Most of the mobile home parks in Star Valley have sold since 2019 at eye-popping prices millions of dollars above the previous purchase price.
The sale of 10 parcels of land now used by mobile home and/or recreational vehicle parks have already triggered a string of evictions and could ultimately eliminate a sizable chunk of the region’s dwindling stock of affordable housing.
For instance, the Star Valley and C-Bar Diamond RV/Mobile Home parks sold recently for $2 million. They previously sold for $700,000. The nearby Lamplighter Mobile Home Park in 2019 sold for $12 million; it had sold for only $1 million in 1997.
Already, abrupt requests for people to leave with a 30-day notice have been reported at sites such as Ponderosa Glen, Star Valley and C-Bar Diamond mobile home parks.
The sales represent a windfall for some longtime landowners, but have also created a crisis for many residents facing eviction or homelessness amid a runaway pandemic.
A couple of sales have gobbled up a large share of the region’s affordable housing, with both Payson and Star Valley far more reliant on mobile home parks than urban areas like Phoenix.
Some residents have banded together to convince new, mostly out-of-town landowners to give them more time to find a new place to live.
Lot space rent at the C-Bar Diamond Park totaled $235 a month. Next door, rent at the Star Valley Mobile Home Park came to $245 a month. In both parks, residents paid utilities.
By contrast, the average one-bedroom apartment in Payson currently rents for $800 a month, up 8% from last year.
The spiraling price of mobile home parks and the rush of sales will have a big impact on the region’s housing mix — given the shortage of apartments.
Mobile homes account for 14% of the housing stock in Payson and 20% in Star Valley.
Meanwhile, apartments account for 8% of the housing stock in Payson and 4% in Star Valley.
In Phoenix mobile homes account for just 3% of the housing stock and apartments for 21%, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
All of that means the mobile home parks account for a much larger share of the workforce and affordable housing in Payson and Star Valley than they do statewide.
Statewide studies show that rural communities generally have a critical lack of workforce housing and much fewer affordable choices for the elderly and disabled who don’t own a home of their own.
One recent study found that in rural communities 41% of residents pay more than 30% of their income for housing and 21% pay more than half of their income for housing — a situation that’s gotten worse since the housing crunch created by the 2008 recession. The recent explosion in Rim Country home prices threatens to turn the shortage into a crisis. Even middle-class workers like police officers, firefighters, teachers and others report difficulty finding a place to live in Payson.
So the rash of evictions the dramatic increase in prices and sales for mobile home parks could spell big trouble for the region’s supply of workforce housing and threatens homelessness for many residents living on fixed incomes, due to age and disability.
The wrenching changes facing residents of the Star Valley and C-Bar Diamond parks illustrate the dilemma facing many residents.
Previously, the roughly 50 space rentals would have yielded an income of around $12,000 a month. With a low mortgage, the previous owner could run the park with a profit.
However, the new owner will have to cover a $2 million mortgage, which could produce a monthly payment of $10,000 or more. The cost of improvements would come on top of that, in addition to the ongoing operating costs makes the current rent structure a losing proposition.
All that adds up to a big potential increase in monthly lease payments.
Both the Star Valley and C-Bar Diamond resorts sold in November 2020, a month after a fire burned one mobile home. When residents from that space sought to rebuild, the new owner rebuffed their efforts. Soon after, the new park manager reportedly singled out most mobile home owners for eviction, with only 30 days to get out, according to residents.
Owners say they plan to convert the property into a luxury RV park — which could replace workforce and low-income housing with spaces for wealthy Valley residents looking for a place to park their trailer.
Even if the new owners want to focus on spaces for year-round residents, the existing residents face another problem. Many of the mobile homes were built before 1976, which means they don’t meet current safety standards. Even if residents could afford the cost of moving their homes, they won’t be able to find another mobile home park that would let them move the now substandard mobile homes onto a pad.
Add this all up and the phenomenon known as gentrification, which the Oxford Dictionary defines as “the character of a poor urban area (which) is changed by wealthier people moving in, improving housing, and attracting businesses, typically displacing current inhabitants in the process.”
The Scottsdale corporation that bought the Lamplighter RV and Mobile Home Park for $12 million made a $4.5 million down payment, according to records in the county assessor’s office.
This same company also bought five other parcels across the street for $3.4 million, with a much smaller down payment.
Nearby, another Valley investor purchased the Star Vale RV Park along with five other parcels with parks for $6 million in 2020.
Last year, the Ponderosa Glen Mobile Home Park also sold for $2 million.
Summer Mendez, a mobile homeowner from Ponderosa Glen, had lived in that park for 12 years.
After the new owners purchased the park, a manager offered her $3,000 for her family home.
According to the laws defining a mobile home, the park owns the property and utility infrastructure, but the mobile home owners hold the deed to their home.
Some parks own the mobile homes as well, but in that case the tenant has even fewer rights. Without a lease, they’re a month-to-month renter and can be evicted with a 30-day notice, according to the tenant-landlord act.
Mendez fell into that category when she sold her home to the new Ponderosa Glen Mobile Home Park.
“By the end of October, I had told him yes (to selling her mobile home) ... he then said they changed their mind, I had to move,” she said.
A representative with Ponderosa Glen disputes these statements.
Mendez describes herself as a single mom on disability.
“There is no place I can afford as everyone knows rent is high every place else (and) we are in a pandemic crisis,” she said.