The Shady Acres Crisis: Frequently Asked Questions
1. "What is going on?” On April 20 it became public knowledge that the that the Kittitas County Board of Commissioners have executed a “purchase and sale agreement” for $1.45 million to acquire the Shady Acres (aka Shady Brooks) mobile home park, with the intention of evicting or “relocating” more than 30 low-income families residing there, nearly all of them Latino/Mexicano. The County’s plan is to build a seasonal RV park to service the County Event Center and Fairgrounds, which hosts the Rodeo and County Fair.
2. “How long has this expansion been planned?” County Commissioners say the they’ve been considering displacing the Shady Acres residents since 1997, and under the recent master strategic plan the County has been buying up property to expand the Event Center. It appears that around March 2015, Jerry and Diane Barton, the private owners of Shady Acres, began negotiating with the County Commissioners to sell the property. An independent appraisal of the property was submitted to the County in April 2015, but was not made public at the time. Negotiations were conducted in secret and only became widely known due to a newspaper story on April 20.
3. “What is Shady Acres like?” The over 50 adults and 50 children residing in Shady Acres form a cohesive, tight knit community. Spanish is the primary language, although there’s plenty of English spoken as well. At least 26 families own their mobile/manufactured homes, and rent the “pad” of land underneath for about $300-$400 per month. The remaining families rent a manufactured home from an owner. Parents appreciate that children can run and play freely on the property, that adults are always around to supervise and help out, and that drivers drive slowly on the roadways. Residents tell us that the neighborhood functions as a “mutual aid society,” with adults sharing childcare responsibilities, helping out financially and with food when household budgets run short, and providing advice and support in navigating the challenges of life in the wider society. Parents are deeply committed to their children’s education and future; many young people who grew up in Shady Acres have gone on to college, grad school and professional careers. In short, while residents share the many challenges of low income life, this is a functional and caring community, made up of hard working, tax-paying families.
4. “Aren’t 'mobile home parks' a problem to begin with?” Specialists agree that mobile/manufactured home courts play an important role in meeting low-income housing needs. Buying and caring for a manufactured home is a significant investment and often represents an important step in moving a family out of poverty. Learn more at http://www.nmhoa.org/
5. “Won’t the mobile homes all be relocated at no cost to the owners?” It is true that relocation funds from the State are available to reimburse the costs of moving mobile or manufactured homes when a manufactured home community closes. However, in most cases these funds will not help the Shady Acres homeowners. Many of their homes were fabricated pre-1976 and are not in fact “mobile.” Most of the structures will not survive relocation and will be have to be dismantled and disposed of, at the owners’ cost, depriving these families of their most valuable asset. (As an aside, it is the manufactured homeowners themselves who pay into the state relocation assistance fund – this money does not come from the state’s general funds or general taxpayer revenues.) And those who rent won’t get any help in moving.
6. "So where will more than one hundred residents go?” That’s a big, unsolved problem. The County Commissioners have contracted, for $50,000, the company CC Consulting, which has a background in evicting mobile home owners, to close down the park and “find housing" for its residents. But affordable housing specialists explain there simply is no capacity in Kittitas County to absorb new low income people in need of residences. Virtually all the 930 subsidized units in the County are committed, and there no significant plans yet to expand housing stock. Shady Acres residents have very limited financial means, and simply can’t afford to pay more in rent (Remember, most families sunk their hard-earned savings into their manufactured homes, in the expectation of having a safe place to live with their children.) Many families fear they face homelessness or destitution.
7. “How fast will families be forced out of Shady Acres?” Under state law, the owner of a mobile/manufactured home park must give manufactured homeowners up to twelve months to relocate their homes. County Commissioners have recently stated that they may extend this timeline. But residents are left in limbo, uncertain how long they have to find a safe, affordable place to live. Given that there is no formulated plan to provide adequate affordable housing, they are extremely skeptical of the Commissioners' claims that "we will take care of you."
8. “What is so bad about having to move? Lots of people move all the time, after all.” For middle class folks, who have some financial cushion, moving isn’t necessarily traumatic. But for low income people, with almost no financial resources, a move can be terribly difficult. That is especially true for immigrant families with limited English proficiency. In Shady Acres, everyone can reach out to friendly neighbors who can help with translation into English, and provide guidance on the many mysteries of modern American bureaucracy and economy. Kids can walk to school, and there is proximity to shopping, houses of worship, medical care, social support services and sites of cultural enrichment. Forced dispersion throughout the county would tear apart a vibrant, supportive community, putting many children and families at risk.
9. "Doesn’t the County have a legal right to close down the park?" In fact, it is far from clear that the county, as a government entity (as opposed to a private party) does have the legal right to eliminate many low-income housing units, especially those that serve a vulnerable minority, without replacing those housing units. The County may face extensive litigation and enormous legal bills, shouldered by us, the tax-payers. All for a goal that strikes many observers as ill-conceived in the first place.
10. “But isn’t the purchase done deal? They should just ‘get used to it!” While the Purchase and Sale agreement has been signed, the funds haven’t been appropriated yet, and the Commissioners could still work out a better, fairer arrangement for all concerned, including the current owners of the property. Elsewhere in Washington State, mobile home parks have been acquired and administered by public housing authorities, or by non-profits, or even run by resident-owned cooperatives. Financing packages could allow residents to purchase, on low interests terms, beautiful brand-new energy-efficient manufactured homes, and create a community center, pre-school, and playground on the Shady Acres property. Wouldn’t that be a vastly better solution, one that all of us in Ellensburg and Kittitas County could be proud of? Visitors to the Events Center and the Rodeo would be able to walk by a model small community, showcasing a successful private-public partnership. Shady Acres would stand as living evidence that we are a caring, compassionate community that has found a way to preserve a vibrant, self-reliant neighborhood while protecting the most vulnerable among us.
Friends of Shady Acres. (Updated: May 28, 2016)