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HJC's Work with Manufactured Home Parks

About the Issue

Manufactured Home Parks are a critical source of affordable housing in Minnesota.  An estimated 900 licensed parks in Minnesota house about 48,500 households.  Nationwide, it is estimated that there are around 55,000 parks, 3.1 million households, and 10 million residents.  This constitutes the largest single source of affordable housing in the state, and without any public subsidy.  In some communities, these parks are the only source of affordable housing.  However, with increasing property values and development pressures, parks are at risk of closure or conversion resulting in the displacement of the low income resident households.  In addition to the risk of park owners desiring to redevelop and convert to another use, some parks are threatened by highway expansions carving out all or part of a park.  As a result, Minnesota faces the prospect of losing a number of these manufactured home communities, particularly in the Twin Cities suburbs.

When parks close, residents are forced to find comparable affordable replacement housing in markets with affordable housing shortages, a situation likely to be exacerbated as housing programs shrink and costs rise.  Beyond the financial costs of park closures, there are also social costs that result from breaking up manufactured home park communities.  This is especially difficult for the large number of school age children and elderly residents who live in the parks.


Legal Victory!

Read the order from the Shady Lane case, Community Health and Education Corporation v. Portland Park LLP.

Shady Lane (70 units - Bloomington, MN)

HJC (then known as HPP) and co counsel Faegre & Benson filed suit in Hennepin County District Court challenging the current owner’s violation of the state law by refusing to accept the offer of purchase made by a CHDC subsidiary on behalf of the residents.  This is the first legal case involving this provision of the state law.  The Court granted plaintiffs a preliminary injunction prohibiting the defendants from closing the transactions or taking steps to displace the residents and finding that plaintiffs were likely to prevail on the merits.  On September 27 2005, the parties agreed to a settlement that would allow CHDC 60 days to complete acquisition.  HJC assisted in the effort to resolve code violation and easement issues with Department of Health and the City, and to secure development financing.  The nonprofit developer (CHEC) eventually decided not to pursue the purchase of this property.  Unfortunately, the decision was made too late to pursue other options.  The residents received some relocation assistance with HJC’s help.  HJC also worked with the Bloomington HRA to help some of the residents receive section 8 assistance.  The park closed on April 1, 2006.  The publicity generated by this failed preservation effort, however, has heightened awareness of the need for park preservation by policymakers.

APAC v. Uniprop

Manufactured home park residents generally welcome visits from groups like All Parks Alliance for Change (APAC) who can educate them on their rights as park residents. Park owners, however, are not always so welcoming.  A skirmish between APAC staff and the owner of the Ardmore Village park in Lakeville set the stage for an important ruling by the Minnesota Supreme Court in May 2007.

This case began when the Ardmore owner established severe limits on when APAC and other groups could enter the park.  APAC sued to enforce a Minnesota law which prevents park owners from prohibiting residents and others from exercising their rights of free expression, but which allows rules that set “reasonable limits as to time, place, and manner.”  The trial court found that the owner’s rules were too restrictive, and issued an order broadening them somewhat.  Even the liberalized rules made it difficult for APAC to reach residents during hours they were likely to be home, so APAC appealed, and the case eventually reached the Minnesota Supreme Court.

HJC was asked by APAC to submit an amicus curiae brief on behalf of other groups similarly affected.  APAC and HJC argued that the language placed in the statute by the legislature mirrored the principles of First Amendment law, indicating the legislature’s intent for such principles to apply.  As a result, APAC and HJC argued, under First Amendment law, the park owner had a very heavy burden to justify any restrictions on park access.  However, on a 5-2 vote, the Minnesota Supreme Court rejected the First Amendment analysis and found the park rules, as revised by the trial judge, reasonable.  The two dissenting judges agreed with the APAC / HJC view, found First Amendment principles applicable, and determined that in any event, the rules were still unreasonable.

The court’s ruling will likely provide some guidance to park owners on how far they can restrict access, though controversies in this area are likely to continue.


Protecting Manufactured Home Communities, In Minnesota and Nationwide

In addition to representing the interests of park residents in court, HJC has pursued multiple strategies over the last several years to protect these affordable home assets.  One strategy is to link parks at risk of closing with non-profit or resident-controlled purchasers who could buy the park and preserve it for the long term.  HJC has been active in several efforts to do this, most recently involving a park in Mora, Minnesota, where non-profit housing providers are attempting to negotiate the purchase of a park that’s important to the community.  HJC has also worked with a coalition of organizations including APAC and North Country Community Development Fund (NCDF) to push for government policies more responsive to park preservation.  One result if that the Minnesota Housing Finance Agency (MHFA) has liberalized some of its funding procedures in recognition of the unique needs and circumstances of MH parks.

This same coalition pursued two preservation goals at the Minnesota legislature last year as well: improving on relocation benefit protections for park residents displaced by park closures, and strengthening the resident right of first refusal, allowing residents to buy their park under certain circumstances to save it from closure.  The first effort resulted in a new law on the Minnesota books.  Instead of a system where residents were subject to the whim of their local government as to whether they would be paid any relocation benefits, a state trust fund administered by MHFA has now been established to ensure that all displaced residents will be protected.  The right of first refusal effort was less successful, stalling after passing through committees in both houses.  HJC and its allies are planning for a renewed effort, however, this coming session.

HJC’s efforts on park preservation are not confined to Minnesota.  Several years ago, HJC was asked to help with a MH park in Albuquerque, New Mexico.  The Del Rey MH park was placed for sale by a large national MH park owner, with the likely buyer planning to redevelop the site with upscale homes.  Assisted by HJC and local counsel, the park residents fought back.  The City of Albuquerque recognized the importance of saving the park, and joined the fight by enacting an ordinance providing for the park’s retention.  The owner responded by suing the City, and the residents joined the case on the City’s side.  Eventually, the residents and the City managed to wear down the park owner.  The original proposed sale fell apart, and after seeking other deals, the owners agreed to sell the park to a company that would ensure that enough of the MH park remains so that all current residents can continue in a MH park on site or other housing on site.  This improbable victory is due to resident perseverance and a committed local government.