep up with the climbing lot rent prices.
“They're making it harder than it has to be,” Hale said. “We're there for a reason. We're there because we're on hard times. They're taking advantage of it.”
“We are stuck,” Hale said. “We don't have anywhere else to go, we are literally stuck.”
Grant said he and other residents who have advocated for the bipartisan bill package are just people “trying to be heard” and that these bills present ways to improve their lives in mobile home parks.
“A lot of times corporate don’t notice the little guy, they sort of steamroll over people,” Grant said. “All we want is just like what we used to have before.”
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