WAUKEE, Iowa– Matt Chapman said that his monthly rent and fees increased about $30 per month during his first 12 years living in his manufactured home. But in less than two years since a new company took over, his monthly costs jumped $220, he said.
“They know that we’re trapped in our houses. We’re not moving,” Chapman said Wednesday during a news conference near his Waukee home. “They (property owners) know it’s up to them how much wealth they want to extract from us.”
Chapman, who lives on part-time work and disability, has become an activist for residents in manufactured housing communities. He said his neighbors often don’t have the means to leave when new property owners substantially increase their rent and monthly fees for water and other services.
“People have been displaced. People have walked away from their home,” Chapman explained.
State Representative Kenan Judge, a Democrat from Waukee, said that he and his wife drive through the community and talk to the residents at Midwest Country Estates, which sits in his legislative district. Some residents struggle with the costs of living in their homes already and when new owners squeeze them to increase their profits, residents simply can’t adjust. Judge said, “Right is right and wrong is wrong. We need balance. Capitalism is a great way to organize an economy, but we need guardrails.”
“Put in some protections to this community to make sure that they have rights,” said State senator Sarah Trone Garriott, a Democrat from Windsor Heights.
U.S. Representative Cindy Axne, a West Des Moines Democrat, believes her new proposal provides some protections for residents. “These people just can’t pick up and move. They’re too often at the mercy of a predatory company that’s just looking at this place as a potential for more profit.”
Axne said that companies that get taxpayer-funded federal finances backing should be required to provide some assurances for residents. She wants them to provide at least 60 days notice when they plan to raise monthly rents and fees by 5 percent and additional notice for larger increases. Axne would require them to offer a five-day grace period for late rent payments and they would also have to allow residents to choose whether to sign a new lease in most cases unless they have good cause for eviction.
“It’s really a sad time that we’re in,” Axne said, “…where other Americans have really taken it upon themselves to literally put money in their pocket off the backs of people who are just trying to make ends meet.”