Keeping a roof over one’s head can take some navigational help
By Morgan Rothborne, Ashland.news
In the Gresham Room at the Ashland Public Library, organizations and agencies from around the Rogue Valley gathered to match those experiencing various housing needs with information.
As attendees filed into the room Thursday evening, Echo Fields, a member of Ashland’s Housing and Human Services Advisory Committee, addressed the group.
“We are required by law to have these events annually because so many people in Ashland spend so much of their income on rent,” Fields said.
Organizers took the event a step beyond requirements by inviting a plethora of organizations to meet needs such as homelessness, rent insecurity, legal conflicts with landlords or buying a home for the first time. Throughout the room, folding tables were staffed by representatives of various agencies.
At a table for mobile homes, Gene Hallinan was eager to talk about a conflict growing between residents of parks like herself and the large corporations that own them. Rent at many parks has been steadily increasing. Those trying to sell and leave the park are pressed by park owners to complete costly renovations first. The expense of upgrades like new siding and skirting often drives the price up beyond what those shopping for a mobile home can afford, she said, making it almost impossible to sell their homes.
“They’re pushing people out of the park that can’t afford it. … They’re merciless, they don’t care,” she said.
When state Rep. Pam Marsh, D-Ashland, approached the table, many eager and worried people attempted to ask her questions over the growing noise of the event. Marsh invited the group into the quieter hallway. Roughly 14 members of the Candlewood and Wingspread mobile home parks pushed chairs into the hall. Standing in the circle of chairs, Marsh addressed her constituents.
“You’re getting bigger increases and you are unable to respond the same way as other kinds of renters. Other renters theoretically can move,” she said.
Unlike other forms of renting, residents of mobile home parks face a unique problem — residents own their homes and rent the land under and around it.
In the most recent legislative session, caps on rent increases were set at 10%. But landlords can still seek additional increases tied to their own cost of living adjustments, and many are treating the allowable increases not as limits but as “the threshold they should reach,” Marsh said.
“We’re on a fixed income,” said one resident.
“Our Social Security checks don’t go up 10%. …They’re going to make me sell my house and move out,” said another.
“Where are you going to go? There’s nowhere better,” a neighbor asked.
When Marsh urged them to form tenants associations and approach the legislature with their concerns, many stated they were vaguely threatened or charged fines by park owners for doing so. Residents also complained of being charged ambiguous fees like a “security fee” with no discernible security features in the park. Marsh said she and others at the capital are seeking legal help with mobile home parks — in particular Candlewood — because many believe park owners’ policies and fees could be illegal.
Back inside the Gresham room, Will Emond sat at ACCESS’ table and listened as a woman approached him and told her story of struggling with homelessness.
“I’ve been on my own most of my life. I’ve been trying for months and here I am, talking to you,” she said.
She described working full time and living out of a car while struggling with a custody dispute for her child. She said she had signed up with the Housing Authority of Jackson County, sought help with Opportunities for Housing, Resources, & Assistance and she’s on a waiting list for assistance from St. Vincent de Paul. Emond directed her to his colleague staffing the table with him. His role at ACCESS is to help people navigate the complicated process of buying a home for the first time.
“Everything starts with education, that’s the base. …There’s so much about the home ownership process that’s a mystery to people,” he said.
Through the education programs, Emond connects people with potential homeowners to learn about taxes, homeowners insurance and other fees that might otherwise catch people by surprise.
At the table for the Housing Authority for Jackson County, Eric Janoski was frank but buoyant about his work.
“A lot of this is complicated, and a lot of agencies are overwhelmed. But you’re talking to someone who’s underwhelmed — I’m a professional cheerleader. I love to ask people, ‘What are you proud of?’ ‘If you had all your barriers removed, what would you do?’” he said.
Janoski said he encourages every one of the roughly 100 individuals and families he works with to “sign up for everything.” Wait lists are long for resources like the Family Self-Sufficiency Program and housing vouchers. But when people do finally climb to the top of the list, it can be “life changing,” he said.
Email Ashland.news reporter Morgan Rothborne at firstname.lastname@example.org.