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Bellingham
Friday, July 3, 2020

Mobile homeowners fight to stay

Robin Lane residents speak out in support of protecting their community

Bert Rotter (left) poses for the camera with his wife Kathie (middle) and mother-in-law (Phyllis) outside of their home in Robin Lane. // Photo by Payton Gift

By Payton Gift

Mobile homeowners in Bellingham want home security and assurance that their affordable housing option isn’t taken, quite literally, out from under them.  

The city council placed a moratorium in July 2019 to protect mobile home parks from being redeveloped with ordinance number 2019-12-044. As the one year deadline approaches to vote for an extension of the moratorium, mobile homeowners are starting to voice the necessity of this affordable housing option.

The moratorium temporarily serves to stop the redevelopment of any of the 10 mobile home parks in Bellingham, according to the city of Bellingham’s website.

Gretchen Harsch, 86, first moved to Bellingham in 1996 after retiring from her job as an agricultural sales manager in Eastern Washington. In 2004, she moved out of her home and into the Robin Lane 55+ Mobile Home Park. 

Harsch said that she first pursued buying another property in Bellingham before moving into Robin Lane, but at the time so many people needed housing that bidding wars drove the price of houses up further than she could possibly afford.

Harsch said her monthly rent at Robin Lane has increased from $375 to $550 since moving to the park in 2004. The rise in rent has been manageable, at least more so than if she were to try and rent anywhere else in Bellingham, she said.

Rent at Robin Lane includes water, sewage, garbage and cable, according to Harsch.

“I wasn’t even moved in a day, and a woman from across the street came over and invited me to coffee,” Harsch said. “To have a community like this, well it’s a nice feeling. I really appreciate the fact that if I should ever need help, I can call on my neighbors.”

Harsch said she attended a community meeting concerning a development above Robin Lane and the possibility of expanding that development, where a man said that he felt that the occupants of the ‘the trailer park’ would rather live somewhere else. Harsch said that the idea of parks like hers being a bad place to live is based on a decades old stigma.  

“It dates back to a societally economic stigma,” Harsch said. “I mean, there’s that old saying ‘trailer trash.’ This means that you’re in a different status both economically and socially.”

As home prices go up, Harsh said it’s more important now than ever for her community to stand up and fight for their homes. She said for many residents who can no longer afford rent in Bellingham, leaving Robin Lane would mean leaving Bellingham altogether. 

“It’s important that we put up a strong front to protect the parks we have in Bellingham,” Harsch said. “If we were displaced we would be financially ruined because of the cost to move our homes, and if they can even still be moved there would be nowhere to place them.”

Manufactured homes like the ones in Robin Lane can be tricky to move depending on how old and structurally sound they are, according to Harsch.

The cost of moving a single-wide home can cost up to $8,000, while a double-wide can range anywhere from $15,000 to $18,000 depending on the condition of the home, according to Cathy Petersen at Pete’s Mobile Home and Modular Transporting company located in Des Moines, Washington.

Petersen said that many counties in Washington may not even allow homes to be moved to them if they were built before a certain year. 

Bert Rotter is another resident of Robin Lane. He and his wife originally lived on 20 acres of land in Bellingham, but when the land became too much to manage, they decided to move into the mobile home park. 

Rotter said that parks like his are crucial to protect because, for many residents, it isn’t just a stop along their journey, but their last destination. 

“The older someone gets, they’ve got more and more medical expenses, and to have those expenses and be dealing with shelter insecurity can be a very stressful thing,” Rotter said.

The stigma of living in mobile home parks may turn some people away, however, Rotter said that Robin Lane doesn’t have to put a manufactured home on the market because they have a list of people waiting for this affordable housing option.

“They don’t even have to put up a ‘for sale’ sign when someone moves out because before they even do, that thing is taken,” Rotter said. “Because there are so few of them, as soon as the park manager hears that someone wants to move it only takes a day or two before someone new is in.”

Rotter said the duty of the city is not only to protect current affordable housing options, but to develop more so there won’t be a shortage. 

“We don’t need any more million dollar homes,” Rotter said.

Roz Anderson, 73, lives at Robin Lane with her husband Gary and their cat Bluesy.

Robin Lane isn’t this trio’s first time living in a mobile home park. They first moved into a single-wide home at Lakeway Mobile Estates in Bellingham, but later decided that they would like a little more space to themselves, Anderson said.

Anderson said that they, like many others, had to wait their turn until there was an availability at Robin Lane due to the popularity of manufactured homes as an affordable housing option and the good reputation of the park.

Anderson’s biggest worry is the thought of not only leaving her community at Robin Lane, but also Bellingham entirely, if mobile home parks aren’t protected. 

“Even if someone living in a mobile home park had a home new enough that it could be moved, where is there to move it to when all the parks are gone?” Anderson said. 

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