CENTERVILLE — Jennifer Pace thought she found the perfect home.
Unable to afford rent at her apartment in Davis County, in April 2019 the single mom bought an old double-wide trailer in Centerville Mobile Estates, a small community just off I-15.
“It was aged and not very beautiful,” she said. “But I got to make a place my own.”
And over the next two months, Pace and her family did just that. They gutted the trailer, installed new floors, renovated the bathroom, painted the interior and spent hours landscaping. Pace dipped into her savings, and her parents used a portion of their retirement funds, spending almost $14,000 on the renovations.
“It was a perfect spot,” she said. “I could afford it, my parents are here, I love the school system. It’s exactly what I needed, it was the answer to everything. Until I got that letter.”
On March 23, Pace and the rest of the park’s residents received a notice from Tyler J. Jensen, an attorney representing Centerville Mobile Estates LLC, telling them they had nine months — the allotted time required under the Mobile Home Park Residency Act — to leave their homes.
The park’s 45 households are being told to make way for C.W. Urban, a developer based in Salt Lake City that plans on buying Centerville Mobile Estates, bulldozing what’s left of the park and building a modern community laden with town houses, tennis and racketball courts, gathering areas and patios — the plans even mention “outdoor movies.” The deadline to move in the notice says Jan. 4, 2021.
The letter turned Pace and her neighbors’ world upside down.
“I immediately lost it,” Pace said. “I thought, ‘What are we going to do?’”
“We have an older resident down the road, she’s 87 years old, and she actually said ‘I hope I don’t live through this,” said Lindsay Duncan, who has lived in Centerville Mobile Estates for eight years. “This park is her whole life.”
C.W. Urban plans on acquiring the land by Aug. 1, and has promised the park’s residents that it will not collect rent through the end of the year, according to documents posted online by C.W. Urban. Residents who move out by Oct. 1, the “early community move-out date” designated by C.W. Urban, will receive $2,000 from the company.
But residents say being forced to move out of a mobile home park comes with unique complications that five months of rent relief and a $2,000 check can’t remedy.
While Pace and the majority of Centerville Mobile Estates residents own their trailers, they don’t own the land. And the phrase mobile home can be misleading, as some trailers are too old or cannot withstand the stress of moving and would have to be abandoned.
If the structure is truly mobile, the cost of moving can often rival the value of the trailer itself. Duncan said the Davis County Assessor’s Office valued her home at $18,900, but moving costs could surpass $15,000. And that’s before the added costs of hiring a professional moving company and getting the permits to move the home, she said.
“Where do you get the $15,000?” asked Grace Olsen, a Mobile Estates resident for 23 years. She said she thinks several neighbors with outstanding mortgages on their homes may end up having to abandon them because of the added costs they cannot afford.
Adding to the anger and angst was a letter residents received last July from Rulon K. Harrison, managing partner of Centerville Mobile Estates.
While the notice was for a rent increase, Harrison writes: “Thank you for being such good tenants of the mobile home park. We hope you will remain in the park for many years to come.”
“People got that letter and they thought, ‘Oh my gosh, we have a place to be for a long time,’” said Olsen. “A lot of people took money that they maybe would’ve invested elsewhere, and started remodeling and improving their homes. But instead of ‘many years to come,’ eight months after that we got an eviction notice.”
Neither Harrison nor Jensen responded to requests for interviews.
In an emailed statement, Darlene Carter, C.W. Urban division president, told the Deseret News that “C.W. Urban is not the owner of the Centerville Mobile Estates but has interest in the property,” and noted that it will “present a plan for future use of the property pending approval from the city of Centerville.”
The Centerville Planning Commission is considering a land use change for the mobile home park on Wednesday.
“I just hope people get involved in the process, it’s a great process,” Centerville Mayor Clark Wilkinson said.
With statewide restrictions on gatherings over 20 people still in place, the public comment period will be relegated to Zoom. But Wilkinson worries the park’s elderly residents, some of whom don’t have a computer or internet access, won’t be able to participate.
So in the coming days, each resident will receive a letter, stamped and addressed, allowing them to submit a public comment by mail until May 21 at 5 p.m. While the Centerville Planning Commission will consider the proposal on Wednesday, a vote likely won’t take place until May 27, officials said.
“The thing that hurts me No. 1 is the residents, and them not having a place to live,” Wilkinson said. “If this does go through, I want to be able to make sure these people find either other places to put their mobile homes or find another place to live. I’m doing my best to make sure the human side of this is taken care of.”
But Wilkinson, who has no veto power over the commission, said his “hands are tied” in regards to what happens with the deal.
Residents are rallying to stop the land use change, and hope a denial from the planning commission will lead the developer to reconsider buying the park. Both Duncan and Olsen have been reaching out to their neighbors to teach them how to participate in the public comment process.
“We just want our homes saved, nobody wants to deal with the complications here,” Olsen said as she sat on Duncan’s front porch, the two drinking iced coffee and hiding from the glaring afternoon sun. As she spoke, Olsen casually mentioned that she had just undergone the last day of radiation treatment for her cancer.
“Yesterday was my last day,” she exclaimed, flashing a smile hardly contained by her mask as she fist-pumped the air in celebration.
As a special educator for the Davis County School District, Olsen has had steady pay throughout the pandemic. But last year she was diagnosed with breast cancer and has undergone several surgeries since. And with a husband struggling with Type 1 diabetes and a son with epilepsy, her family’s medical bills are a constant source of anxiety.
“That’s why we’re here, because with all of our medical bills the cost of living is just too high,” she said.
Like Pace, Olsen has long thought of the Centerville Mobile Estates as the perfect balance between an affordable community with a great location. But she said the options for affordable housing in Centerville are slim.
“Why would they displace 45 more families when they’re already having what appears to be an affordable housing crisis in Centerville.” she said. “We’re not only being evicted from our homes, but we’re essentially being evicted from our city.”