Residents fearful as Bell seeks buyer for mobile home parks

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By Ashley Orona

Contributing Writer

BELL — Community members expressed outrage at a late December public hearing where the City Council discussed selling two mobile home parks that could result in the displacement of several hundred residents.

The city is considering selling the Bell Mobile Home Park at 4874 E. Gage Ave., and the Florence Village Mobile Home and RV Park at 5162-5246 E. Florence Ave. The city says it can no longer maintain the mobile home parks and unanimously voted to sell them to an as-yet-unknown buyer.

During a public hearing lasting until 2 a.m., the city gave a presentation on the issue followed by extensive public comment where dozens of people asked the council not to sell the mobile home parks and to consider other options. The city also received more than 100 emails on the issue, while other residents opposed to the possible sale protested outside City Hall during the meeting.

The mobile home parks are home to hundreds of families with children, as well as senior citizens and people with disabilities. The residents are considered some of the most vulnerable in the city. Tenants and allies called it unfair for the city to possibly displace residents and make them vulnerable to becoming homeless and contracting COVID-19.

“I urge you all to find a creative alternative to the issue of whether or not to sell the mobile homes properties to a private owner,” resident Eric Contreras said. “Selling these properties to a private owner will leave the most economically disadvantaged people in Bell vulnerable to evictions at the hands of a developer.”

The Bell City Housing Authority acquired the mobile homes parks in 1995 to increase the city’s supply of affordable housing, according to a city staff report. In 2005, it refinanced the parks and received a $20.8 million bond that it is still paying off.

Complicating the situation is the fact that the housing authority has a budget deficit that’s been exacerbated by COVID-19 impacts. The agency said that the city’s general fund will soon have to start subsidizing the parks.

City officials are hesitant to do that since the city has a $2.3 million budget deficit. Officials said that subsidizing the parks would impede the city’s ability to fund public safety, provide recreational and senior services and maintain roads.

A staff report on the possible sale of the parks contended that the mobile home parks do not allow the housing authority the time to focus on developing new affordable housing projects.

The staff report indicated that the housing authority went years without making gradual rent increases needed to sustain maintenance on the properties and pay the bonds. When asked what the $20.8 million in bond money had gone towards, the city attorney and city manager said that $8-$10 million went into maintaining a recreational park, but were unsure where the rest of the money went.

“It’s concerning how the report seems to largely blame COVID for the situation while it also points to well known structural deficits and other financial challenges that make it unsustainable to keep the property,” said resident Alejandra Martinez in response to the city’s reasons for selling the property. “I can’t help but note that this shows the ineptitude of our city in handling city matters.”

City staff gave the council three options regarding the home: deferring the matter; increasing rent by 135%, even though state law only allows an annual increase of around 5%; or adopting a relocation impact report and selling the mobile home parks. The city focused on the last option during the public hearing and ultimately opted to sell.

The council decided to come back in late January with an outline of what the selling process would entail, as well as a plan for community engagement and a report on merging the two parks and ultimately only selling one park, as requested by Mayor Ali Saleh. Other suggestions included finding a private buyer or selling to a community land trust.

Rents at the parks currently range from $330 to $800 per month, while the median gross rent is $1,192 in Bell and $1,460 in L.A. County. The staff report said that most of the park’s residents qualify as low income, very low income and extremely low income, according to the county’s metrics. Residents say that selling means destroying the most affordable housing options for low-income tenants.

“There is simply no way in which these homes could ever be replaced within the city of Bell and one affordable unit gone is one too many,” Martinez said.

Ashley Orona is a freelance reporter for Wave Newspapers who covers the East Los Angeles area. She can be reached at Oronash@gmail.com.