Francine Townsend loved where she lived until a corporation entwined with a Toronto-based private equity firm took ownership of it.
By Francine Townsend
For the last 20 years, I have lived and thrived in a mobile home community. I loved where I live — right up until Wall Street bought the park and threatened the well-being of myself, my neighbors, and my family.
Mobile homes are a vital source of affordable housing for around 3 million households across 45,000 communities in the United States. These households have a median income of about $36,000 and include vulnerable populations like seniors, the disabled, and immigrants.
Our mobile home community was the sort of place where every neighbor helped everybody. If my grass wasn’t cut, the neighbor across the street would cut it. If their grass didn’t get cut that week, I would take care of it. That’s just how we were.
But things started to get harder in 2012, when RHP Properties — a corporation entwined with Brookfield Asset Management, a Toronto-based private equity firm — took ownership of our mobile home community in Spring Valley, New York.
Mobile home communities exist in part to give disadvantaged, lower income, or retired people like me the opportunity to have their own space. It’s your own yard, with your own driveway.
But RHP properties saw only a profit opportunity. Soon after they took over, the money we were required to pay to have our home in the community, called the land fee or lot rent, started going up.
Higher Fees & New Fees
Way up. My land fee alone reached nearly $1,400. But that wasn’t all.
RHP also started charging for services that were once included in the rent, like water. Meanwhile the services we pay for got skimpier and skimpier. Potholes started developing in driveways and on roads, trees were collapsing across people’s yards, and garbage began to pile up. Maintenance requests now go unanswered for months.
The situation has been developing for some time. According to a report by Americans for Financial Reform and MH Action, an organization I work with, Wall Street’s involvement in mobile home parks is a national phenomenon.
Corporate and private equity acquisitions of mobile home communities have left residents across the United States helpless. In some cases, they have jacked up prices by up to 60 percent, layering on school taxes, trash fees, and administrative charges on top of the rent — all new costs that weren’t charged before.
Many also kicked out residents during the pandemic, despite federal rules against evictions.
We need change and we needed it yesterday.
At the state level, we can protect mobile home residents with laws to guard against excessive rent increases, and lay the legal groundwork for community-friendly ownership models that help residents preserve the family-like atmosphere that made my house a home.
At the national level, we need Congress to begin a fundamental restructuring of the predatory private equity industry by passing the Stop Wall Street Looting Act. The law would make private equity executives personally liable if they cause damage and close tax and regulatory loopholes that benefit wealthy executives.
These reforms would benefit far more than just mobile home residents. Across the country, private equity firms are price gouging people for many forms of housing, as well as shortening life expectancy in nursing homes, destroying retail jobs, and devastating local newspapers with ruthless cost-cutting,
The private equity industry, in short, is responsible for some of the most harmful business practices in the United States.
My neighbors and I love where we live, and we refuse to back down and abandon our homes. It’s time for our elected officials to act.
Francine Townsend is a longtime resident of a New York mobile home community. She’s a member-leader with MHAction who organizes her neighbors to protect affordability and advance racial and gender justice in housing.
This op-ed was distributed by OtherWords.org.
The views expressed are solely those of the authors and may or may not reflect those of Consortium News.