On November 1, residents of Firs Mobile Home Park in SeaTac visited the on-site rental office to deposit their rental checks in a slot on the door as they do at the beginning of every month. But they found it boarded shut, according to a petitioners’ report filed Monday in the King County Superior Court. Park owner Jong Park is refusing to accept the tenants’ rent because, as far as he is concerned, they already should have moved out.
The November 6 court filing provided a status update on the ongoing negotiations of an appeal against the eviction that was filed last year. Park wants the tenants to leave the land to make way for a hotel and apartment complex development, which some of the 200 tenants argue would displace them from the community and possibly leave them homeless.
Ahead of sealing the rent depository, Park plastered notices around the park that tenants needed to pack up and move out by October 31. When asked about the most recent move, Park expanded on his reasons for attempting to evict the residents, claiming that serious crimes have occurred on the property within the past two years and that the area is unsafe.
In an email, he stated that some residents have complained of their mail being stolen and that there was some graffiti on the property. He also alleged that a murder occurred last year, but there have been no reports of death investigations at the park between 2013 and 2016, according to the SeaTac Police Department.
Park wants the tenants to move out by mid-February, but the tenants could be granted an extension by court order, according to Henry Lippek, an attorney representing the Firs residents.
Many of the tenants have complained that they’re unable to transfer their mobile homes to another location because they wouldn’t pass state code for older trailers. Some of the manufactured homes are also so old that they would disintegrate if they were moved, said Tenants Union of Washington community organizer Helena Benedict. Additionally, the owners pay around $500 a month for their homes and would be unable to find apartments within 40 miles that are less than $1,000 a month, Lippek added.
The owner had originally offered the about 60 households $2000 for relocation costs and the State also offers reimbursements to low-income residents for relocation expenses of up to $7500 for a single-section and up to $12,000 for a multi-section home. But the residents, most of whom own their mobile homes and lease the land, want to stay.
“There’s no available option for these people to move to,” Lippek said, adding that the homeowners would prefer to buy the land from Park, but have backup plans if he is unwilling to negotiate.
According to the report, the Firs Homeowners Association is partnering with unions, nonprofit organizations, investors and government agencies to acquire the land by negotiations, or through eminent domain—a process where the government takes private property for public use with compensation to the owner.
Lippek said that the homeowners efforts to stay in the park have garnered interest from the city of SeaTac, the Port of Seattle, the King County Housing Authority, who can take the land through eminent domain. Many of the residents work for the Port of Seattle or an independent contractor that serve the airport, he added. As such, the Port has a vested interest in ensuring that the Firs residents remain there.
At the same time, the homeowners association is also exploring a series of loans, grants, and investments so the mobile home owners can eventually buy the land from whichever public agencies acquires it, Lippek said.
“The reason they should become owners is because in order to move up from the bottom quartile of the economy, you can’t get there very easily by just working,” Lippek said. Most of the about 60 households are low-income. “The path out of poverty lies with owning real estate, not renting it,” he concluded.
About half of the tenants are children who attend Highline School District and might be uprooted from their schools and communities if they are forced to move, Lippek argued.
Under SeaTac Municipal Code, Park is unable to close the the Firs Mobile Home Park until after all Firs MHP residents are re-located, which gives the tenants all the more reason to remain on the property.
Park wrote in an email that he is still willing to negotiate with the tenants, although he didn’t provide details about what that would entail.