On Friday, King County Superior Court Judge Judith Ramseyer blocked eviction cases brought by Firs Mobile Home Park owner Jong Park in SeaTac for now, granting the about 200 residents time to figure out their next moves.
In the January 5 order, Judge Ramseyer said that the homeowners would continue making monthly rent deposits in an escrow account, since the park owner stopped accepting rent in November.
Park wants the over 60 households to move out by March so that developers can begin building hotels and an apartment complex on the property. But homeowners argue that they can’t afford to live anywhere else and that the tight-knit community would be torn apart if they’re displaced.
Park has offered the park tenants $2000 for relocation assistance, with the State also offering reimbursements to low-income residents for relocation costs of up to $7500 for a single-section and up to $12,000 for a multi-section home. However, many of the current residents say 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 so old they would fall apart if they were moved, said Tenants Union of Washington community organizer Helena Benedict in a previous interview with Seattle Weekly. Most of the residents own their mobile homes and lease the land, and they want to stay.
The order followed an eviction proceeding hearing against seven of the homeowners on Thursday, in which King County Superior Court Commissioner Henry H. Judson received a stack of papers from one of the homeowners’ attorneys,Vincente Omar Barraza, showing court filings and correspondence between the tenants and the park owner. Judson ruled that “the cases are sufficiently complex and required further fact-finding, a task not appropriate for hearing by the Probate/Ex parte Commissioner,” said Firs Homeowners Association co-counsel Henry Lippek in an email.
Since most of the tenants refused the $2000 rental assistance Park offered them to move out, he planned to take about five tenants at a time to court in eviction proceedings until he’d evicted all of the homeowners. Friday’s order prevents him from doing that in the future.
Park sat by himself on a bench in the court’s rotunda following the dismissed hearing Thursday, head hung and looking forlorn. “They want to keep it open forever, but I don’t think I can do that,” Park said about the residents, adding that he informed the homeowners three years ago that he was going to close the park and that they had enough time to prepare. “It’s out of control now and they don’t listen to me.” Park alleged that one of the households hadn’t paid in two months and that another “didn’t comply with the rules.”
Yet the homeowners maintain that they haven’t received enough notice to leave. After the Thursday hearing, the Firs Homeowners Association Treasurer and resident Ma Anita Brito stood with a few other tenants in the lobby of the courthouse. On December 14, Brito was “very worried” to discover that her son had received an eviction notice when she returned home from work as a housekeeper. Brito thinks that she was one of the seven residents targeted by Jong in the eviction hearings because she’s a more active member.
“We might lose our jobs, that’s our principal worry, because we don’t … know where we’d have to move to. It might be very far away,” Brito said in Spanish through translation provided by Tenants Union of Washington organizer Benedict. “In this community we trust our neighbors. We know a lot of the community and they help us with caring for our children, picking them up from school perhaps, and without that kind of support we don’t know who would care for the children while we’re working,” added Brito, who has lived at the Firs Mobile Home Park for 11 years.
As she talked, attorney Barraza handed out copies of the papers he’d given the court commissioner to the remaining residents. Barraza said that Park had already conceded he wouldn’t close the park until March 31, 2018, but now he’s telling tenants that it closed on October 31, 2017 to convince them to leave.
Yet under SeaTac Municipal Code, Park is unable to close the park until all of the residents have relocated.
The homeowners are hopeful that a solution will surface that allows them to stay on the land. “There’s a number of government organizations that would have the power to exercise eminent domain to buy this land,” Barraza said. The residents plan on offering Park $6 million on the property that is valued at around $5 million. Part of the money could be acquired from the state, foundations and bridge loans, the homeowners added. Residents at mobile home parks in Centralia and Lynwood have also been successful in buying park properties in the past, said Benedict.
“We have faith in God that we’ll win the case and not get evicted,” resident Irene Cruz said through translation by Barraza as she clasped her hands together in a prayer.
Resident Misael Salinas says that he has frantically checked his mail in fear of receiving an eviction notice over the past couple of months. The Friday order will put his and other residents’ minds at ease for now.
But the potential to buy the property might not be as favorable. When asked if he would consider accepting the residents’ proposal to buy the property, Park said that he wouldn’t, “because they can’t afford it.”