Mobile homes bolster Sonoma’s affordable housing stock

“I think in the past, if you lived in a mobile park you were considered ‘trailer trash.’ Now, you’re not.”|

When Moon Valley Residential Community lowered the age restrictions for mobile home residents from 55+ in 2009, Robert Caldwell became one of the first of a younger generation to benefit from the affordable home model.

When the Index-Tribune met Caldwell, he was putting away Christmas decorations from his double-wide manufactured home that he bought for $35,000 in 2010. He was jolly talking about the appreciation of his home after his neighbor sold their unit for upward of $100,000.

“For one, it’s cheaper than buying a home, because that’s gotten just ridiculous,” Caldwell said. “I think in the past, if you lived in a mobile park you were considered ‘trailer trash.’ Now, you’re not. A lot of people are buying them now because they’re affordable.”

As the Bay Area grapples with an affordable housing crisis, Sonoma’s young families and low-income residents are finding housing security in mobile homes — otherwise called manufactured homes — as an affordable housing solution thanks to early government protections.

‘The only viable option’

The city of Sonoma recognized the role of manufactured homes in its most recent Housing Element (2023-31), which states “mobile homes represent an important source of affordable housing in Sonoma.”

Bonnie Joy Kaslan, president of Moon Valley Residential Community homeowner’s association, said manufactured homes are “practically the only affordable housing for lower- and middle-wage families.”

Manufactured homes have a history in Kaslan’s family. Her mother bought a manufactured home in 2000 for $25,000 and passed it along to Kaslan.

“I think I sold it for $75,000 (in 2011). Now, the homes of that age … depending on how much upgrading had been done, they're probably going down the low end $149,000 to probably that high end right now, well over $200,000.”

Moon Valley Residential Community residents pay between $700-1,300 per month for housing, while Pueblo Serena pay $600-900 monthly, plus utilities, according to Kaslan. According to Home.com, the least expensive manufactured homes on sale in Sonoma are listed for just under $90,000 while the most expensive sell for $325,000.

A total of 484 residences in the city of Sonoma were listed as manufactured homes as of 2021, which have historically served the marginalized communities like seniors and low-income workers as a means for permanent housing. Altogether, the population of residents at mobile home parks make up approximately 10% of voters in city limits.

But in recent years, after a dramatic rise in the cost of real estate and rent, more individuals and young families have found hope in manufactured homes after being priced out of the market for houses and apartments.

Christopher Rivas, 19, said his five-person family was renting a two-bedroom apartment in Boyes Hot Springs before they bought their manufactured home about five years ago to pursue a “better quality of life” at Moon Valley Residential Community.

“Apartments are getting a lot more expensive now. (Manufactured homes are) one of the only solutions, like one of the only ways … to homeownership,” Rivas said. “A lot of people, a lot of Mexican families...” are moving in.

His younger sister was approaching an age when she needed space and privacy from her two brothers when his parents found Moon Valley Residential Community. Since then, Rivas said, families like his have asked about the benefits of moving to a manufactured home.

“I think there’s always going to be that stigma about mobile homes, but I think it’s changing as people realize it’s the only viable option (for affordable housing),” Rivas said.

Caldwell stood outside of his home with his fiance Jonell Slaughter. Blue twinkle lights hung above while they watched neighbors strolling down paths of the formerly 55+ manufactured home community.

“You get a little riff raff her now and then,” Caldwell said. “But it’s just kids being kids.”

Mobilizing protections

Manufactured homes have emerged as an affordable housing option for residents of Sonoma Valley thanks to long-standing protections created the city of Sonoma, according to Moon Valley Residential Community HOA representative Kathy Tugwell.

“Sonoma as a community was really farsighted in protecting our mobile home residents,” Tugwell said. “They recognized what a plus it was to have mobile homes as housing within their municipality, and we really hammered out a great rent control act and the city has been very cooperative and supportive of mobile homes.”

These protections include price controls based on Area Median Income, a 5% cap on the amount for which a home can be sold, and a rent stabilization ordinance — which limits rent increases and removes the right of landlords to evict tenants without just cause — which were put in place in 1996, Kaplan said.

These protections have insulated the residents of Sonoma’s manufactured home parks from dramatic rent increases faced by other Sonoma County parks.

In 2022, a manufactured home park owner in Petaluma attempted to raise rents 40%, sparking a concerted grassroots effort by residents to defeat the hike. The residents proved successful when a third-party arbitrator blocked the park owner’s attempt to raise rents.

While Sonoma Valley may have robust protections for its manufactured home residents, not all of the rest of the state does, according to Valley resident Ann Colichidas, the local president of the Sonoma Valley Golden State Manufactured-Home Owners League, a statewide advocacy group.

“We need to hold on to our mobile home parks in Sonoma Valley for retired folks and working families,” Colichidas wrote in an email. “Housing stability is the key pillar to health and resource management. Living a human life of dignity means being able to take care of ourselves and our families, plan for the future and reach for our dreams.”

Slightly more than 3% of California live in manufactured homes, according to Inside Climate News. And last year, Gov. Gavin Newsom signed a budget with a $4 billion allocation for affordable housing and homelessness programs. It included $100 million to the “Mobile home Park Rehabilitation and Resident Ownership Program (MPRROP), which funds the preservation of existing affordable mobile home parks.”

One thing is for certain: Manufactured homes are here to stay.

“The only thing mobile about them,” Kaplan said, “has been from moving the home from a manufacturing outlet on wheels to where it is deposited.”

Contact Chase Hunter at chase.hunter@sonomanews.com and follow @Chase_HunterB on Twitter.

Correction: A previous version of this article misstated the position of Ann Colichidas and her last name. The article has been updated to reflect Colichidas is president of the Sonoma Valley Golden State Mobile Homeowners League.

The last name of resident Robert Caldwell was misstated in a photo accompanying the story. The caption has been updated to show the accurate spelling.

Clarification: A previous version of this article was unclear in stating the rental protections of manufactured homes in California. Not all counties in the state have protections for manufactured homes.

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