If you are an elderly Montana veteran on Social Security in a mobile home park, Gov. Greg Gianforte does not have your back!
Montana’s manufactured homeowners had just two minutes to defend their homes in hearings on HB 889 sponsored by Rep. Jonathan Karlen of Missoula, yet they persuaded the House and the Senate to adopt a modest package of protections for park residents confronting large out-of-state private equity firms buying up the parks on which their homes rest.
The well-heeled lobbyists for out-of-state private equity corporations and the Montana Landlords Association ran to Gianforte who this week, chose them over the thousands of Montana’s elderly citizens, veterans, persons with disabilities, and low-wage workers who reside in Montana’s mobile home parks when he vetoed HB 889.
Across the country private equity firms have been purchasing these parks — often without advance notice to the park’s residents. Three years ago, a Utah-based firm, Havenpark, purchased seven parks with 1,800 lots in Billings, Great Falls and Kalispell. These firms can extract enormous profits by raising rents, charging separately for utilities, and neglecting maintenance and upkeep.
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Manufactured homeowners have a substantial investment in their home, and if the owner can no longer afford to rent the lot, the added cost of finding a new location and moving the home can easily be $10,000. Many mobile home parks provide much needed affordable housing options for Montanans on fixed incomes. They own their manufactured home, but they rent the lot and pay for utilities.
Lawmakers passed the bipartisan HB 889, a modest package of reasonable protections for residents who own their homes but rent lots in Montana’s mobile home parks.
Gianforte instead sided with the rich out-of-state private equity firms and against his most vulnerable fellow Montanans. Many will now face homelessness.
“As private equity firms snap up mobile home parks and apartment complexes in Montana, raising rents in the process, more and more people are being pushed toward and into homelessness or less stable housing,” according to reporter David Erickson in Lee Newspapers this week.
"Three years ago, you could rent a lot in either Highwoods or Golden Meadows for $283 a month," Cindy Newman of Great Falls told the reporter. "Now Golden Meadows is $749 a month and it's $700 here. It just really exceeds what people have the ability to pay.”
Newman testified in the House hearing on HB 889 that 80% of the Highwoods residents are retired seniors, 7 in 10 rely on a single, fixed income and 1 in 3 have a disability.
Rep. George Nikolakakos of Great Falls, himself a mobile home park landlord, strongly endorsed the bill in the Senate hearing, pointing out that a reasonable landlord had nothing to fear from the modest protections that this bill would provide. They include a prohibition against retaliation, a 60-day notice requirement for a change in lease terms, and the protection for lot renters’ ability to sell their primary asset. He called out the histrionic, sky-is-falling tactics of the Montana Landlords Association acting as a front group for Havenpark and other out-of-state corporations driving low-income Montanans from their homes.
Billings reported that rents have doubled since Havenpark took over. The resident they interviewed asked to remain anonymous. “I fear retribution. I have other family members living in this park. I could probably handle it, but they can't.”
It’s hard for Montanans to believe that their governor has so little sympathy for hard-working, lifelong, independent citizens, but there you are.
His veto of HB 889 is all you need to know.