SUNNYVALE — When Enid and Dwight Fox moved from Ohio to the Plaza Del Rey mobile home park in Sunnyvale in 1988, the family-owned community was known as “the park with a heart,” a place where they could afford to buy a home of their own to spend the rest of their lives.
That piece of the California dream started to become a nightmare about five years ago, Enid said, when the roughly 95-acre park with 812 homes was purchased by the private equity Carlyle Group.
“When Carlyle came, the heart cracked into pieces,” she said.
Residents say lease changes and, in particular, significant lot rent increases for new homeowners began by Carlyle and continued by current owners Hometown America Communities, have made their homes unsellable and threaten long-time residents’ ability to stay in their homes. At a protest Saturday morning outside the park, residents waved signs and shared stories of fear and frustration with ownership, which they say has put at risk one of the last remaining affordable housing options in one of the most expensive housing markets in the world.
“It’s worse than stuck,” said Fred Kameda, who has lived at the park for eight years. “It’s absolute desperation.”
Kameda, who along with resident Rick Valley has helped organize residents to protest the changes at the park, said they’re urging the Sunnyvale city council to reach an agreement with Hometown America that will create what he called “reasonable limits” on annual lease increases for current owners, as well as the starting monthly rent for new homeowners moving into the park. More than half of park residents are elderly, disabled or low-income, Kameda said.
Chicago-based Hometown America, which according to its website owns 66 parks in 12 states, purchased Plaza Del Rey in 2019 for $237 million — about $87 million more than Carlyle paid for it a few years before. In a statement, the company said it is currently engaged in “good faith” conversations about the park.
“We are actively involved in conversations with multiple stakeholders to find a compromise that brings certainty and stability back to the market,” the company said. “Our goal is to preserve affordability for residents while maintaining the economic viability of the community.”
At the heart of the disagreement is the monthly rent charged to new residents for the lots on which the mobile homes sit, which Kameda said has risen to $2,380 a month. In some cases that’s more than double what the current residents pay. The rents for new residents — on top of the mortgage for the mobile homes themselves — make the properties unaffordable compared to units in mobile home parks across the street where Kameda and other Plaza Del Rey residents say the rents are significantly cheaper.
David and Patty Klemash, who have lived at the park for 22 years, were hoping to move to Idaho to be closer to their children. But realtors won’t even list their property, they said, because the rents for new homeowners are so uncompetitive. David said he understands why someone would pass on his home if they “can go across the street and get $1,000, $1,500 cheaper” rent.
One of their neighbors was only able to sell after slashing the home’s asking price from $279,000 to about $170,000, he added.
Kameda said there are 50 homes in the park for sale, with virtually no interested buyers. The Hometown America website only lists four homes there for sale, all three-bedroom houses on more than 1,500 square-foot lots. A spokesperson for the company said they don’t agree the homes have become unsellable “but it’s part of the ongoing discussions.”
“We’re not asking park owners to give up their profits,” Kameda said. “What gives them the right to take money away from our houses?”
For the Foxes, the turmoil have cast a shadow over their dream to spend their retirement years in their home. The couple, who are in their late 60s and have been married for 45 years, replaced their first home with a new one on the same lot in 2001, attaching a deck where they can enjoy their morning coffee or dinner. Inside, they’ve created a workout room and a home office and replaced the kitchen’s linoleum flooring with wood.
Enid Fox said they don’t mind annual rent increases but worry the park is moving toward unaffordability, now without even the option to sell if they needed to.
“This is where I want to spend the rest of my life,” she said. “We’ve taken care of the house, we made it beautiful. But if we wanted to sell it, we couldn’t.”
The Mercury News