Havenpark tenants fight predatory rent increases: ‘Our piece of the American Dream needs to be protected’

Candi Evans, co-founder of the Iowa City Manufactured Homeowner Network, and residents from Modern Manor, Sunrise and Lake Ridge, delivers a public letter to Havenpark Communities on Wednesday, Oct. 26, 2022. Havenpark, a Utah-based development company that owns several manufactured home parks in Iowa, has eliminated certain park services and raised lot rents, pushing out many longtime residents. Evans, a Golf View resident, has been advocating for housing protections for three years. “When I look around the crowd, it’s a like a déjà vu moment. I’ve seen so many of these faces in the fight before, since 2019 when Havenpark first invaded our community, our county, our state,” she said.  – Adria Carpenter/Little Village

Lory Van Allen moved into Modern Manor, a manufactured home park, because it was once an affordable place to live. Before Havenpark Communities bought her neighborhood earlier this year, her rent was $340, a sizable portion of her fixed income.

In one year, her rent has increased 20 percent, going up $35 last December, and another $35 this December. Havenpark also stopped providing park services like lawn care, snow removal, trash and recycling pick-up, sewer and water, security and cable television — adding more price tags to her monthly bills.

“I’ve lived in Modern Manor for 21 years now,” Van Allen said. “I want to continue to live here, and if that’s not possible, I’m not really sure where I’m gonna go, honestly.”

Havenpark, a Utah-based investment company, now owns three manufactured home parks in Iowa City and five in Johnson County, after the purchase of Modern Manor and Lake Ridge in January. Last week, residents from Modern Manor, Sunrise and Lake Ridge presented a letter to Havenpark, demanding fair treatment and tenant protections.

Lory Van Allen, a Modern Manor resident, poses for a portrait on Wednesday, Oct. 26, 2022. Van Allen is a massage therapist of 40 years and has lived in Modern Manor for 21 years. But as she gets older, it’s become harder to work, so she mainly relies on Social Security. Havenpark’s “Obsessive profit-driven takeover” of her neighborhood is “threatening” her stability. “Manufactured home residents have few, if any, laws protecting them from the avarice demonstrated here, and yet we own our homes and should be able to expect honest and fair treatment,” she said. — Adria Carpenter/Little Village

“Drastic increases in cost coupled with the elimination of multiple services now threatens to make our parks unlivable for many,” the letter reads. “We have heard from many residents that proposed increases will create a hardship for individuals, families and the community as a whole.”

For Candi Evans, the “nightmare” began in 2019, when Havenpark bought Golf View in North Liberty. She moved to Golf View nearly 23 years ago to retire with her husband. They bought their home, settled their debts and paid everything off.

“I thought I was set and easy, not rich, but comfortable, I wouldn’t be a financial burden to my children, to society,” Evans said. “Then March of 2019, I get a notice taped to my front door that our place has been sold, and my rent will be increasing by 63 percent within two months. That’s not affordable housing. That takes the affordability right out of the whole concept.”

Evans co-founded the Iowa Manufactured Home Residents Network, and for years, the group has advocated for housing reforms to protect residents in manufactured home parks from “predatory investors” like Havenpark who have “invaded” their neighborhoods.

“We weren’t asking for miracles then; we aren’t asking for miracles now. We’re asking for laws to protect us, to protect our homes. We are asking for a fighting chance. Our slice of the pie might be small, but we earned it,” Evans said. “Our piece of the American Dream needs to be protected. Iowa needs to have our backs.”

The group has proposed a Manufactured Home Residents’ Bill of Rights, which includes provisions like:

  • Statewide protections against unjustified rent increases, like caps on frequency and percentage of rent increases, and longer notice period for proposed increases.
  • Regulations requiring park owners to show good cause before evicting a resident.
  • Fees capped at reasonable levels, tying them to a good cause—so park owners cannot abuse fee systems to circumvent rent protections or target individual families for eviction—limits on how much owners can charge in late fees, and a standard time frame before late fees can be assessed.
  • Regulations requiring that lease provisions that spell out park owners’ responsibilities to maintain clean and safe parks and prohibit abusive lease provisions.
  • The opportunity for local resident to purchase their communities when they’re up for sale. Park owners should be barred from evicting residents for a period long enough to allow residents to pursue local ownership, and they must provide significant relocation assistance.

Sara Barron, executive director of the Johnson County Affordable Housing Coalition, spoke at the Oct. 26 event, asking legislators to prevent predatory corporations from taking advantage of Iowans.

“Do we believe that every Iowan deserves to have a safe and decent place to call home? Are we going to protect the rights of Iowans, or are we going to protect the rights of corporate interests?” Barron asked. “When Havenpark and other private equity groups buy properties like Modern Manor, they are not doing to preserve housing affordability for our most vulnerable Iowans. They are doing it to make a profit off of our lowest income neighbors, and that is not acceptable.”

Residents of Modern Manor, Lake Ridge and Sunrise joined the manufactured homes network, and are now requesting a meeting between Havenpark and network representatives. One resident is Judy McKillip, who hosted Wednesday’s event on her lawn.

Judy McKillip speaks in front of her home on Wednesday, Oct. 26, 2022. McKillip has lived in Modern Manor for 22 years. Now retired, she relies on her fixed income. Her rent has increased twice in the past year. “It’s sad cause there’s a lot of people here,” she said. “It’s very stressful, every day.” — Adria Carpenter/Little Village

“This is my home, welcome to my home. I’d like to keep it here,” McKillip said, gesturing behind her. “I’ve been out here 22 years. My husband and I moved out here to retire, and he’s passed away now. But I’m still here, and I plan on staying a while longer.”

McKillip was “born and raised” on a farm near Iowa City. She and her husband sold their home to live in Modern Manor. It’s a peaceful community, and she loves her neighbors. They talk every day and eat dinner together once a week.

“These are good hardworking people. It’s so unfair to these people,” she said. “We’re family. We share everything.”

When she first moved to Modern Manor, the management was “wonderful.” If residents had a problem, they’d respond immediately. But now, nobody answers the phone.

“These people, they could care less,” she said. “They don’t care.”

The past year in Modern Manor has brought daily stress. Like Van Allen, McKillip’s rent increased twice in the past year, but her income hasn’t. Still, she doesn’t plan to leave her home anytime soon.

“It ain’t gonna happen. We’re gonna fight it. This is our home,” she said.

Judy McKillip poses for a portrait in front of her home, on Wednesday, Oct. 26, 2022. When asked what she likes about living in Modern Manor, McKillip said her neighbors. “We talk often. I mean I couldn’t even tell you, cause we’re doing it all the time,” she said. – Adria Carpenter/Little Village

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