Mar 17, 2023 - News

Phoenix wants to protect mobile home park residents from eviction

Illustration of a ball and chain crashing into the roof of a house.

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Three Phoenix mobile home parks are expected to close in the next two months to be redeveloped into pricier housing projects, impacting more than 120 families.

State of play: Some Phoenix council members are trying to force park owners to keep them open, but they're likely to hit several political and legal hurdles.

Why it matters: Mobile homes are among few affordable housing options left in metro Phoenix. Despite their name, they are very difficult to relocate, meaning residents are often left without housing when parks close.

What's happening: Earlier this month, at a meeting to discuss how to help residents at risk of eviction, a council subcommittee recommended placing a zoning overlay on the parks that would prevent land owners from redeveloping without special council approval.

Reality check: Arizona law would require the city to compensate the park owners if the council implemented a new zoning rule that decreased the land's value, as such an overlay certainly would, city staff warned the subcommittee.

  • Phoenix has recently encountered legal problems for similar issues, including zoning changes meant to preserve a golf course and historic home, The Arizona Republic reported.

Zoom out: ASU real estate development professor Mark Stapp tells Axios many landowners keep mobile home parks on an interim use basis — a way to make easy cash flow while they wait for the properties to become more desirable. Then they sell or redevelop them into something more profitable like apartments or condos.

  • The Valley's hot housing market has led to many mobile home park redevelopments in the past five years, he said.
  • Yes, but: Metro Phoenix has failed to develop other affordable housing options, which leaves park residents without alternatives.

Mobile home heat deaths

What they're saying: "It's unfortunate for those whose life is greatly impacted by this. They are typically those who have the least ability to deal with the change," Stapp says.

  • He recommended the council consider ways to mitigate the impact on residents instead of pursuing the likely illegal zoning change.

The intrigue: ASU law professor Troy Rule tells us there are issues beyond the legal risk the council should evaluate before adopting policies that would keep mobile home parks in place.

  • A journal article authored by his students last year found that about one-third of all heat deaths in Maricopa County in 2019 occurred in mobile homes.
  • These housing units, especially older models, are energy inefficient and typically let in more heat than a traditional home.
  • Rule said it's probably better public policy to transition people into safer affordable housing than to perpetuate mobile home use.

Threat level: That would take time that residents don't have. The first of the three parks is scheduled to close April 1.

What we're watching: The mobile home park discussion will come before the full council on Wednesday.

  • In addition to the zoning changes, the council will consider creating a fund to help people find new housing options with federal pandemic relief money.

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