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Savory Sonoma, by Stephanie Hiller - August 2016


Savory Sonoma, by Stephanie Hiller - August 2016

Mobile home park residents live in fear.

While Repubs at the RNC are prattling about how they much believe those words printed on US money, “In God We Trust,” as if they have some special – financial – link to the Creator that the rest of us lack, Christians here in Sonoma are actually volunteering their time and talents to addressing problems in our community that need attention. 

The First Congregational Church formed its Earth Care Committee in 2008. It meets the first Tuesday of the month at 5 PM in the Community Room at the Church. John Donnelly is the Chair. The group focuses on global environmental issues that affect us all, like climate change.

A year ago the members of the local Methodist Church followed suit; but they chose to explore problems that directly affect the lives of church members.

“This is about people who have been serious churchgoers putting their beliefs into action, I’m blessed to be a part of that,” said Dave Ransom, who moved here in 2012.

The Spiritual Action Committee started out helping people sign up with CalFresh, for food stamps. Then they decided, Let’s try housing. They learned that just about everyone at their church had a story about housing difficulties, if not themselves then a friend, a neighbor, or a family member. “That’s why we got involved.”

Dave emphasizes that he is just a member of the group, but he brings many skills to the task. He has been a labor organizer for many years, the last ten working for Service Employees International Union (SEIU) as editor of their publications. He chuckles. “When I left, the national membership newspaper had a press run of 800,000.”

The group has about 8 active members, including retired people like Ken Winds who contribute their considerable experience and skills. Former Mayor Ken Brown, though not a member of the church, is another. Shelley Ritchie regularly attends City Council meetings to prod them to approve a Resolution declaring a State of Emergency for Sonoma housing; particularly affected are people with low wage jobs in the service sector so essential to the wine and tourist business who can barely afford to rent here.

According to the informative Resolution, “CNN has predicted that, nationally, landlords will evict millions for no other reason than to “upgrade” and rent to higher-paying tenants…California has had the highest percentage of rent increases of any state, and Sonoma County has had the highest of any metro area – more than 45% over the past five years alone.”

No action by the Sonoma City Council to date.

Meanwhile, corporate America has gotten into the rental property business, and the situation at mobile home parks (MHPs) has reached an excruciating juncture for residents. 

MHPs were long protected from rent increases or development by a zoning rule that prohibited the sale of these parks for other uses, such as the building of a luxury high rise apartment building or a hotel. But the Supervisors threw out that protection, and the Rent Stabilization Ordinance, recently revised, does not prohibit the conversion of these parks to more expensive uses.

According to Karilee Shames, Secretary of the Golden State Manufactured Home Owners League (GSMOL), investors have looked to MHPs ever since the New York Times published an article saying these properties are the best investment in real estate and Warren Buffett began buying them up. 

Because the bond market is no longer lucrative, investors have turned to hedge funds that promise a ten percent return on their investment, explained Ransom. 

PFI, the Novato-based company that bought and remodeled Sonoma Mission Apartments, is quite explicit, in newsletters to its investors, that it drives out the existing tenants first, then raises the rents.

Investors are not local and are unconcerned about the families that have to move out. They are looking, like most investors, at the profits. 

The owners of Sonoma County mobile home parks, three of them in Sonoma, are buying up old mobile homes from families when their owners leave, or die, and replacing them with luxury manufactured homes for much higher rent.

Residents, mostly seniors on fixed incomes, feel threatened. Moving an older mobile home to another space in another lot can cost $10,000, if it survives the move; but there are no available slots! Homelessness haunts these aging residents of our community.

Good thing they have the Spiritual Action Committee, and the GSMOL to fight for them! Will they get the City Council to act? When? Stay tuned.