Salem mobile home owners find strength through unity

The homeowners in Arrowhead Mobile Home Park, off Portland Road in Salem, were some of the last to know when the land under their homes was sold to a new owner. The deal was done a year and a half before residents got wind that Investment Property Group (IPG) had taken ownership of the property in northeast Salem.

That may seem outlandish, but the residents don’t get monthly bills that might have indicated the ownership had changed hands. 

“We just make out checks to Arrowhead Mobile Park and carry on,” said one resident at a monthly meeting of the park’s chapter of the Oregon State Tenants Association (OSTA). 

IPG is the same investment firm that owns a handful of parks in Keizer, including one where residents are feeling the pinch of rent burdens. The principal investor in IPG is Brian Fitterer, a manufactured home park owner with an infamous record of dealings with residents in Keizer and other places. 

Despite that odd development, the homeowner-renters in Arrowhead are, for the most part, pleased with their community. 

“I think I speak for a lot of people when I say that I’m happy here,” said one homeowner. 

However, those good feelings are more a result of banding together with other homeowner-renters through OSTA than satisfaction with the way things are run. 

The tip-off that things had changed in the park came in the form of a push for long-term rental agreements. After years of more-or-less steady relationships with the previous owner, homeowners in the park were being encouraged to sign 25-, 20-, or 15-year rental agreements for the spaces where their homes sit. In exchange for the long-term contract, IPG was guaranteeing it would raise rents no more than a certain percentage each year, e.g. a 25-year agreement locked in rent increases of no more than 4 percent annually. 

It was a change from the standard month-to-month rentals the residents had gotten used to. For some, the notion of signing 25-year contracts was an outright laughable proposition for a 55-plus community. 

A couple of homeowners banded together and collected enough to hire an attorney to look at what was being proposed in the long-term leases and the attorney cautioned against signing it, even if it meant they could be subject to rent increases of any amount given 90 days notice. 

Given the changes at the park, the residents who chose to find an attorney decided to take their effort a step further and formed the park’s OSTA chapter. 

“That is what has helped us resist some of the changes and, more than anything, it’s brought us closer together as neighbors. We hold potlucks and other events,” said an Arrowhead resident. 

Banding together led to other communal efforts as well. An item on the agenda earlier this month was a recently-established Medical Loan Closet where residents can stash unneeded medical devices, like walkers, for other residents to use when necessary. 

There are, of course, concerns and complaints. The park just celebrated a year without a power outage after PGE fixed some nearby supplies, but more could be done. It would require IPG to collaborate with PGE and the residents aren’t expecting that any time soon. The roads in the park are deteriorating and are no where near ADA-compliant. A plan seems to be in place, but no one has any idea when it will begin. Last year, the manager, allegedly at the behest of IPG, instituted property inspections that some believe are overly invasive and are being conducted with improper notice. Then there’s the rent. Whereas someone might walk into other area manufactured home parks and find a fairly consistent rate throughout, almost every resident shouted out a different number when asked what they are paying to “park” their home on the site. 

Despite those qualms, the residents still think they have a – mostly – good thing going. 

“Because we’ve formed the OSTA chapter, we’ve been able to hold IPG at bay,” said a homeowner.