For Jo Manning, there’s life before Oct. 21, 2019 — and life after.
It was on this date last fall that the Springfield City Council voted to approve a rezoning application — against the recommendation of its planning commission — that would seem to mean a certain end to a mobile home park where Manning lives.
Two years ago, Manning, 67, and her husband Bob bought a home in The Patrician, a park of 81 manufactured homes for residents 55 and older in the Gateway area of Springfield, near Interstate-5, several restaurants and stores. Life before the council’s decision meant attention to her home and family. Life after has been a process of grief and anger.
She’s not alone. Residents of The Patrician fought for several months to oppose the park owner’s application to rezone the property from low-density residential to mixed-use industrial. The owner, Richard Boyles, has stated he would like to develop the property into a new convention center and hotel.
When the residents learned they had lost their appeal to the city council, most retreated back into their homes, salving the open emotional wounds sustained in their fight against government, development, tourism dollars and lack of affordable housing.
“I didn’t have the energy to do anything during the holidays,” Manning says. “I don’t sleep well. I have nightmares. My anxiety is tilting, and I had to get anti-anxiety meds. I cried a lot. But I’m still hoping there will be some kind of resolution.”
Susan Stoltenborg, 69, bought her home in the mobile home park only months before the park owner sent out a letter to park residents notifying them of the rezoning proposal.
“My home was bought for $47,000 on a 20-year mortgage,” she says. “I will have 14 years left on a mortgage for a home that doesn’t exist. Can you imagine what it’s like to walk away and abandon your home?”
After she bought her home, Manning says she would lay awake at night dreaming about the improvements she wanted to make to their home.
“We had intended to get new carpeting,” she says. “But that has stopped park-wide. No one is putting another penny into their homes. For the next three years, we have to save every penny we have.”
An amendment to their lease states the park owner cannot force out residents until at least January 2023, giving them approximately three years to sell or move their homes, and find another place to live.
However, nine mobile home parks have closed in Lane County in the past 15 years, according to a May 24, 2019 article in the Register-Guard. Patrician residents say there are very few to no options for finding the same affordable housing they have now.
Despite the troublesome situation, these residents look back on their organizational efforts and feel proud of what they accomplished.
When they were first notified by letter of the rezoning proposal in March 2019, Manning took her concerns to a neighborhood potluck and talked to the others about some possible solutions.
“I wrote up a sample letter that people could hand out,” she says. “I told them, ‘Tell your story.’” I handed out the letter and I think I did some flyers. We decided we needed to do something. We were all in shock.”
They also contacted local print and broadcast media, and Manning went to the Senior Law Clinic in Eugene for some much needed advice.
“She came in with her letter, I read it, and I said, ‘I’m afraid you don’t have any legal recourse, the law isn’t going to save you here,’” says attorney Judith Moman, who volunteers at the clinic. “I told her she would need political movement. I told them they needed to let the council know there would be no rezoning without a long-term plan in place that reserves the tenants’ rights and needs.”
Soon after, they met attorney Laurie Hauber, who works at Oregon Law Center, Lane County Legal Aid. Although neither Moman nor Hauber officially represented the Patrician residents, both attorneys actively followed the situation, becoming friends and advocates to the residents.
At a clubhouse meeting organized by Manning, and with the backing of attorneys and the Oregon State Tenants Association, more than 60 residents expressed their feelings about the proposed changes and gained talking points for their next steps.
“There was nothing illegal about what the owner was attempting to do with his property,” Hauber says. “But it was gut-wrenching to watch. People like Susan, who spent $47,000 on her home, might have to file for bankruptcy. Judith and I worked together extensively. We were advocates, we did legal research for them.”
As the weeks progressed, more residents joined the political fight. They wrote petitions and gathered more than 700 signatures. They held a yard sale, handing out brochures to every antique dealer they could find so they could bring in more revenue to help them with organizational costs.
They packed the Springfield Planning Commission meeting, emotionally testifying about their situation and pleading for the commission to recommend against the rezoning proposal.
“It was a real testament to their activism and outreach,” Moman says, “to see the number of people who showed up to the planning commission meetings. It was standing room only every time there was a meeting. They made moving and eloquent speeches and they showed up 1,000 percent.”
These residents believe that if they had said or done little, the planning commission would have quickly recommended the zoning change and passed it along to the city council. Instead, the commission scheduled more meetings, asked for more information and eventually voted to recommend against the proposal.
“Why did the planning commission recommend against (the proposal)?” Hauber asks. “They recognized we are in a housing crisis, and that it’s a higher priority than economic development. That’s an important piece of this.”
Moman says if the land owner had been “honest,” and included notice to potential residents that he had a 10-year window to develop the property, many residents may have bought into the park anyway, but they would’ve had knowledge.
“There is so little housing stock,” she says. “It’s crazy how desperate people are to have a nice, clean, safe place to live. They are still buying. (The park owner) had options which would’ve allowed him to continue to collect rent.”
As part of their outreach efforts, Manning and others found two potential buyers who would keep the park open as new owners. However, they say Boyles refused to sell. Even more, once the city council made its decision to approve the zone change, the park residents received notice their rent was increasing.
“He (the park owner) has so many options here and the (residents) only have one,” Moman says. “He can negotiate where there can be a win-win situation.”
When the park eventually closes, Oregon law mandates each homeowner receives a cash payout — $6,000 for a single-wide, $7,000 for a double-wide and $9,000 for a triple. There’s also a $5,000 tax credit.
But moving a manufactured home — if it can be moved — costs approximately $20,000, Stoltenborg says. “And that’s not the cost of moving your things or finding a place to move it to.”
Hauber says many of the homes are too old to be moved. “The homes can’t withstand the move,” she says. “People just have to walk away from their investment. Even still, the people living here have maintained their homes, and put thousands more into fixing them up. Imagine how much money, time and energy has gone into these homes.”
Joelle Sherman, 79, lives in the park with her dog Derby. She joined Manning, Stoltenborg and others in fighting to keep the park open indefinitely. At one commission meeting, Sherman’s daughter testified. But the council’s decision “took the wind out of my sails,” says Sherman, who once owned a coffee shop for 10 years. “We were thrown into this out of desperation. We wanted to save our homes.”
Now, she stays mostly quiet on the topic — it just hurts too much to revisit what happened. Through it all, she’s grateful for the new friends she’s made. She’s opened her home to meetings with Hauber and Moman, and to visiting media who want to help tell the story.
“It’s mind-blowing what so many residents have done,” Hauber says. “They took it to a whole new level. If not for them, I’m sure the planning commission would’ve recommended the change. But because of the organizing they did, it became a protracted process with multiple hearings.”
For now, Patrician residents must wait to see what the park owner decides next. They’re looking into new housing options throughout the Willamette Valley, and looking after one another.
Many of the residents are on fixed incomes and elderly — needing walkers, oxygen and in-home assistance. They had planned to live out their lives in this community of homes.
“I could not just sit back and let this happen,” Manning says of stepping up, despite being a pronounced introvert. “I’m proud of our efforts. Even the owner’s consultant told us she was amazed at the effort we put together. We made it hard for them. They had to spend more money. Just because we’re old, it doesn’t mean we’re dead.”