‘I’m scared to death of being out on the street’ — Utah mobile home park begins clearing out residents

Those living at Layton’s Cedarwood Mobile Home Park fear they could end up homeless this winter.

(Leah Hogsten | The Salt Lake Tribune) "This has been one of the most quiet and friendliest places I've ever lived," said Nikkole Malan, a seven-year resident of Cedarwood Mobile Home Park. "I think mobile home parks get a bad rap." Moving is not an option for Nikkole Malan, who pays $495 in monthly rent for the Cedarwood Mobile Home Park lot for her 1973 single-wide mobile home, Aug. 9, 2021. Malan is one of 14 families who were given a notice to vacate their space by Jan. 1, 2022, by the property manager. The absence of any tangible relocation assistance, combined with the inability to contact the park owner directly, has her fearing for the housing needs of her and her neighbors.

The following story was reported by The Utah Investigative Journalism Project in partnership with The Salt Lake Tribune and Ogden’s Standard-Examiner.

Layton • After receiving notices to vacate their homes by year’s end, more than a dozen cash-strapped residents of the Cedarwood Mobile Home Park face an uncertain future, and some fear being thrown into homelessness in the cold of winter.

The decades-old, six-acre park property, sandwiched between Interstate 15 and Main Street, sits within a stone’s throw of the Layton FrontRunner station. In late March, residents of 14 of the park’s 71 occupied mobile homes were given until Jan. 1 to leave the property.

Remaining residents also were informed in May that they can expect similar treatment down the road when the entire park shuts down. No time frame was given.

Moving is not an option for Nikkole Malan, who pays $495 in monthly rent for the Cedarwood lot on which the single-wide mobile home she owns sits.

“My mobile home is a 1973 [model],” Malan said. “You can’t place anything on a lot now that is earlier than 1976, based on [Department of Housing and Urban Development] regulations.”

In the absence of any real relocation assistance — combined with her inability to contact park owner McKay Winkel directly — Malan voiced deep frustration over the looming deadline.

“I’m scared to death of being out on the street — especially when it comes Dec. 31 in the winter,” Malan said. She worries “I’ll be living at the train depot with the homeless people with everything I can fit in a shopping cart if I can find one.”

(Leah Hogsten | The Salt Lake Tribune) "This has been one of the most quiet and friendliest places I've ever lived," said Nikkole Malan, a seven-year resident of Cedarwood Mobile Home Park. Malan is one of 14 families who were given a notice to vacate their space by Jan. 1, 2022 by the property manager.

At 51, Malan said she’s studying to become a registered nurse while also providing care for her elderly parents. She had hoped to stay in her mobile home long enough to get on a more secure financial footing.

“I have adult children. I could sleep on their couch. But that’s not the point,” Malan said. “I’ve used all my pocket change to make my house inhabitable.”

Opportunity zone and gentrification driver

Cedarwood lies within a federal “opportunity zone” due to its economically distressed status.

The federal program, created under the 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, was intended to stimulate long-term investment and job creation in low-income neighborhoods.

But the program offers little help to poor residents of the targeted neighborhoods, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.

“While the new tax break enables investors to accumulate more wealth,” a January 2019 report said, “it includes no requirements to ensure that local residents benefit from investments receiving the tax break.”

“To me, it often just creates another tool that will make gentrification happen,” said Amy Rowland, president of the nonprofit Community Development Finance Alliance in Utah. “It won’t help make the jump to someone doing 100% affordable housing or something like that.”

Put simply, the tax breaks essentially subsidize displacement of low-income households.

Mobile home owners are particularly vulnerable when their parks evolve into other uses.

“For some, their entire investment is in that unit they thought was going to give them some stability in housing,” Rowland said. “As it turns out, it’s actually a giant [weight] around your neck … because moving is more expensive than it’s worth.”

With homelessness on the rise in cities across the United States, Rowland, who has advocated for affordable housing for more than three decades, worries that opportunity zone credits help fuel that fire.

“What used to be low-income neighborhoods are quickly becoming places they can’t afford,” Rowland said. “It probably is a good role for government to help figure out some kind of solution.”

Cedarwood development

In a May newsletter to Cedarwood residents, park management said that in addition to the eviction of 14 households this year, “Yes, eventually the park will be closing. As of now, there is no date.”

Zoned for mixed use and transit-oriented development, Cedarwood’s future could include retail, office space, entertainment and high-density housing — uses that support Layton’s commuter rail station.

Cedarwood is one of nine Utah mobile home parks owned and operated by Winkel, who is president of Boulder Ranch L.C.

Winkel did not respond to requests for comment for this story, but emails obtained through a government records request give a glimpse of his plans.

In January, Winkel emailed Layton officials, saying he’d purchased property within the Rolling Hills Mobile Home Estates near Highway 193 and Hill Air Force Base. He hoped to build a new mobile home park on the six-acre parcel there to eventually relocate residents displaced from Cedarwood.

Part of that property, however, requires a rezone, and the city said Winkel had not yet submitted that application.

Layton City Attorney Gary Crane explained that Winkel’s parcel in Rolling Hills needs state approval regarding an easement for the Air Force base and its flight path.

Between a rock and a hard place

Jalysa Sanchez rents one of the 14 mobile homes impacted in the first phase of the impending Cedarwood redevelopment.

A single mother of two, Sanchez has lived there for four years and said “you can’t beat the rent.” At $730 per month (home and lot rent), her $16.67 per hour pay as a medical assistant stretches just far enough.

“It’s really hard to find something under $1,100. So I don’t know what I’m going to do,” Sanchez said. “I feel bad for the people who have been there for years. My sister and nephew just barely bought their trailers a couple of years ago. … They might have five to six months longer to move out.”

(Leah Hogsten | The Salt Lake Tribune) Neighbors Ana Perez, center, and Sergio Trujillo, right, discuss their options of securing housing in the next four months outside their homes at Cedarwood Mobile Home Park in Layton, Aug. 9, 2021. Both were given a notice to vacate their space by Jan. 1, 2022, by the property manager.

Residents Ruben Pineda and Ana Lilia Perez have called Cedarwood home for more than 15 years. They own their older mobile home and recently upgraded its roof.

“Last October, we asked the park manager if we were allowed to build a new roof on our home. He said there was no problem in doing so but did not disclose the possibility of having to move our home,” the couple wrote in a text message. “We were also affected financially by the pandemic and had to use all of our savings. Our only request is to be compensated for our home and receive an extension to find a new one.”

When it comes to legal rights, Utah law tilts in favor of landowners rather than mobile home residents — even those who own their structures outright.

For years, advocates have lobbied on Utah’s Capitol Hill to strengthen residents’ rights, resulting in incremental improvements to the landlord-tenant relationship.

In 2008, for example, legislation passed requiring that residents receive nine months’ notice when a mobile home park is changing land use. And, in 2010, a measure bolstered mobile home resident associations.

Then, in 2017, the law regarding lot leases and evictions was strengthened to improve communication between landowners and residents.

Nonetheless, any mobile home owners who rent the land they’re occupying risk facing eviction, and they generally have few options for affordable housing.

Help wanted and desperately needed

(Leah Hogsten | The Salt Lake Tribune) Victoria Hernandez, 4, plays at the feet of her mother, Sandra Zuniga, who talks with other Cedarwood Mobile Home Park families in Layton, Aug. 9, 2021.

Cedarwood residents reached out to the nonprofit community action and family support agency Open Doors Utah.

Daneen Adams, the group’s assistant executive director, said she can step in with help — but only after people actually get booted out of the park with no place to go.

“Unfortunately, they have to be literally homeless for my organization to help them with rapid rehousing funds. It’s so upsetting,” Adams said. “And when they’re paying $500 and the cheapest rent in Davis County is about $1,200, that’s a huge jump.”

Even worse, Adams said, is Utah’s housing crunch created by huge demand in the face of a dearth of affordable homes.

“We’re in a spot where we have funding to help people because of CARES [Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act] — but if we don’t have the inventory, where are we going to put them?” Adams said. “We all face the same problem — lack of inventory for affordable housing.”

According to movity.com, about 22 million people in the U.S. lived in mobile/manufactured homes in 2020, paying an average rent of $564 monthly, compared to $1,057 for a home or apartment. Median income for mobile home residents was $34,000 compared to $59,700 for the rest of the population.

In its “Out of Reach 2021” report, the National Low Income Housing Coalition supplied data on how much someone must earn to afford a modest two-bedroom apartment. In Utah, that wage is $20.21 per hour.

Francisca Blanc, advocacy and outreach coordinator for the nonprofit Utah Housing Coalition, said the Cedarwood predicament is especially worrisome for a number of reasons.

“What is frustrating to us is the lack of transparency from the park owner,” Blanc said. “These residents have been living there for a long time, and their kids go to public school. They are contributing members in that city where they pay taxes. But nobody seems to care.”

Blanc took issue with Chad Wilkinson, Layton community and economic development director, saying there was nothing the city could do for the residents being ousted.

(Leah Hogsten | The Salt Lake Tribune) Sandra Zuniga walks with her daughter, Victoria Hernandez, 4, at the Cedarwood Mobile Home Park in Layton, Aug. 9, 2021. Zuniga, a 13-year resident, was given a notice to vacate her space by Jan. 1, 2022, by the property manager.

“It’s true that the property owner has a right to develop, but at the same time we’re living under critical circumstances,” Blanc said. “We’re still living during a pandemic, there is no affordable housing available at all in Davis County, and rents are so high that it’s really pushing people to the edge.”

Blanc described the arrangement as unsustainable and suggested that now might be a good time for state leaders to get involved on behalf of their struggling constituents — many of whom are essential workers, police officers, teachers and cashiers.

“We have a lot of federal funds coming into the state, a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” Blanc said. “What will it take for our policymakers — who have the power to do something really good — to invest in affordable housing in our community?”

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