The Firs Homeowners Association celebrate outside of the Maleng Regional Justice Center after a ruling that buys them more time in their homes on June 7, 2018. Photo by Melissa Hellmann

The Firs Homeowners Association celebrate outside of the Maleng Regional Justice Center after a ruling that buys them more time in their homes on June 7, 2018. Photo by Melissa Hellmann

SeaTac Mobile Home Owners Granted Stay From Eviction

The ruling allows about 200 residents more time in their homes, as they attempt to acquire the property.

Si, se puede! (‘Yes, you can!’),” Firs Homeowners Association president Cruz Medina said as he faced his neighbors with an upraised first. The group huddled outside of the King County Maleng Regional Justice Center in Kent on Thursday afternoon to celebrate a minor victory in the Firs Mobile Home Park residents’ nearly two-year fight to remain at the park. Shortly beforehand, King County Superior Court Judge LeRoy McCullough delivered an oral ruling overturning the SeaTac hearing examiner’s February 2017 approval of the plan to close the park, thereby allowing about 200 residents to stay in their homes for now.

The saga began in May 2016, when Firs Mobile Home Park owner Jong Park started the process of closing the facility to make way for a hotel and apartment complex on the property. Park contends that he can’t continue to maintain the complex, while the homeowners argue that the tight-knit community would be severed if they’re forced to move. Although they continue to lease the land on which their homes sit, most of the residents have purchased their mobile homes in full, and say they could not afford to live anywhere else. So Medina and the other mostly Latinx residents formed the Firs Homeowners Association in October 2016, and promptly filed an appeal against the city’s decision to approve the relocation plan.

During Thursday’s hearing, McCullough ruled that Firs Mobile Home Park owner Jong Park and SeaTac violated some of the city’s requirements for closing a mobile home park by providing at least one year proper notice of intent to close the park, and the implementation of a plan to successfully relocate the over 60 households. “This court concludes that the petitioners have shown that approval of the plan was not supported by substantial evidence,” McCullough announced to the full court room.

Park and SeaTac were required to complete an inventory on residents’ income, among other things, but McCullough found “missing or incomplete data” in the forms resulted in a land use decision which he called “a clearly erroneous application of the law.” He acknowledged that “errors were compounded by language issues,” thus encouraging Spanish interpretation for the remainder of the relocation plan process. The order triggers a significant revision to the relocation plan, requiring that the city’s Community and Economic Development department re-collect all of the tenants’ demographics within 30 days. Park then must send the department the newly gathered information in a relocation plan appendix, which the city would either approve or deny.

Dressed in red shirts that bore the words “Firs Homeowners Association,” the residents milled about outside of the courthouse after Thursday’s ruling. “It was very positive what happened today for everybody,” Medina said in Spanish through translation provided by another homeowner.

The group’s next step is attempting to buy the land, which Medina believes is within their grasp, following the state’s allocation of a $2.5 million grant for the residents to buy the property. But a lack of additional funds stands between the residents and their dream of acquiring the property. The homeowners need another about $8 million to match the land’s property value, and then would have to convince Park to sell them the property. Park has repeatedly ignored the homeowners’ requests to negotiate, according to Medina. In a January interview with Seattle Weekly, Park said that he wouldn’t consider the association’s proposal to buy the property, “because they can’t afford it.”

“We have a meeting with a small bank, and they say they will support us,” Medina said, remaining hopeful. SeaTac municipal code stipulates that all residents of a mobile home park must move out prior to closure, so Thursday’s ruling grants the homeowners more time to figure out a plan.

Park offered the residents $2,000 in relocation assistance, and Washington state also offers reimbursements to low-income residents for relocation costs of up to $7,500 for a single-section and up to $12,000 for a multi-section home. However, the residents have deferred the offers because they say that they’re unable to transfer their mobile homes to another location. The residents argue that the manufactured homes wouldn’t pass state code for older trailers to be relocated, and risk falling apart if moved.

In Park’s eyes, the situation is more complicated than the homeowners perceive. “The park is very old and it will need more capital every year to maintain it. I hope the tenants understand there are many issues to consider,” Park wrote in an email to Seattle Weekly on Friday. “I do not know the laws very well, so I follow the advise which our attorney give me. I respect the judge and I just follow the court order.”

In the meantime, Firs resident Francesco Rodriguez said that he continues to feel like he’s in a limbo, despite Thursday’s ruling in their favor. “It’s not done yet. We gonna be more happy when we win—our goal is to buy the property,” Rodriguez said. He’s reluctant to search for another home, because he has invested $15,000 into renovating and maintaining his trailer since he purchased it for $29,000 over a decade ago. More than anything, he’s committed to maintaining the sense of community that he and his neighbors have forged throughout the years. “We all look [out] for each other.”

mhellmann@seattleweekly.com

More in News & Comment

A woman works on a drawing next to an unused viewing scope as a smoky haze obscures the Space Needle and downtown Seattle last August as smoke from wildfires moved across the region. (Photo courtesy of The Herald/Elaine Thompson/Associated Press)
Why Do Washington Voters Struggle With Climate Change Policies?

Despite environmental awareness and the public’s apparent desire for reform, statewide initiatives keep failing

Mary Lynn Pannen, founder and CEO of Sound Options, has consulted thousands of Washington families on geriatric care for 30 years. Photo courtesy of Sound Options
Seattle Takes on Elder Abuse as Reported Cases Rise

Local agencies and geriatric care managers aim to increase public awareness about the epidemic.

The Ride2 transit app will offer on-demand rides to and from West Seattle starting on Dec. 17. Courtesy of King County Metro
Climate Action Coalition Urges City to Respond to Seattle Squeeze

MASS asks the city to prioritize reducing traffic and increasing pedestrian safety ahead of the Alaskan Way Viaduct’s closure.

State Supreme Court Strikes Down I-27; King County Will Pursue Safe Consumption Sites

The decision upholds a court ruling keeping the anti-consumption site initiative off the ballot.

Seattle’s Hockey Team And Stadium Are On Their Way

Key Arena renovations will be completed without the use of public funding

Andrea Bernard, Allycea Weil, and Phoenix Johnson (left to right) are Licton Springs K-8 parents who want their kids to stay in the Native-centered program. Photo by Melissa Hellmann
Licton Springs K-8 Parents Dismayed by Potential School Move

The PTO says children have benefited from the Native-centered program, and that transferring the pupils would disrupt their progress.

Seattle Municipal Court’s warrant outreach event on Nov. 30, 2017. Photo by Melissa Hellmann
Seattle Takes Steps to Quash Warrants

City Attorney attempts to address inequities in criminal justice system and enhance public safety.

The King County Courthouse. File photo
King County Council Acknowledges Report on Juvenile Solitary Confinement

Report also says youth of color face a disproportionate amount of disciplinary measures

Federal Way Megachurch Slapped With Another Sexual Exploitation Lawsuit

Lawsuit calls for removal of Casey and Wendy Treat, and CFO, from church leadership roles.

The Centralia Power Plant is a coal-burning plant owned by TransAlta which supplies 380 megawatts to Puget Sound Energy. It is located in Lewis County and slated to shut down by 2025. Aaron Kunkler/Staff Photo
National Report Outlines Climate Change’s Course For Northwest

More fires, floods and drought appear to be on their way for Washington state.

Mustafa Getahun and other Washington Federation of State Employees laundry workers picket University of Washington Medicine at Chateau Ste. Michelle Winery on May 17, 2018. Photo courtesy of the Washington Federation of State Employees
University of Washington Laundry Workers Feel Hung Out to Dry

The Rainier Valley facility’s imminent closure leaves over 100 people looking for new jobs.