Mobile home parks are closing at an alarming rate in San Antonio, and a new report highlights the reasons behind these closures that threaten an already vulnerable population.
Often used as examples in class commentary, mobile home parks are also a unique part of Americana. They are the subject of country songs and poor-taste jokes about tornadoes. But these homes offer affordability not found elsewhere in the San Antonio real estate market.
The report is titled, “Endangered: San Antonio’s Vanishing Mobile Home Parks and a Path for Preservation,” and was conducted by three researchers from the University of Texas School of Law.
They found nine mobile home parks in San Antonio have closed since 2014, and predict dozens more are at risk of closing unless the city intervenes.
Around 22,000 residents live in 8,000 mobile homes in 88 San Antonio mobile home parks according to the report.
Irma Ibarra, 51, lives at the Riverside Trailer Court on the South Side in a bright yellow mobile home she painted herself.
She pays $300 a month for her lot and all utilities. Ibarra earns $9 an hour at the nearby McDonald’s.
Speaking through a translator she told Texas Public Radio that she needs her mobile home because she cannot afford an apartment or house — just like most others in her park.
“Right now, where we’re living at, with the amount of money we get, this is very good for the income we receive,” Ibarra said.
Serving as her translator is one of the authors of the report, Lizbeth Parra, the Housing Justice Fellow at the UT School of Law.
Ibarra said her brother lives in the same park as her, and many of the 20-or-so residents there are on fixed incomes or disabled.
“They’re retired, disabled… People who don’t have income or make very little find living in these mobile homes much more affordable,” said Ibarra.
One the biggest threats to mobile home parks, the report found, are substandard conditions. Seven of the nine parks that have closed since 2014 were the direct result of city code actions.
She said residents are caught between strict code enforcement and park owners who let maintenance go as they anticipate redevelopment opportunities.
“There are the residents in between who are in a vulnerable position where they own their home — but rent their lots — so as soon as that lot is sold or condemned, they are immediately displaced,” Parra said.
She said she believes officials with the city want to help residents by enforcing code and making frequent inspections, but those enforcements sparked park closures as an unintended consequence.
“I really believe they saw the health and safety code violations that were occurring in these parks and thought that by doing these proactive inspections there would be improvements, but it resulted in five parks being condemned in 2018,” said Parra.
It’s also not easy for residents to pull up stakes and move. In fact, most mobile homes are not mobile. Parra says some are so old, they would break apart if moved.
San Antonio Mayor Ron Nirenberg has tried to make affordable housing a priority during his time in office, forming a special task force to study the issue. It is the first of its kind in city history.
He says the city still needs to ensure residents of mobile home parks are better protected in the future.
“Code enforcement has been used to justify sale, redevelopment of mobile home parks, and so we want to make sure there are some standards in place to protect the residents who live there,” said Nirenberg.
The report offers the city several suggested standards to protect residents, like ensuring redevelopment incentives offered by the city preserve mobile home parks at the same time.
Another recommended solution is granting residents a right to collectively purchase their lots — or be given notice and assistance with relocation for mobile home park conversions.
The researchers say the city might even consider creating a position of mobile home park preservation officer.
Back at the Riverside Trailer Court, Irma Ibarra, sits at the kitchen table making plastic flower arrangements she sells on the side to help ends meet along with her McDonald’s paycheck.
She said she is thankful for her home and the park, where she has lived for 25 years and raised two children. In Spanish she calls it, “tranquila.”