As you know, I am down in Richmond for the 2023 General Assembly Session. On Monday, it was Martin Luther King Jr. Day, marking 40 years since the day was made an official holiday. This day is even more significant in 2023, as this year is also the 60th anniversary of Dr. King’s “I Have a Dream” speech on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial during the March on Washington. As we reflect on the legacy of Martin Luther King Jr., we remember, in addition to his lifelong dedication to civil rights and racial justice, his activism and accomplishments in the area of promoting non-discrimination in housing policy, which culminated in the eventual passage of the Fair Housing Act of 1968. This landmark piece of legislation prohibited discrimination in housing and housing-related transactions on the basis of race, religion, or national origin, which was later expanded to include sex, familial status, and disability.
Today, the fair housing fight is focused in large part on affordability. In this second week in Richmond, my first bill to receive a hearing this session at 7am on Martin Luther King Jr. Day was House Bill (HB) 1578. HB 1578 is a bill to support the residents of manufactured home parks. Manufactured homes, also known as mobile homes or trailers, are one of the best forms of naturally occurring affordable housing available on the market. They are a valuable component of the solution to the nationwide affordable housing crisis. Manufactured homes make up 5.4% of the Virginia housing market, with 184,000 units across the state. Manufactured home parks are unique in that residents typically own their homes and pay rent on the land that the home sits on. I am particularly proud of the parks in my district: Audubon Estates, Harmony Place, Woodley Hills, Rays and Engleside, and Penn Daw Terrace. However, these parks–all located along Richmond Highway– are endangered by coming development. Harmony Place and Rays and Engleside were recently bought by equity investment firms, something that is happening all across the country. In both cases a nonprofit was willing to purchase the park and the residents formed organizations to represent themselves in order to make an offer. But because the park owners had already signed sales contracts with high penalties for backing out, they did not consider other offers. This maneuver pointed out a big loophole in legislation passed a couple years ago requiring park owners to make any sales contract public so nonprofits could make a counter offer.
Clearly park owners needed an incentive to sell to nonprofits. HB 1578 offers a tax credit to owners of manufactured home parks to incentivize selling to nonprofit organizations or resident associations rather than profit-making organizations that may close a park and evict residents, raise rents, or reduce maintenance. The bill would allow park owners to deduct any gain from such a sale from their taxable income. Across the state, a number of parks have been stabilized and improved under the ownership of nonprofit organizations like Habitat for Humanity and Catholics for Housing, who run parks for the benefit of the residents. The choice to sell to these groups is completely optional, but HB 1578 strongly incentivizes that choice. Providing incentives to sell to nonprofits or resident cooperatives is the only way to level the playing field and preserve these valuable sources of market-rate affordable housing. Mobile home park tenants benefit not only from resident-centered management but also because the bill requires the sold property to be maintained as a manufactured home park for at least thirty years after the sale. These parks are not just people’s homes, they are also communities, and those communities deserve to decide how they should be run, with help from outside, not interference.
Park residents are standing up to keep their homes. I am proud of the mobile home owners and tenants in four of the parks in my district for forming a residents’ coalition to press for nonprofit or cooperative ownership of their parks as well as improved conditions. The coalition grew out of residents associations formed at several parks to help make counter offers to park owners. Organized by Tenants and Workers United, a couple dozen of these mobile homeowners came to Richmond on MLK Day to lobby for more supportive laws. They are learning how to raise their voices to determine their future.
Last year, I introduced two bills on manufactured housing and passed HB 1065, which established a work group of manufactured home park stakeholders to develop a sample manufactured home lot rental agreement and sample manufactured home park notices regarding the intent to sell. The series of meetings the group had in late 2022 brought together a diverse group of interested parties, including the South County Task Force here in my district, Supervisor Rodney Lusk, landlords, tenants, lawyers, and state representatives, with the goal of keeping these parks accessible while clarifying rights and responsibilities between landlords and tenants. Draft recommendations were compiled by the Virginia Housing Development Authority and are now under review.
Unfortunately, HB 1578, has not been as successful as HB 1065 was last year, as the House Finance Subcommittee #1 was unable to reach a consensus on referring it to the full committee, and it died on a 4-4 vote. This was also due, in part, to a miscalculation by the Department of Taxation on the fiscal analysis of the proposal, which concerned the subcommittee members. Realistically, the portion of park sales that would be impacted by this bill is small, most likely no more than 2% of annual manufactured home park sales. Being in the minority means sometimes watching good bills die, but thankfully the Senate version of this bill, Senate Bill (SB) 922, is progressing through the other chamber. Hopefully SB 922, patroned by Senator Hashmi, will pass the Senate and make it over to the House side to give this legislation a second chance, which would be a win for both the residents of these parks and the owners who want to do the right thing.