Carol Hunter has lived at Karcher Village Mobile Home Park for nearly 40 years.

This could be her last month there, as she is one of the few residents left at the now-nearly abandoned, run-down trailer park in west Nampa and was given until the end of the year move out.

The trick is finding a place where she can live.

“I have nowhere to go,” said Hunter, who keeps a surprisingly good attitude. “I have no funds to move.”

The owner of Karcher Village told residents in March they have until Halloween to leave because of ongoing issues with the park’s septic tank system, which overflowed a couple of weeks prior, around the same time Rushmore Mobile Home Park near Garrity Boulevard was closing down because of its own septic system.

Most of the 100 or so residents of Karcher Village were out by Halloween, though many left trailers empty and stripped because it was too expensive to move them or they didn’t own them. A few people, including Hunter, who has been on waiting lists for affordable housing for six months, were given a 60-day extension to find somewhere else to live.

For someone who is on a fixed income, finding affordable housing can be difficult at a time when waiting lists for subsidized apartments are long and when affordable places like mobile home parks are disappearing in favor of commercial development.

WHY LIVE IN A MOBILE HOME?

Leaving Karcher Village will be bittersweet for Hunter, who moved in with her husband and young children in 1977 when the park was outside Nampa city limits and surrounded by farmland.

As many do when they move into mobile home parks, the Hunters paid rent on the land and got a loan to buy the trailer, which they paid off 10 years later. Her double-wide trailer survived a devastating fire in 1990 and has undergone a number of renovations over the years. One year ago, Hunter was preparing to put in new insulation, a washing machine and lighting. That project was abandoned when the eviction notice came.

While most of the pictures have been taken down and many of her belongings are packed, Hunter’s home still bears signs of the care she took over the years to make it her own. One wall in the kitchen bears a stencil painted vine, and down the hallway is the new tile floor her son put in not that long ago.

“I don’t own a trailer, this is a mobile home,” Hunter emphasized.

Hunter and her husband chose the park because it was affordable, a sentiment shared by many of Karcher Village’s former residents, many of whom are retired or disabled. These homes are not apartments subsidized by the government for people with lower incomes, but they are often considered a low-cost way to own a home.

For the people of Karcher Village, even owning a small manufactured home brings a sense of homeowner’s pride.

Other owners of mobile homes at Karcher Village pointed out the gardens they tended, the sheds they built and the porches they constructed as they built their lives at that park.

Zoe Ann Olson, executive director for the Intermountain Fair Housing Council, said no one wants to lose their home, no matter how much it is worth.

“Their life savings, what they’ve put into this home, is just as important as what they’ve put into their tiny home as a $600,000 home or million-dollar home,” Olson said.

MOBILE HOME PARKS

The trend of mobile home parks closing is troubling to the Boise-based Intermountain Fair Housing Council, because there are not enough housing options for people with limited incomes.

“Our concern is there’s no safety net in place to have some sort of affordable housing being built for the loss of these manufactured housing communities,” Olson said.

In 2010, there were 37 established mobile home or manufactured home parks in Nampa, totaling 811 homes. Additionally, there are more than 1,000 additional mobile or manufactured homes not in established communities. In 2010, 6.7 percent of Nampa’s housing stock was mobile or manufactured homes, or 1,966 units, according to the city’s 2035 planning document.

The city’s planning document notes that in some cases, the city has been “caught by surprise” when the owner of a mobile home park sells the land with little notice and evicts the tenants. Idaho Code requires the landlord give tenants 180 days’ notice when this happens.

LOOKING FOR OPTIONS

Olson said nothing has been done to help find options for people evicted when their landlord suddenly sells the land on which their trailer sits, even though the city’s planning document, approved in 2011, states the city needs to identify options for such a case.

Vickie Holbrook, spokeswoman for the city of Nampa, said that when Rushmore closed, the city helped the owner and tenants find new places to live.

Additionally, Idaho Legal Aid negotiated a settlement with the owner so each park resident would have money to move.

“Since then, the city has been exploring the availability of public and private funds that might be available to assist persons displaced by mobile home park closures in the future,” Holbrook said.

Holbrook added the city initiated “a proactive process” to evaluate its mobile or manufactured home parks. This includes determining whether they are connected to city sewer and any difficulties in connecting them. Once that is complete, the city can put into place ways to expedite the process for park owners.

In the end, it comes down to the owners of mobile or manufactured home parks to get the financing to connect to city sewer, not to mention the engineering, contractors and construction time involved.

‘DOMINO EFFECT’

Olson is worried about a “domino effect” of more mobile or manufactured home communities being sold. Her office has found that former tenants at Rushmore and Karcher Village moved into communities that are vulnerable to being sold for development.

Vickie Mosqueda is one of those people.

Mosqueda moved out of Karcher Village to another mobile home park, Triangle, in Eagle.

A developer who recently purchased the park next door, Roundy’s, told the Meridian Press he is considering purchasing Triangle. He added that he has not decided what to do with the land.

Mosqueda said she and the other tenants in her park have already been told to move out. The bright side is they were given one year to vacate the property, so she and her husband intend to save up and invest in their own piece of land this time.

AFFORDABLE HOUSING

While the Karcher Village residents don’t dispute the right of the owner to do what they want with their property, the closure brought to mind a need for more lower-income housing in the Treasure Valley as they scraped together funds and spent savings to move.

Many residents were on fixed incomes, and several said they moved to Karcher Village because it was all they could afford. At the time of closure, lot rent was $295 per month.

There are a variety of affordable housing programs and options in the area. Local public housing authorities offer options, and there are some privately owned apartments rented out specifically for people with lower incomes. The wait lists for such places, as Carol Hunter found, can be monthslong because the demand is high.

The U.S. Census Bureau estimated in 2014 that 14.9 percent of Idaho’s population were living in poverty, and there were 63 affordable housing units for every 100 renter households with very low incomes. The poverty level is an annual income of $23,834 for a family of four.

Hunter, 72, is on a fixed income and needs a place to live that is handicap accessible, which narrows her options. Although she has very supportive family members as she prepares to move out of Karcher Village, none of them has the ability to house her with her unique needs. She keeps a folder with descriptions of places where she applied to live six months ago, and she keeps track of where she is on the waiting list — fourth, eighth, etc.

“I don’t want to move out of the county,” Hunter said, “but I will if I have to because I got no other place to go.”

— Idaho Press-Tribune reporter Olivia Weitz and Meridian Press reporter Holly Beech contributed to this report.

Lis Stewart is the Nampa reporter. She can be reached at 465-8193 or lstewart@idahopress.com. Follow on Twitter: @CarpetComm.

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