Hundreds of mobile home park residents face eviction by landowners who have other plans for the land the parks are on.
BY: JOE DUHOWNIK/COURTHOUSE NEWS SERVICE – MARCH 23, 2023
The Phoenix City Council balked at an action that may have prevented hundreds of mobile home residents from being evicted in the coming months.
Instead, the council voted 5-4 on Wednesday to allocate $2.5 million of American Rescue Plan Act money to an emergency mobile home displacement fund to help residents facing eviction, and to move along with suggestions from city staff, which some council members said won’t do any good.
“We are gonna have families homeless in the next couple weeks,” Councilmember Betty Guardado said.
The decision came after nearly five hours of emotional testimony from mobile home park residents and allies from around the city. More than 200 people packed into the tight quarters of the Phoenix City Council chambers to fight for three parks that will soon close, leaving residents with nowhere to go.
Because the landowners are planning to redevelop, residents of Las Casitas and Periwinkle parks have been told to vacate by May 1 and May 28, respectively. Residents of Weldon Court will be evicted in June.
For nearly five hours, the vast majority of the crowd spoke in favor of protecting the mobile home parks and denounced Grand Canyon University, which owns the land Periwinkle Park is on. The university acquired the land in 2016 with the plan to build student housing.
While the university claims it’s done all it can to help the people of Periwinkle, the people say the help given isn’t nearly enough. They agreed they need more time to find affordable housing that they don’t currently have access to.
“This is our only home,” a Periwinkle resident named Gracia said in Spanish. “There are families we are talking about. Seniors and children. Don’t allow them to take us out in that way.”
Children skipped school for the day to fight for their families.
“I’m very sad and worried,” 6-year-old Michelle said in Spanish. “I don’t want another change. I want the neighbors that I have now. I want my friends. Please help us.”
To do so, a subcommittee, made up of Councilmembers Guardado, Carlos Garcia and Vice Mayor Yassamin Ansari, unanimously supported four actions in a March 6 meeting. Garcia suggests a mobile home zoning overlay, which would prevent any the three parks from being redeveloped as anything other than a mobile home park. Because implementation would take time, Guardado added an 18-month development moratorium on the three parks. She also recommended an intergovernmental agreement with Arizona State University into the more than 400 mobile home parks across the city, and Ansari recommended allocating the $2.4 million.
Councilmember Laura Pastor supported the actions presented in the motion, but the rest of the council, alongside Mayor Kate Gallego, said they couldn’t support the first two because they may violate state law. City staff cited Arizona Proposition 207, which could open the city to lawsuits if the rezoning diminishes property values. They said the moratorium may get the city in trouble as well.
Those who voted in favor said the risk is worth the reward.
“The city of Phoenix gets sued for something every day,” Ansari said. “If that means protecting these residents from falling into a crisis, I think that’s worth it.”
Even with those protections in place, Councilmember Debra Stark said the landowners can still evict residents.
But Garcia said the action will give the people leverage over the landowners.
“These property owners are motivated because they’re developing something else,” he said. “If they were to evict them, they’d be sitting on empty land.”
Councilmember Ann O’Brien introduced a replacement motion more than five hours into the meeting to instead support city staff’s proposed solutions discussed in the March 6 subcommittee meeting, like rental assistance, case management, emergency housing vouchers and home ownership down payment assistance. Ansari added the $2.5 million to that motion.
Garcia and Pastor said those actions are already ongoing and they won’t help anyone in the meantime.
“This back and forth just assured that we’re not gonna take the stance that’s needed to help you all from not being homeless in the next two months,” Garcia told the crowd.
He, Ansari, Guardado and Pastor voted against the replacement motion, instead supporting the original, but the replacement passed 5-4. Gallego and Councilmembers O’Brien, Stark, Sal Diciccio, and Jim Waring voted in favor.
Residents stood outside the building after the meeting, some hugging, others crying, and others discussing next steps.
“They’re not gonna destroy our unity,” Periwinkle resident Alondra Ruiz Vazquez told the crowd through a megaphone. “They’re not gonna destroy our hopes and our dreams.”
The group formed a circle, clapping and chanting “The mobile homes united will never be defeated” in Spanish.
“This is not the end,” Ruiz Vazquez said. “We’ll see what’s next.”