Disclaimer: manufactured home park pictured above is not the community mentioned in this post.

This past winter, Housing Justice Center Community Organizer Teresa Garcia-Delcompare and attorney Shana Tomenes helped mobile home resident Anavela reach a settlement with her neglectful landlord. Read the story in Anavela and Teresa’s words below.

No place is perfect, but it would be ours (include picture of Anavela?)

I first saw the listing for Creekside Estates Mobile Home Community when I was staying at a domestic violence shelter for Latina women and children in St. Paul. I had been searching for a place my two young children could call home, somewhere to put some pain behind us and make new memories. Creekside Estates was in a good school district in Coon Rapids, had a playground for the kids, and was close to my work.

The listing on Craigslist was for a rent-to-own manufactured home. That was good news — I’d always wanted to own a home for my family, but I didn’t have the finances to pay the purchase balance of $25,000 outright. So, I took a tour on a sunny summer day. The landlord for the mobile home seemed a little off, and the home needed some repairs, but the landlord promised to make them in a timely manner. No place is perfect, but it would be ours.

As it turned out, underneath a veneer of cheap fixes, our new home at Creekside Estates was far, far from perfect. Our pipes froze in the wintertime, and the stove leaked gas which made my kids sick to their stomachs. Every time it rained, water leaked through our roof and windows and down the walls, causing part of the ceiling to cave in. Family keepsakes and toys were soaking wet. I was heartbroken. Eventually, the floor in my children’s bedroom started to rot — one day as I was tidying up, I fell through the carpet and sprained my knee. Rodents crawled through the hole and into our home.

At first, when I brought up the concerns to my landlord, he acted like I was an inconvenience. Then he tried to convince me that I owned the manufactured home, making the repairs my responsibility. But I was no fool. I was still paying him rent and he’d never transferred formal ownership to me.

It was often difficult to communicate with my landlord, but it was clear how he felt about me. “You’re in America, you need to speak English, you’re not in your country anymore,” he’d say. One day he came over to check on some of the issues, and my children were playing on the living room floor. He stepped over them like you would gum on a sidewalk. When I told him that was disrespectful, he yelled at me and slammed the door on his way out.

The day my eleven-year-old daughter came home from school crying “I don’t want to live here anymore”, I knew enough was enough. She was having anxiety attacks in class, buckling under the weight of our mistreatment.

Luckily, I met Teresa, a community organizer with Housing Justice Center. She was able to connect me with an attorney at HJC who helped me file an emergency tenant remedies action against my landlord. When I notified my landlord, he threatened to evict me. Ultimately, we were able to reach a settlement without going to court, which was a personal victory. He would take the house back, and I would receive six rent abatement payments — but unfortunately, his antics were never-ending, and I didn’t receive all I was promised. Thanks to my support system, I did eventually find a new place for my family to live.

Organizing for mobile home justice

HJC Community Organizer Teresa Garcia-Delcompare.

An estimated 180,000 Minnesotans live in manufactured homes, which make up the largest source of unsubsidized affordable housing in the United States. Mobile homes house 1 in 10 families living below the poverty line, and offer many working class, BIPOC Minnesotans safety, stability, and an avenue for affordable homeownership. I still remember how excited I was when I first purchased my mobile home.

As a Community Organizer and up until recently, a manufactured homeowner, I know firsthand too many stories like Anavela’s. Mobile home residents understand the precarity of our housing. With increasing property values and real estate speculation, manufactured home parks are at risk of closure or redevelopment, resulting in the mass displacement of low-income people — particularly in the Twin Cities suburbs.

Residents find themselves in a particularly vulnerable housing situation — owning our homes but not the land underneath. Communities often suffer from years of disinvestment, with landlords doing the bare minimum to keep the park operating, then selling when the moment is right. Despite the name “mobile home”, they’re typically anything but — in many cases, the home is immoveable due to its aging structure. Most manufactured homeowners can’t just pick up their home and move if the lot rent gets too high or the park closes.

In my work at HJC, I focus on organizing manufactured home park residents for mobile home justice. That often takes many different forms. I support mobile home dwellers in forming resident associations, educate people on how to raise complaints and speak their minds, and help immigrants who are being taken advantage of by their landlords. We talk about policy interventions — including stronger protections for people who find themselves in predatory rent-to-own contracts — and how residents can leverage legal advocacy as a tool. Most importantly, we recognize that a strong, organized community must be at the forefront of any positive change.

Over the last few weeks, I accompanied Anavela as she applied for and viewed apartments, a process made harder by restrictive tenant screening criteria related to her credit score, income, and legal status. I feel lucky that I met Anavela, and angry about all the pain she has experienced. Experiences like this remind us that the path to justice is long and winding, and we cannot go it alone. If you are looking to organize your manufactured home community and you need support, please reach out to HJC today.