Manufactured home parks: Keizer’s sacrifice zones

Since the beginning of the year, Keizertimes has been covering the plights of residents in two of the city’s manufactured home parks.

The owner of the parks, Investment Property Group (IPG), based in Irvine, Calif., wants residents of the parks to believe our interest is only in “selling sensational stories,” but that is IPG’s spin on information that makes the company look bad.

Our coverage began with a letter to the editor from a resident in a one park complaining about climbing rents and the strain it put on residents. I was already reporting on growth issues in Keizer and the letter felt like a portal, a way to shine a spotlight on how growth puts existing city residents in a bind as rents increase.

I had no idea who owned the park until I showed up and met with residents who detailed how price increases were impacting them and other concerns ranging from pressure to sign long-term leases and attempts to quash organization among residents. When one resident mentioned Brian Fitterer, the principal investor in IPG, my head dropped onto my notepad.

In 2003, the Oregon Legislature allowed manufactured home parks to be reclassified as subdivisions. In 2004, I reported on Fitterer sending notices to two dozen residents in Iris Village, another manufactured home park he owned at the time, notifying them that they had three months to come up with at least $50,000 each to purchase the land their manufactured homes were sitting on or risk having it sold out from under them. I covered what was happening in Iris Village and other Keizer manufactured home parks intensely for the next several months (for more on that, see Part Two of this editorial series)

In the recent spate of articles, I’ve talked with a lawyer who advises against signing long-term leases; shown that attempts to silence residents undermine rights written into the country’s founding documents; and looked into how the city council might protect manufactured home owners.

The goal in each article was to provide readers with information that can be used to initiate change and to lend the paper’s voice to those whose struggles often go overlooked. Irresponsible and uncaring owners of manufactured home parks thrive because they are able to keep residents in the dark and confused about their rights and protections.

That might sound like hyperbole, but the darkness they operate in is baked into the very design of manufactured home parks in Keizer. The casual driver might easily miss the parks because they are almost all surrounded by tall walls. We might call them sound buffers or privacy screening or any other label we want, but the parks themselves may as well be walled gardens left to rot under predatory owners. What’s worse is that is how we, the community, want it – and it makes us all complicit in in their sub-standard conditions. The manufactured home parks are Keizer’s sacrifice zones.

The concept of a sacrifice zones originated during the Cold War and was used to describe areas of nuclear fallout, it evolved to describe areas that become impaired through environmental or economic disinvestment and are then relegated to locally unwanted land use (LULUs) zones. LULUs describe any land that creates rippling costs to those living within or nearby. Those costs might reveal themselves as physical and mental health hazards, poor aesthetics or reductions in home values.

Any walled-in manufactured home park that allows the rest of us to ignore what happening fits the definition of a sacrifice zone in every way.

IPG may want to spin the story as the Keizertimes looking to sell papers, but the story has never been about us. The story is about the way we all choose not to see, and making certain that the costs of willful ignorance are understood.