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Trailer Parks Shut Down as Property Values Go Up : Tenants Worry About Keeping a Roof Over Their Heads When Land Beneath Their Feet Goes to the Highest Bidder

March 15, 1987|JULIO MORAN | Times Staff Writer

In Torrance, about 40 residents at the Terrace View Trailer Park are being evicted to make way for a condominium project.

Nearly 60 residents are being chased from Maury's Trailer Park in Hawthorne, where a shopping center is going up.

In Lomita, some 100 residents of Palos Verdes Mobile Home Park face an uncertain future. In October, 1985, they were given a year to move out, but a developer's hotel plans fell through. Now the commercially zoned property is on the market again and is expected to be sold to another developer.

In these and other parts of the South Bay, as in other urban areas where open land is scarce and prices are escalating rapidly, mobile-home parks--especially smaller, older ones--are being squeezed out, often with devastating impacts on the largely elderly and modest-income people who live in them.

Seven Expected to Close

Ten parks have closed since 1975, reducing the number in the South Bay to 126. Another seven are expected to close within the next two years, according to city officials and developers. About 90% of the South Bay's mobile-home parks have less than 100 spaces and appear to be attractive candidates for redevelopment because they are less profitable than larger parks.

At the same time, no new parks are expected to be built in the South Bay, developers and city officials say.

Some cities have taken steps to help mobile-home dwellers. Gardena, for example, helped residents buy the Village Mobile Home Park when a developer sought to replace it with a medical center. Other cities have eased the pain of relocation by requiring developers to give cash payments to tenants, although tenants have complained that the aid is far short of what they need to find a new home.

The state has also stepped in with several measures, including a fund to provide low-interest loans to tenants interested in purchasing a park, although the 2-year-old fund has not been used in the South Bay.

Actions Backfired

But in some cases, government actions aimed at helping mobile-home owners--rent control, for example--have hastened the demise of mobile-home parks by encouraging the owners to sell or close them. In a 1986 report, the state Department of Housing and Community Development came out against rent control, saying it "substantially" prevents a fair return on a park owner's investment.

In any case, observers say, no amount of legislation can change the economics of the situation: Mobile-home residents own their homes but rent the land, and in the South Bay the value of the land has become too high for many of them to afford.

"If the value of the land per square foot is more . . . than the income generated by rent . . . it is likely the land use will change to a higher and better use," said Hugh Terrell, a mobile-home park specialist for Grubb & Ellis Co., a national commercial real estate firm.

Some local governments, meanwhile, are glad to see the mobile homes go. They consider them eyesores or even health hazards, and say the land, used in other ways, could produce additional revenue for the city.

Not Low-Priced Housing

If there is a future for mobile homes in the South Bay, it appears to be at the large, luxurious parks in inland areas such as Carson where land is less expensive. But the double- and triple-wide homes there sell for as much as $100,000 and are not the low-priced housing alternative that mobile homes have long provided.

For mobile-home owners who can't afford that option or standard housing, there appears to be only one choice: Leave the South Bay.

"There ain't no place to go," said Claude Bennett, 71, a 13-year resident of the soon-to-close Amberlight Mobile Home Park in Hawthorne. To find a new space for his 18-year-old mobile home, "I would have to go out way past Riverside. Even if I could find a place, my coach wouldn't stand the strain."

Provided Cheap Housing on the Outskirts of Towns

When mobile-home--or trailer--parks first starting appearing in significant numbers in Southern California shortly after World War II, they were considered the highest and best use of the land, according to a 1986 report by the state Department of Housing and Community Development. Land was cheaper. There were still farms and ranches between cities instead of today's urban sprawl. Inexpensive, factory-manufactured homes plopped on a town's outskirts provided park owners with good incomes while allowing low-income households the tax and equity-building benefits of home ownership at monthly payments near or below the price of rental housing.

Mobile-home sales in California reached a peak between 1971 and 1973, exceeding 30,000 units, according to state housing statistics. But in the next seven years, sales dropped to between 23,700 and 18,000 as the value of land increased and the growth of new mobile-home parks slowed.

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