‘We’re in a pickle’: Royalwood residents ask council to address rent increases in manufactured home community

Royalwood residents (L-R) Elna Olson, Dorian Deutsch and Maria Wilson speak to the Lynnwood City Council May 6.

Several Lynnwood residents from Royalwood MHC came to the Lynnwood City Council meeting May 6 to voice their concerns about soaring rent in their manufactured home community. 

Those testifying said that since Collective Communities purchased the park in 2023, they had seen their rent increase from about $640 a month to nearly $750 in less than a year. The new landlords also added fees from utilities, water, garbage and other services that used to be included in the rent, which added about an extra $100 a month.

By June, Royalwood residents will see their rent rise by another $100 – a total of a nearly 50% increase since last year.

Dorian Deutsch, a resident at Royalwood for 10 years and a disabled Army veteran, told councilmembers she believed she would be living at her manufactured home for the rest of her life. “I thought I would be able to afford a home and not end up on the streets or under the bridges,” she said. “I’ve seen a lot of horrible heartache from people who have served the country and cannot afford a place to live. I own my home, but I don’t own the land that it sits on.”

After Deutsch bought the house nine years ago, the rent would rise about $15 to $20 per month, “which was doable,” she said. “As of June 2023, we have had a cost increase of approximately $3,600 in total for every year since last year.”

That amount includes not only the rent but also “excessive” charges for utilities, water, sewage, storm drain and garbage, she said. Deutsch also said that Collective Communities had given residents “a lot of unreasonable demands,” such as removal of all windowed air conditioners from the units, and requiring that all carports be made from the same material and color as the residence.

“We’re in a pickle,” Deutsch said to the city council. “And we really need your help.”

Royalwood resident Elna Olson, who recently turned 70, said that she went back to work last week despite having a pension and Social Security. “I am terrified about all the fees, and I moved in there to feel safe and secure, and I also planned out my retirement to live out my days,” Olson said. ”I feel like I am being attacked…from this company that really doesn’t care about the residents. They care about the money they’re making.”

Olson said that she had new neighbors who were paying $1,105 a month. Her current rent is $200 less than theirs. “Can we assume that’s probably us next year? Yeah, probably,” she said. 

Ishbel Dickens, a volunteer for the Association of Manufactured Homeowners, spoke to the council remotely.

There are about 70,000 manufactured homeowners and 1,232 manufactured home communities throughout Washington state. Former attorney Ishbel Dickens, who is a volunteer for Association for Manufactured Homeowners, told the council that rent has gone up between 20% to 60% in manufactured housing communities. Residents in one  southwest Washington community had their rent go up by $1,000 a month. 

“That’s because the landlord can,” Dickens said. “They can charge as much as they want, and people can’t pay, they move out, and the landlord takes possession of their home and sells it to the next unsuspecting homeowner.”

“‘Mobile’ is a huge misnomer,” Dickens said. “That home is built to be placed in one spot and not move, and that becomes a challenge for manufactured homeowners who are constantly facing economic evictions through the ever-increasing rents. I often refer to manufactured homeowners as ‘prisoners in their own homes’ because they do not have the ability to get up and move, and they’re very much at the mercy of predatory landlords who seemingly want to nickel and dime to death through fees and charges.”

Dickens also said that many of these tenants are seniors living on fixed incomes, mainly from Social Security checks. However, if their rent is due before they receive their Social Security payment, they always end up short because the landlord charges them a late fee first.

Dickens said she had worked with late Lynnwood Mayor Don Gough and the city councilmembers in 2010 to establish an ordinance of manufactured homes. Since then, she mentioned that some progress has been made to help the residents, such as requiring manufactured home community owners to give a two-year notice to the homeowners before the landlords  sell the land. 

Dickens also proposed several additional changes:

– Get rid of junk fees

– Limit late charges to $10

– Lower property taxes to provide incentives for landlords not to raise rent for a specific time period

“There’s a lot we can do on a state level, and I urge you to support the rent stabilization bill as it comes up in the next [legislative] session,” Dickens said. “If you have a lobbyist representing [Lynnwood] in Olympia, please have them push hard on rent stabilization. It would be a game changer and systematic change that people desperately need.”

Lynnwood Council President George Hurst acknowledged what has been happening in manufactured home communities both in Snohomish County and around the state.

“Regionally in our area, corporate investors are coveting and buying up manufactured home parks,” Hurst said. “Most of these homes are family owned. The original owners, parents passed away, the children on the estate don’t want to deal with the part. Since 2020, Collective Communities Property Management has been pretty active in our region. They are an investment corporation, their physical presence in our state is a post office box in a Postal Annex in Vancouver, Washington. They are based in California. They’re buying parks so they can make money. They are severely impacting what should be a good source of low-income housing. And instead, fees and rents are skyrocketing. [Manufactured homeowners] own their homes but not the land their home is on.”

Hurst said that in the summer of 2023, Collective Communities purchased three manufactured housing communities from a landlord who owned these properties: Lynnwood’s Royalwood, Canyon Creek in Bothell and a park in Gig Harbor.

“The housing authorities from Snohomish County approached the rep of the owner [to purchase the property], and they were turned down,” Hurst said. “This is a private sale, it’s on a cash basis and [will be] sold as it is. Those were the terms the housing authorities could not accept.”

Hurst said that he will send a notice to all councilmembers about a meeting scheduled for  the public and Collective Communities on May 30 at Homage to discuss possible solutions.

L-R: Snohomish County Health District’s Dennis Worsham and Washington State Department of Health’s Nate Weed and Lacy Fehrenbach.

In other business May 6, leaders from the Washington State Department of Health (WSDH) and Snohomish County Health Department (SCHD) discussed how the two organizations  collaborate.

WSDH Chief of Prevention Lacy M. Fehrenbach highlighted that Washington state has:

  • More than 500,000 licensed health care professionals in more than 90 health professions
  • About 11,000 health care clinics and facilities (for example,  laboratories and surgery centers)
  • Licensed nearly 100,000 new health care providers in 2021

The state health department oversees a variety of services, including public health education, such as Watch Me Grow, nutrition programs for women, infants and children, birth and death certificate issuance, violence prevention, emergency preparedness and drinking water oversight. 

WSDH Chief of Resilience Nate Weed said that there are nine executive officers who report to the Secretary of Health, including two new offices – Healthcare Strategy and Innovation and Global and OneHealth. Weed said only the Office of the Chief of Staff is not considered an executive office because it is assigned administrative tasks. This new structure gives the WSDH a “more agile way of making decisions and connecting with partners, stakeholders and others who feel needed to be connected with [public health] work at the state level,” Weed said.

Fehrenbach mentioned that some state funds go to Native tribes so they can have access to public health clinics via Foundational Public Health Services. “When we provide services and funding to the tribes, they get the choice of going through the feds, the state or even in some cases through local government.,” Fehrenbach said. “For example, when we administered [COVID-19] vaccines on behalf of the federal government, the tribes had a choice to order from IHS [Indian Health Service] or our department of health.”

Director of Snohomish County Health Department (SCHD) Dennis Worsham described public health in Washington state as a “decentralized system,” meaning that authority is given to the local jurisdiction to act. SCHD is one of the state’s 35 local government health departments.

Worsham said that the county health department had replaced the Snohomish County Health District in January 2023, “modernizing” the structure and operations during the COVID-19 pandemic. In the old structure, the district board of health was led by city and county representatives, who oversaw finances, policies and programs. As the SCHD, the board has two representatives who represent cities, two county councilmembers, and nine community members – including a tribal representative position that is currently vacant.

Like the state health department, the county health department also has nine executive team members. They report to Worsham and oversee different functions, including environment health, health equity, sexual transmitted disease (STI) and HIV prevention, family health and refugee health. Worsham said that SCHD would love to engage with the City of Lynnwood on its specific health care matters.

Worsham mentioned that the opioid and other drug crises are some of the high priorities the county health department is facing. Others include the spread of STIs – specifically gonorrhea and syphilis, which has quadrupled in recent years – tuberculosis and measles. The county has reopened several STI/HIV clinics and has serviced about 300 patients so far.

Councilmember Patrick Decker asked whether the state health department  supports the effort to prevent the addition of flavors to smoking and vaping products, which increase their appeal to consumers. 

“We have actually gone on record to the legislature about taking steps to limit it, especially in youth initiation to tobacco, vapor and cannabis products,” Fehenbrach said. 

“Do you think making cannabis more accessible to residents will improve the health of residents or will it lead to a decrease of health to the population?” Decker asked.

Nobody from either department answered that question.

Also on May 6, the council:

Lynnwood Police Chief Cole Langdon

– Heard from Lynnwood Police Chief Cole Langdon regarding options for hiring a social worker now that nonprofit Compass Health canceled a program that provided social workers to assist police officers in Lynnwood, Edmonds and Mountlake Terrace. One option is to hire a social worker who is already working within a “HIPAA-covered entity,” such as Swedish Hospital or Compass Health, which would cost about $130,000 a year plus benefits.

Langdon said that such a social worker would have the ability to share information more easily. Another option is to hire an “advocate,” who does not have the same credentials as a social worker yet is able to do similar work in the field. The advocate would also have the same understanding of the social work landscape and the skills to connect people with social services.

“I’m hopeful that within the next two weeks we’ll have an identified path,” Langdon said 

– Received an update from Lynnwood City Clerk Luke Lonie regarding proposed changes to LMC 2.94, which outlines the code of ethics and conflict of interest rules for city employees and officials. These changes are reversing the roles of the city’s board of ethics and board attorney and increasing the number of ethics board members from three to five

The current board has three primary members and two alternate members. One of the alternate positions is vacant.

By reversing the roles, any complaint received begins with the board of ethics attorney, regardless of whether the complaint has merit. If the complaint is sufficient to progress, the attorney would meet with both parties and review the evidence. If either party appeals the case, then it will go to the board for a hearing.

“This is pretty different than most boards of ethics…where the board handles the complaint from [receiving] until appeal, at which the attorney or a third party investigator would get involved,” Lonie said.

He said the code update also allows alternate board members to attend all meetings and vote when a primary board member is absent or is unable to conduct board business. If a complaint were to make its way to Snohomish County Superior Court to enforce a subpoena – and the person violated the order, which would result in contempt – it would have been the result of two volunteers supporting a subpoena, Lonie said. “For this reason, the two alternate positions would be eliminated under this ordinance and replaced with two additional primary positions.”

Lonie added that he hopes the ethics board vacancy will be filled by May 28.

— By Nick Ng

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