Rent increases hit residents at RV park Woodland

One of Julie and Tom Crites’ favorite things to do is give back to their community.

As the months leading up to her retirement slipped off the calendar, Julie Crites looked forward to spending her days volunteering, medical missionary trips, or baking bread for local food banks.

But a significant rent increase has thwarted some of their plans.

In 2019, the Criteses bought their prefab home with cash in a community park designated for seniors in Woodland. The room rental was $685, which the couple thought was reasonable. She said when they signed the paperwork for the home, the property manager said their room rent would remain the same within the first year. But eight months later, the Criteses got their first of three rent increases.

They are now paying $1,000 for the land their home they bought is on – an increase of 45 percent.

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“It’s just outrageous,” said Julie Crites.

According to the US Census, there are approximately 9,000 mobile and manufactured homes in Clark County.

Like Crites, many see mobile home ownership as an affordable option, especially for seniors preparing for retirement. But even though they own their prefabs, they rent the land their homes are on.

There is no legislation protecting RV owners from hefty rent increases. Proponents of rent controls, including the Washington Low Income Alliance, say high rent increases can leave people displaced, homeless or face difficult financial decisions, especially from large foreign companies buying the parks.

Crites said the impact of the high rent is evident at their park.

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“We’ve gradually seen that the places (around my house) are looking more and more scruffy because people who don’t have the income to pay ever increasing rents are unable to support their own places,” said she called.

According to a 2020 study by researchers at the US Government Accountability Office, a $100 increase in rent was associated with a 9 percent increase in homelessness.

“(A big rent increase) doesn’t just affect tenants. It’s transmitted when people are evicted from their homes because rents have gone up too much,” Crites said. “We have an increase in homelessness, an increase in crime, hospitals, medical care — they’re becoming higher users of the system because they’re not able to take care of themselves.”

The Criteses have a steady income; Although Julie works as a nurse, her husband retired last year. When they experienced their third round of rent increases, they initially considered postponing their retirement and adjusting their budgeting. Now the couple have decided to pack their bags and try to sell the house.

“It’s hard to think of moving, because who wants to move in here with such high rents?” She said. “Other houses (in the neighborhood) have been for sale for a long time and they cannot sell them. One of these was given up simply because someone couldn’t afford it. Apparently the place has been deserted for about a year.”

Possible solution to review

What the Criteses and their neighbors are experiencing is not a one-off situation, but a nationwide issue that has caught Olympias’ attention.

Washington lawmakers are eyeing several bills that could ease rent increases for mobile and manufactured home owners. Some were killed during the review; others, like HB 1129, continue to move.

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If the home bill passes, it would give owners and occupants of manufactured and mobile homes more opportunities to acquire their community. Landlords would give a two-week notice if they intend to sell the community park. The House bill is awaiting approval by the Rules Committee to proceed to the next step.

Another piece of legislation gaining speed and support is House Bill 1389 introduced by Alex Ramal, D-Bellingham. The bill aims to put a cap on how much landlords can raise rent in 12 months and rewrite the landlord-tenant law for prefab and mobile homes to prevent large rent increases for owners.

Rep. Monica Stonier, D-Vancouver, is one of the secondary sponsors of HB 1389. She said she supports the bill because the Vancouver community has taken responsibility for addressing the housing crisis. Citing voters’ recent approval of Proposal 3 in Vancouver, she said the community saw the issue and wanted to make a change.

“People who don’t have affordable housing have contributed to our housing crisis in the area,” she told The Columbian. “While I probably wouldn’t support legislation like this without a crisis, I truly believe we must do everything we can to get people housing and prevent people from losing their homes to exorbitant rent increases.”

HB 1389 has been approved by the Rules Committee and awaits next steps.

“This isn’t just about politics. This is a crisis that is affecting the survivability of the people of Vancouver and there is more at stake,” Stonier said. “Our efforts must increase.”

Effects beyond the rent

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Although Crites said what she and her husband are experiencing is manageable, she has concerns about the impact it could have on others – particularly lower-income seniors. As a medic, Crites said other needs are not met when the rent is high.

“When people are financially burdened, they can’t take their medication because it’s expensive — diabetics can’t take their insulin. I’ve seen people come into the hospital with heart problems that got worse because they couldn’t afford their blood pressure meds and they were trying not to be evicted,” she said. “These are things that have a big impact. If housing isn’t affordable for low-income (people) and seniors, everyone will suffer.”

Crites said the issue is transversal and affects all aspects of society.

“Rent increases affect everyone. It’s not just the (tenants) themselves who are being harmed – it’s affecting society in general,” she said. “People who spend too much rent can’t do the other things that are necessary in their lives.”

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