Organizers cheer Mountain View’s decision to enact rent control for mobile home residents

Mountain View’s city council voted 6-1 to extend rent control to the city’s mobile home parks.
Mountain View mobile home residents gather at a city council meeting on Jan. 28, 2020 ahead of the March primary. (Courtesy of Santiago Villa Neighborhood Association / Bee Hanson)

Elation and relief — those are the two emotions Alex Brown said he felt on Sept. 14 when Mountain View’s city council voted 6-1 to extend rent control to the city’s mobile home parks.

“​​As much work as we’d put in to try to get just even that — it wasn’t a sure thing,” Brown, a resident of Santiago Villa Mobile Home Park in Mountain View, said. “It went better than I expected.”

Brown and Bee Hanson, a resident of Santiago Villa since 1996, are among a group of people who have spent six years organizing, moderating local candidate forums, and speaking at city council meetings in an effort to increase protections for Mountain View’s mobile home park residents.

“When you have enough people that are willing to do some work, … then you can start getting things done,” Hanson said.

Mountain View City Council’s vote to pass the ordinance shows that the organizing paid off, said David Meyer, the director of strategic initiatives at the non-profit housing advocacy organization, Silicon Valley at Home.

“It’s not something that the council has always agreed on, and it wasn’t a unanimous vote this time,” Meyer said. “But to me, it is a reflection of the success of the advocates to keep at it.”

The mobile home park rent ordinance is modeled after the Community Stabilization and Fair Rent Act, which the city’s voters adopted in 2016 to limit rent increases on most types of rentals.

The ordinance rolls mobile home park residents’ rents back to what they were on March 16, 2021, the day that council expressly directed city staff to draft the ordinance. Going forward, under the ordinance, annual rent increases on both mobile homes and the space on which they sit — also known as space rent — must be in line with the rate of inflation, with a minimum increase of 2% and a cap at 5%. The ordinance enumerates the justifications a park owner can use to evict park residents who rent their mobile home. It also sets a limit on how much park owners can increase space rent after a resident sells their mobile home and before a new resident moves in.

When the rent control goes into effect on Oct. 28 — a month from the day the City Council did a second reading of the ordinance — Mountain View will join a growing roster of Santa Clara County cities, including San Jose, Gilroy, Los Gatos, Milpitas and Morgan Hill, in instituting such protections for mobile home residents.

The ordinance falls short in a couple of areas, Brown and Hanson said. Organizers initially advocated for mobile home residents’ base rent to go back to October 2015, which is the base rent date the CSFRA established for other types of renters.

They also wanted to eliminate the minimum annual rent increase standard and a provision that allows mobile home park owners to be exempt from the ordinance if they come to a separate, private agreement with park residents.

But Hanson said the ordinance is, essentially, better than no protection at all: “You have to get some kind of protection. You don’t haggle over details like that when you got an overall good deal.”

Brown, Hanson, and others began organizing after mobile home space rent spiked in 2015 and after mobile home residents were not included in the CSFRA.

“Residents of mobile homes are going to be disproportionately impacted by these increases on space rents and are much more likely to be displaced,” Meyer said, adding that mobile home park residents often live on low or fixed incomes.

According to Silicon Valley at Home, housing that’s affordable to people who earn extremely low to moderate incomes make up less than 4% of Mountain View’s housing stock. There are more than 1,120 mobile home park spaces in the city.

In 2015, Brown and Hanson, along with former resident Trey Bornmann, formed the Santiago Villa Neighborhood Association. Two years later, Bornmann founded the Mountain View Mobile Home Alliance, a more expansive group representing the people in all six of the city’s mobile home parks.

Brown said February 2018 was one of the lowest moments in his time as an advocate for mobile home rent control.

At the time, the city’s Rental Housing Committee, a body of five people appointed by city council that implements the CSFRA, voted 3-2 against expanding the CSFRA to include mobile home park residents.

“They’re ready to declare that we are covered rental units and then start adopting the draft regulations that they’ve already drafted,” Brown said. “And then three to two to not include us—that was dark.”

Committee member Emily Ramos was one of the two dissenting voices who voted in favor of expanding the CSFRA to include mobile home residents.

“We had it right there in front of us to give them that protection, and we just couldn’t do it,” Ramos said. “I go back to that 2018 vote because I knew then, and I know now, that these people deserve protection.”

The committee is now also tasked with overseeing the ordinance city council passed in September. But the outcome of the 2018 vote doesn’t shake Brown’s confidence in the committee’s ability to see this task through fairly.

“I think the RHC as it is currently constituted has a much better chance of fairly implementing the ordinance and adjudicating any issues” Brown said.

In 2021, City Council reappointed Ramos and appointed Guadalupe Rosas, a union organizer and mobile home park resident, to the RHC.

Moving forward, organizers are looking at other ways to make living in Mountain View’s mobile homes more secure. This includes ensuring mobile home park residents are given financial support and the first right of return in the case a park owner or a successor decides to redevelop the property. In early 2022, Mountain View City Council is expected to amend the city’s existing Tenant Relocation Assistance Program to extend these protections to mobile home residents.

But in the short term, Brown and Hanson are finding time to unwind after years of advocating for mobile home rent control.

“It feels good,” Brown said. “It’s spooky season, so I get to enjoy the atmosphere, the vague semblance of fall.”

Hanson, who said the last few weeks have led to burn out, is also finding time to get reacquainted with the quotidian.

“It’s been just a relief to actually have time to do things around my house, to clean the house, to pet the cats,” Hanson said. “I’ll be back at it eventually when something happens. God knows—we know—something is going to happen. We don’t know what.”

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