When Kay Piotrzkowski moved from Oregon to San Diego, she spent two years living in apartment complexes and condominium projects. Then, last year, she bought a mobile home in Encinitas.
"I tried apartment living and decided I didn't enjoy having the common walls," Piotrzkowski said. "I looked for a (mobile home) park where I could buy the lot."
Piotrzkowski settled on Park Encinitas, a 155-space park purchased by its tenants in 1985. Her home is within walking distance of shopping centers, has reasonable homeowner association fees and includes the use of amenities, such as a clubhouse and a swimming pool.
And it was affordable.
The purchase price of $83,000 for the 20-year-old, two-bedroom, single-wide included the land. The cost ranks far below market value of a single-family home with a comparable amount of living space.
Piotrzkowski is not alone in her calculated decision to settle in a mobile home.
North County has about 170 mobile home parks. The majority of park dwellers are seniors, but there are also parks attuned to families and younger singles.
In most mobile home parks, the lot spaces are rented but the homes are owned by the people who live in them. Increasingly, though, mobile home owners are buying the parks where they live.
Once, mobile homes really were mobile. They were built on wheels and could be hooked to the back of a truck and pulled down the road.
Today's mobile homes typically are not mobile at all: They are called "manufactured housing" and have only moved once--from the factory where they were built to the lot where they are set up.
The homes, sometimes indistinguishable from those built on site, often feature spacious living rooms with vaulted ceilings, formal dining areas, laundry rooms, kitchens with breakfast nooks, and bedrooms with walk-in closets and dressing areas.
The process of moving a mobile home has become expensive and complex. That lack of mobility has made them especially vulnerable to rent increases.
Several cities in North County have stepped in to preserve mobile home parks as a source of affordable housing. Poway and other cities have become park landlords; Oceanside and Escondido have adopted rent controls and San Marcos has a Mobile Home Rental Review Board.
Although there are no new rental parks being built--rising land costs and the price of development have made them unfeasible--there has been an increase in new subdivisions catering to manufactured housing. The lot and home are purchased together, much as they would be in a conventional new housing development. The subdivisions have attracted younger, first-time buyers who find they can afford to buy into them.
"There are as many different types of mobile homes as there are automobiles," said Vicki Armstrong, owner of Expert Mobile Home Brokers. "It is a whole different product than it used to be."
Some mobile home parks are bare-bones operations; some have country-club luxuries.
Here is a look at how mobile home living has evolved in North County:
RESIDENT OWNED PARKS
Carol Pollock, Vivian Cohagan and Mary Sanelli grabbed paint brushes recently and voluntarily refurbished the clubhouse kitchen at Vista Cascade, a resident-owned mobile home park in Vista.
Pollock, 70, and Cohagan, 76, previously painted two card rooms in the clubhouse.
"It all belongs to us so it's an improvement on (the quality of) your life," said Pollock, a park resident since 1980. She planned the champagne party last April when 102 park residents banded together to form a nonprofit corporation to purchase the park.
In recent years, 16 parks in North County have been bought by mobile home owners in Encinitas, Carlsbad, Fallbrook, San Marcos, Vista and Escondido.
"North County has a higher percentage per square mile of converted parks than any other county in California," said Don Olmsted, former regional director for the Golden State Mobilhome Owners League, a tenants' group.
Many of the conversion parks allow residents to purchase their individual sites while others sell a share of the cooperative.
"We tried to buy the park seven years ago, but couldn't come up with the $1 million and the bank wouldn't loan the money," Vista Cascade board member Martha Hancock said. "We signed an 18-year land lease with the (former) owner and just rented the business. In 1989, when the owner decided to sell, we tried to purchase the park (again). We had 15 days to do it and it was right at Christmastime so we weren't able to buy it."
Eventually, the residents struck a deal with the new owner. They secured a loan from the Bank of America, and for $5 million and the initial investment of $3,500 per resident, the residents bought their park.
Last weekend they celebrated their one year anniversary of park ownership with a party attended by about 80 residents and Vista Mayor Gloria McClellan.