San Jose: Fears grow over mobile home park closure, lawmakers offer solutions
Rob Leeper, 68, has lived at Westwinds Mobile Home Park for 30 years. A letter he received from management could all of the park's residents housing security at risk. Photo by Katie Lauer.

    Westwinds Mobile Home Park resident Rob Leeper was astonished when he found a letter taped to his home Friday, informing him his family could be out of a place to live by the fall of 2022.

    “We were like ‘what the heck?’ You know how much it costs to move one of these things?” Leeper said of his 1,800-square-feet, 3-bedroom, 2-bath home. “We would like to stay here if we could. We are a small village in a huge city.”

    Westwinds, located at 500 Nicholson Lane in North San Jose, hosts more than 700 mobile homes. The notices came from the management company, MHC Operating, which sued the property owner, Nicholson Family Partnership, early last week, stating they have “no obligation to remove any of Westwinds’ residents before or upon the expiration of its lease.”

    If he’s forced to leave after more than 30 years, Leeper said his affordable options are limited.

    “We could probably buy a home, but we would be struggling and that’s not when you want to retire,” the 68-year-old said. “We would love to retire here, because our kids, family, friends and jobs are here.”

    San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo held a press conference Thursday in response to potential evictions at Westwinds Mobile Home Park. Photo by David Alexander.

    Now, San Jose lawmakers have stepped in to try and assuage the roughly 1,600 mobile home park residents’ concerns. Mayor Sam Liccardo and Councilmember Lan Diep, whose district includes the park, held a news conference Thursday morning to announce a plan to expedite a land use designation that would protect the park and others like it.

    “This City Council is doing everything it can,” Liccardo said. “One way or another, we are going to stand up for the residents.”

    Liccardo said the eviction scare has led to many “restless nights” for residents. Such a designation would, he said, guarantee that mobile home park residents are “treated fairly” and are not forced into “scare sales,” ensuring that if they do need to sell their homes because of a change, they get “fair market” price for them.

    The designation would mean a mobile home park owner cannot change what goes on that land without a general plan amendment, which is more difficult to obtain and requires approval from city officials. The designation would need to go through the planning commission, housing commission and City Council.

    Huy Tran also organized a community event to discuss potential evictions at Westwinds Mobile Home Park. Photo by Katie Lauer.

    Earlier Thursday, San Jose City Council candidate Huy Tran, a housing commissioner who is attempting to unseat Diep, held a news conference with residents. Tran said he began organizing the community event when he heard of the situation Monday morning. He thinks this is not only a concerning situation for Westwinds residents, but for all residents of San Jose.

    “I’m optimistic that this park is going to be protected,” Tran said. “But what’s more, what we have to focus on is not just Westwinds, it’s across the city. What are we doing to protect affordable housing options here in San Jose, and what are we doing to build on our affordable housing stock here in San Jose?”

    The management company assured residents in its letter that it will fight against any potential evictions.

    “We will vigorously resist demands to remove residents during our lease term, particularly in a housing market in dire need of affordable housing such as San Jose,” the letter from MHC read. “Our hope is that the Superior Court of Santa Clara County will agree with our position that the demand of the Nicholson family partnership is unreasonable and unlawful.”

    San Jose has more mobile home parks than anywhere in the country. And in Silicon Valley’s sizzling hot housing market where rents have reached staggering new heights and renters are increasingly fleeing, mobile homes are considered one of the last affordable housing options, often sheltering seniors, disabled individuals and low-income tenants.

    In the lawsuit between the Nicholson family and MHC, each side alleges the other is trying to displace the park’s residents. MHC’s agreement to manage the park expires in August 2022. MHC officials said they filed the lawsuit because complying with the Nicholson family’s demand to remove residents prior to the lease expiration would mean violating state and local law.

    But in a written statement, the Nicholson family rebuked any claims they are trying to evict residents, saying they only started looking into options of transferring control of the land back to the family and finding a long-term plan to protect residents from being removed. They called MHC’s lawsuit “meritless” and a “bait and switch maneuver.”

    “The well-being and stability of the Westwinds mobile home park residence is our paramount priority,” said Bruce Nicholson, co-manager of the Nicholson Family Partnership. “The Nicholson family wants to unequivocally reassure the residents that we are on their side; completely sympathetic to their situation and have no plans whatsoever to displace anyone.”

    The San Jose council will also hear developments Tuesday on the Winchester Ranch Mobile Home Park closure, where the owners are working on a settlement with residents.

    Diep said Thursday the city will do its best to alleviate fears of the Westwinds residents. “This is personal for me,” the councilman said. “I have friends here. I am invested in this community.”

    Leeper said he’s grateful that city leaders are intervening in the situation.

    “Up until now, I hadn’t heard a thing about official comments or if they even knew what was going on,” he said. “And now, I am just totally blown away by the attention. I’m very grateful, very appreciative.”

    Contact Katie Lauer at [email protected] or follow @_katielauer on Twitter. Contact David Alexander at [email protected]

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