Residents fight displacement from Tacoma RV park, a 'last resort' before homelessness | KNKX

Residents fight displacement from Tacoma RV park, a 'last resort' before homelessness

Nov 27, 2019

Residents of a Tacoma RV park say they’re fighting an order by their landlord to leave the property.

People living at the River Lane RV Park, also known as the Puyallup River RV Park, say they received written notice early this month that they’d have to leave by Nov. 30.

As the date approached, some residents feared they’d be scrambling to find a new place to park their homes on our around Thanksgiving. But their property manager told KNKX on Wednesday that the move-out date would be extended to the end of February.

Residents of about half of the RV park’s 40 or so units received the notice, said Fethi Hepcakici, who has lived there for nearly four years and is among those ordered to leave.

Parks for RVs and mobile homes have given residents an affordable foothold in a region with some of the nation’s fastest-rising housing costs.

But many of those parks have been closed and redeveloped, presenting a dilemma for residents of the River Lane park, Hepcakici said.

"A lot of these individuals will be out there driving, parked on the side of the road somewhere because there are no other parks or motor home facilities that have that many vacancies," he said.

Hepcakici, 62, works odd jobs as a handyman and pays $495 a month, plus utilities, for the spot at the River Lane property where he parks his 28-foot-long RV.

"Unless they have relatives that are willing to accept them on their property, these individuals [will] be at truck stops and rest stops taking their showers," he said. "Basically, it’s their last resort before becoming homeless."

'GREAT CONCERNS'

Residents have contacted tenant advocates for help and have filed complaints to state attorney general’s office as they seek more time to relocate.

Ranita DiMaio, the park’s property manager, said park’s owner is removing residents who have caused disturbances or made others feel unsafe.

She said residents have fired guns and threatened each other, and that "drug trafficking" has gone on at the park. She also said some residents have failed to pay rent.

The notices given to residents do not cite reasons they’re being told to leave.

"We really had some great concerns brought to our attention," said DiMaio, who started managing the park after a new owner bought the property in August.

"When I’ve gone to the community, I’ve actually had bodyguards accompany me because of threats that were made," she said. "It’s an unsettled environment."

Hepcakici disputed the manager’s description of the park’s residents. He said many of the problems come from people parking RVs and other vehicles in a field nearby.

"A lot of individuals here are on a fixed budget, fixed income," he said of the River Lane park. "Retired, handicapped. Many mothers with children who go to the bus every morning and then they’re at the bus stop every afternoon to pick up their children. It’s just a simple little community."

'DISAPPEARING OPTION'

Amy Tower, an organizer with the Tenants Union of Washington who is helping the residents, compared the shortage of RV and mobile home parks to the disappearance of other forms of affordable housing in the Tacoma area.

In recent years, advocates rallied to help residents of the Tiki Apartments, home to many residents who were on fixed incomes before a new landlord renovated the complex, and the Merkle Hotel, the last of Tacoma’s so-called “flophouses.” A new landlord displaced residents to renovate the building last year.

In SeaTac, residents of a mobile home park reached a settlement with their landlord this year after a three-year fight to stave off eviction. The landlord planned to redevelop the site into a hotel and apartments. 

Tower said RV and mobile home parks are a "disappearing option of naturally occurring affordable housing."

She said displacing residents does more than create a scramble for affordable housing; it disbands communities that help people get through life.

"There are these informal social support networks that develop where people do rely on each other and take care of their neighbors," Tower said. "I think it’s harder for folks on fixed incomes or with limited resources to be displaced and start over in a new place without those any of those relationships that allowed them to survive and thrive."

Tower said the attorney general’s office is researching whether the RV park falls under state protections for mobile and manufactured homes. If so, residents may have a year to relocate, she said.

DiMaio, the property manager, said the site will remain an RV park. "There’s definitely not a redevelopment," she said.

"We’re trying to step in and say we want there to be affordable housing in Tacoma, we know there’s a great need," she added. "But we also want to be respectful of the fact that people need a safe place to live."