The Point Dume Club in Malibu is not the aggressively social place it used to be. No longer is it possible to breeze into the game room and round up willing partners for poker or gin. Bingo nights have ended for lack of volunteers. The swimming pool and the tennis court are often empty now.
The country club facilities were the original attraction for nearly 280 retired couples who moved behind Point Dume's security walls and guardhouse during the 1970s.
In those days, they congratulated each other for discovering one of the most luxurious mobile home parks in the nation.
They thought they had bought into a way of life that enabled former garment manufacturers and one-time liquor salesmen to share the coast with rock singers and movie stars. The formula, to them, was simple: buy mobile homes for half the price of conventional houses; save even more by renting land in the posh park instead of buying lots of their own.
But since Los Angeles County rent controls expired in January, the talk at the Point Dume Club has been of moving away or facing financial ruin.
Land rents at Point Dume are rising by as much as 15% this year. In many cases, the rents will go up by 60% or 70% over five years.
The residents on pensions say they simply cannot afford what is coming.
For nine months, they worried out loud, every conversation leading to the same depressing topic. Now they avoid the park's common areas, and each other. "Everyone's kind of given up and withdrawn," said Adeline Burton, who has lived there seven years.
Members of a county mobile home task force monitoring the decontrol say they have received hundreds of similar reports from Topanga to Canoga Park to Rowland Heights.
Without the protection of the county law that kept rent increases at or below 9% from 1979 through 1984, the residents--an overwhelming majority of them in their 60s or older--are learning quickly that mobile home living has changed.
Sixty-five local ordinances in California govern mobile home rents; among the cities with controls are Los Angeles, Palmdale, Ventura and Ojai. Elsewhere--in the state, around the nation and now, in the unincorporated areas of the county--legions of senior citizens are afraid they will lose the affordable, comfortable retirements they once enjoyed.
Whether they are poor or middle-class--and county mobile home parks span the spectrum--their incomes are fixed and the future rents are uncertain. "You're dealing with their security," said Rudy Lackner, a county planner and the task force coordinator. "That's a real serious issue, when you deal with someone's security."
The loss of their security is exactly what the Point Dume Club residents are mourning now.
Five years from now, when Adeline Burton's husband Bernard is 73, "they'll be taking 40% of my income for the lousy rent on a piece of rock," he said.
"What the hell's the future here?"
'This Is Utopia'
The Burtons' first rent increase after decontrol was 13.6%--from $454 to $516 a month. At the end of their five-year lease, the rent will be $725--nearly 60% over what they pay now.
A block away, Len Rector tells a similar tale. He came to the park in 1978. After living in a Pacific Palisades house for 27 years and then retiring to a condominium for three years, he put $9,000 down on a $56,500 mobile home. "I thought to myself, 'This is Utopia,' " he said.
At the time, his monthly rent was $303. By 1990, his rent will be $825. When combined with his $545 mortgage payment, his housing costs will take up more than 50% of the family's income: Social Security checks for himself and his wife, a Navy pension and retirement pay from his job selling spirits and wine.
"My wife screams that we won't be able to make it," said Rector, who is 72. "But after I go, there'll be the insurance. She'll get about 40 grand when I pass on. I think she can live here for a few years on that."
The partnership that owns the park says the changes are necessary. "For many, many years we have held the rents down and the rent controls came in and continued to keep it down," said Alfred Edgerton, legal services director for the Adamson Cos.
The rents that will take effect in five years, Edgerton said, are the rents that the park should be charging today, according to a fair market report by a consultant who Adamson hired.
"We've been fair as can be with these people," Edgerton said. "This is a desirable place to live. (The park) is profitable but it isn't all that profitable by any means."
This is the second time in two years that the county has let rent limits end. In 1984, so many mobile home park owners issued immediate 50% and 60% increases that 4th District Supervisor Deane Dana called for the reinstatement of all rent controls for another year. Dana, a conservative who opposes apartment rent controls, has warned that he will seek new rent caps just for mobile homes if park owners abuse their second chance.