Mobile home park residents bring worries to Little Canada council


Mike Munzenrider • Residents of the Terrace Heights manufactured housing park brought worries about the intentions of the park’s ownership to the Little Canada City Council July 25.

file photo • The former Lowry Grove manufactured housing park in St. Anthony was sold to a developer and its roughly 100 households vacated the park a year ago.

Residents of the Terrace Heights manufactured housing park brought concerns about the park’s management to the Little Canada City Council July 25.

Key among the concerns were that the park’s owner, Riverstone Communities, was getting ready to rent trailers in the park, which is currently made up of owner-occupied homes.

“The tenants at Terrace Heights would oppose that,” Jonathan Turner, president of the park’s resident association, told the council.

Other concerns raised by Turner and Elizabeth Pretzel, the resident association secretary, included shoddy maintenance and inconsistent trash collection and plowing at the park since Riverstone bought it from private owners last year.

Pretzel explained that rental homes in the park could degrade the overall quality of the community, with the assumption that renters wouldn’t take as much pride as owners in keeping up their homes. 

She told the council she was afraid the park would ultimately be sold for redevelopment, as was the Lowry Grove mobile home park in St. Anthony.

“We’re just really concerned that this company that owns our park is going to run it down to the ground, make as much money as they can then probably come to you folks and say, ‘Hey, we want to redevelop this,’” Pretzel told the council.

Council member Christian Torkelson was supportive of their concerns. 

He lives at Terrace Heights, which is located in the 2400 block of Rice Street, and has confirmed that while park rents increased by some 30 percent since Riverstone took over, the quality of upkeep at the park has declined.

Bill Dircks, the acting city administrator, told the council he contacted an area manager with Riverstone — the company owns a number of manufactured housing parks in the north suburbs — and was told the company has no intention of renting units at Terrace Heights.

Riverstone did not reply to requests for comment for this story.

 

Old and new

Turner and Pretzel’s worries about rentals at the park were sparked by park management fixing up a disused trailer. Dircks said Riverstone told him it was readying the home for purchase.

Little Canada treats trailers as it does other housing. The city inspects mobile homes as they are wired and hooked up to utilities, ultimately issuing a certificate of occupancy if everything is up to code.

The city allows rentals in manufactured housing parks, while Turner told the council the resident association said in its bylaws that it was against rentals at the park.

Torkelson explained other concerns related to the renovation of old trailers for use. Very dated models, known as “Pre-HUD” trailers, were manufactured prior to 1976 when the federal department of Housing and Urban Development put in place minimum construction standards for manufactured homes.

Such old homes present a number of safety issues, Torkelson said, including outdated electrical systems that can’t handle the stress of modern technology, leading to fire concerns.

 

What to do?

Though council members wondered what could be done based on current city code, Torkelson said he’d back Little Canada stepping in and disallowing rentals in trailer parks, be it through zoning or other city action.

“I generally think you don’t want to see rental housing in a manufactured housing community,” he said. “The home ownership aspect is a critical piece in keeping those parks from backsliding into disrepair and I think the council would be remiss if it didn’t consider that.”

Without calling for action at the July 25 meeting, Mayor John Keis said the topic would be up for discussion at a future council workshop meeting.

Following the meeting, Torkelson outlined in an email his policy objectives to protect mobile home park residents.

First, he would rewrite city manufactured housing zoning code to preclude non-owner occupied homes, and then rezone the city’s three parks in line with the new code.

“This provides residents some protection against future redevelopment as all three parks in Little Canada are presently zoned for commercial or industrial,” he said.

He said he would codify and enforce standards that protect residents from poor management with respect to services like trash collection and plowing, and if rentals had to be allowed, he would rewrite inspection standards so they deal with issues specific to manufactured homes.

Finally, he said, he would encourage residents to buy the parks in which they live so they can become resident-owned communities.

 

Closures are the trend

Though stigmatized by some, manufactured housing parks often offer some of the most readily available affordable housing options.

According to a 2017 Metropolitan Council report, while no new parks have opened in the metro area since 1991, a dozen have closed.

Prior to Lowry Grove’s closure last year, the most recent Ramsey County suburban closure was when the St. Paul Cabins in Maplewood called it quits in 2007.

Per its website, Riverstone owns a number of other parks in the north suburbs beyond Terrace Heights: Town & Country Mobile Home Park in Maplewood; the Roseville Estates in Roseville; Moundsview in Mounds View; and Lakeside North in New Brighton.

In total, Riverstone owns some 70 parks in 12 states.



WHAT HAPPENED IN LOWRY GROVE:

Bought by a developer for $6 million in 2016, the Lowry Grove manufactured housing park in St. Anthony was emptied of residents, some 100 households, a year later.

Residents attempted to put forth a counter offer for the park, located on St. Anthony’s border with Minneapolis, though the sale to developer The Village, LLC, went through anyways, and a judge later said the residents’ offer was invalid. 

A handful of lawsuits followed, with residents and the developer eventually settling, creating a fund to aid in the relocation of former park residents and a not-fully guaranteed promise of affordable housing to be included in the future development.

The 15-acre site currently sits idle though the St. Anthony City Council gave its blessing to a more-than 400-unit redevelopment plan in March. 

Absent from the approved plan was affordable housing, though an adjacent bank site, per city officials at the time, was a possible site for a new building of affordable units.



 

– Mike Munzenrider can be reached at mmunzenrider@lillienews.com or 651-748-7813

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