Murray • The fate of one of Murray’s oldest mobile home parks could have easily gone another way.
Winchester Estates is spread over 60 acres in a beautifully green southwest corner of the suburban city, along the Jordan River and across from Murray Parkway Golf Course — the kind of land that Utah’s residential developers are buying up these days and converting to new housing subdivisions and apartment projects.
Elderly owners of the nearly 200 manufactured homes in Winchester Estates faced the prospect of its sale and closure just a few years ago.
For some, that meant finding a concrete pad somewhere in another community and mustering $10,000 or more in moving costs, often on fixed incomes. Others whose decades-old dwellings were no longer portable faced homelessness.
“Nobody knew what was happening,” Winchester Estates resident Patti Phillips, 63, said of the park’s potential demise. “We heard they were just going to sell it. There were all kinds of rumors. We were so scared.”
Like growing numbers of seniors staring down Utah’s current affordable housing crunch, she and husband Chris, 66, had few options. “I don’t know what we would have done,” said Phillips.
Instead, residents of the mobile home community organized and after unsuccessfully trying buy the site themselves, they drew interest from California-based Investment Property Group, which purchased it in early 2017.
The company announced this month it will expand Winchester Estates, adding new homes, a clubhouse, gazebo and other amenities. A spokeswoman said it sees saving such parks and keeping them operating as “critical.”
“Our goal is to preserve manufactured home communities, not close them down,” said Amber Monte, president for Investment Property Group, or IPG for short, headquartered in Orange County.
“What's important right now for operators is to be investing in these communities, making sure they're well maintained, keeping them open for as long as possible and ensuring that mobile home parks are a permanent part of the landscape of housing supply in the United States,” Monte said.
Construction is already underway on the new Winchester Estates clubhouse and added dwellings as the Murray park expands eastward onto vacant land abutting 700 West.
The new homes, Monte said, will be offered for sale as early as next spring, some of them two- and three-bedrooms on large lots with views.
After a buying spree spanning several years, IPG now holds a portfolio of 95 manufactured home parks in Arizona, California, Colorado, Idaho, Minnesota, Oregon, Washington and Utah. Many of them, Winchester included, are senior communities, limited to residents 55 years and older.
IPG’s president said many mobile home communities it has acquired were typically built in the ’60s and 70s and need utility upgrades and other renovations. “If we can expand them, we do,” Monte said, “even if it’s just adding a few homes or in this case, 40 homes.”
The firm’s holdings in the Beehive State now include Winchester Estates and another Murray locale, Cottonwood Cove, as well as Cambridge Court in Clearfield; Willow Pines in Kaysville; Wood Haven in West Bountiful; and Monte Vista in Salt Lake City.
Winchester and other 55-plus sites, Monte said, serve a specific market for seniors, be they existing residents living on Social Security or those hoping to sell their larger traditional homes and downsize — without spending their entire nest egg on a replacement dwelling.
The median home price for a traditional site-built home in Salt Lake County is now hovering somewhere around $380,000, according to the latest statistics from Salt Lake Board of Realtors. By contrast, current U.S. Census data indicates the average sales price on a manufactured home in Utah is now around $83,800.
Manufactured housing residents in places like Winchester usually own their single- or double-wide homes but pay pad charges and utility fees, typically in the range of hundreds a month.
“This is a great option for seniors,” said Tara Rollins, executive director of Utah Housing Coalition, which advocates for low-income Utahns.
Mobile home parks are often well-established and supportive communities, Rollins said — and are usually affordable to seniors and others earning modest incomes without government subsidies.
She cautioned, though, that park residents can sometimes face unexpected or exorbitant fees and other unfair practices by less-than-scrupulous property managers. And some mobile home owners have complained that under Utah law, in some cases they lack the full legal rights afforded to more traditional property owners and to renters.
Winchester resident Paul Morris, 62, and his wife Mary, 63, raised a family and lived 32 years in a site-built home in Murray before deciding they wanted to downsize, but not live in an apartment or town home with a shared wall.
“We didn’t need a big area either,” said Morris, who settled on buying a manufactured home in Winchester in June, as the couple approaches retirement. Mostly, he said, they wanted to stay in Murray and were drawn to the park’s green spaces and the fact that it is “incredibly quiet.”
“You can't buy something brand new with all of the amenities at two thousand square feet in Murray or anywhere around there for $270,000,” said Morris. “So purely from a value proposition, it made a whole lot of financial sense.”
An estimated 17 million Americans live in manufactured homes, according to the National Manufactured Home Owners Association, which lobbies for owners’ interests. Of the nearly 6.8 million such homes currently in use in the U.S., almost 2.9 million of them are located in privately-owned communities.
Across the country, seniors continue to be heavily represented among these homeowners, as are other groups with low to modest incomes, such as younger families and recent immigrants, according to Dave Anderson, the association’s executive director.
In the case of seniors, new data from the University of Utah’s Kem C. Gardner Policy Institute helps explain why.
Utah has one of the fastest growth rates in the country for people age 65 and older. And as the so-called Baby Boom generation ages and home prices and rents alike in Utah continue to rise, the number of seniors forced to make painful choices between paying their monthly housing costs and spending on other living necessities has grown significantly in recent years, the institute’s researchers have found.
According to data released in August, of a total of roughly 276,992 senior households in Utah, nearly 72,000 — or one in every four — are deemed to be “cost-burdened,” meaning they spend more than 30 percent of their total incomes on housing.
One in every eight senior households in the state — roughly 8,900 in total — spend half or more of their budgets on housing.
Rollins, with Utah Housing Coalition, said on top of scant supplies of homes within financial reach, seniors often have limited mobility and other challenges that further winnow their choices on housing.
With Utah’s booming economy, low housing inventories and historically tight vacancy rates in residential markets across the Wasatch Front, she said, have created “a perfect storm” for seniors.
And the state has seen an alarming spike in recent years, said Rollins, of those 62 and older desperately seeking government housing assistance, temporary shelter or other services for the homeless.
“We have a huge problem on our hands,” she said.