Housing Crisis Reaches North Coast Mobile Homes

Joe Mathews
Connecting California Columnist and Editor, Zócalo Public Square, Fellow at the Center for Social Cohesion at Arizona State University and co-author of California Crackup: How Reform Broke the Golden State and How We Can Fix It (UC Press, 2010)

I pulled into Arcata one August evening, after a long drive from Fort Bragg, and was greeted by a front page banner headline in the Times Standard:

“Mobile Home Rent Control Goes to Ballot”

This just might be the signature ballot measure of this year. Right now there are no boundaries—not geographical, not economic – to California’s housing shortage, and its affordability. Housing is hard to find, and expensive, no matter who you are. (As I’ve written previously, even Beyonce can’t buy in L.A.).

In the Eureka-Arcata area, mobile home owners, many of them senior citizens, have rallied because of what they say are 15 percent annual rent increases on their mobile homes. The headline I read was over a story describing a decision by the Humboldt County Board of Supervisors to let a county ballot initiative go to voters in November. (The supes could have adopted the measure outright, or maneuvered in ways to delay it until 2018).

The initiative is, of course, complicated. It covers rents charged by 42 mobile home parks in unincorporated parts of the county, and would limit rent increases to the annual change in market value. New tenants could not be charged more than 5 percent what previous tenants were paying. It also would allow mobile home park residents to vote on park improvements that would lead to higher rents. And to cover the costs of building a regulatory regime to govern mobile home owners and the rents they pay parks, the initiative would establish a $5 monthly fee on mobile home owners.

The opposition from mobile home park owners is natural. And some in the county say that the $5 fee wouldn’t be enough to cover the county’s costs. But this is no small issue. The Times Standard reported that the supervisors spent far more time debating this initiative than they spent debate two other measures that were also put on the ballot: a county tax on medical cannabis, and a countywide tax to pay for road improvements.

Many statewide ballot measures this November can be safely ignored (and should be, if people are going to educate on important measures like Prop 55, the extension of the Prop 30 income tax rates). And there are other rent control or housing measures all over the state. But I, for one, am adding this Humboldt County measures to my own list of initiatives worth following.

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