The City of Mesa wants Mesa Royale Mobile Home Park to make safety improvements or shut down in November. More than 100 families will lose their homes if the list of code and safety violations is not addressed. Maria Polletta, Arizona Republic reporter, Jerry Lewis, family trustee for the Ham family trust and Enrique Ochoa Medina, executive director for the Arizona Fair Housing Center discuss the situation at the mobile home park.
JOSE CARDENAS: Good evening. I'm José Cárdenas. A mobile home park in the east valley must make safety improvements or shut down. We'll talk about what is being done to help residents.
And in Sounds of Cultura SOC, learn about a new art gallery that will feature local artists from throughout Arizona. All this coming up next on "Horizonte."
Funding for "Horizonte" is made possible by contributions by the Friends of Eight, members of your Arizona PBS station.
Thank you for joining us. The city of Mesa wants Mesa Royale Mobile Home Park to make safety improvements or shut down in October. More than 100 families will lose their homes if the list of code and safety violations is not addressed. Joining us to talk about the situation is Maria Polletta, an "Arizona Republic" reporter covering issues in Mesa, Jerry Lewis, family trustee for the Ham Family Trust, Mesa Royale Mobile Home park owner, and Enrique Ochoa Medina, executive director for the Arizona Fair Housing Center. Thank you all for joining us on "Horizonte" tonight. Jerry, I want to start with just a little bit of history of the ownership of the park and while we're doing that, we've got some pictures of the park that we're going to run but as I understand it, the current owner, the family trust, it's relatively new. Gene ham was running the place for a number of years and then the family bought it?
JERRY LEWIS: He was running the place for at least 30 years and as of the fall of 2014 became the title owner of the property.
JOSE CARDENAS: But he's making efforts right now to sell it and we've got a picture on the screen and a few other pictures of the park. The park is one of the older ones in Mesa.
JERRY LEWIS: It's a very old park and he is trying to sell it, largely because he does not have the financial means nor the physical health to do what it's going to take to fix the park and if he can take care of his tenants the way he wants to, he can't without help and the only way he can get help is to sell the property.
JOSE CARDENAS: You look at some of these pictures and it seems like a mix of some very nice units and we've got one right here, some very nice exterior with a lot of plants, and then you've got some that look run down as you described.
JERRY LEWIS: Yes. And the concern is not so much the esthetic but the safety aspects of it. A lot of those units have electrical issues, some plumbing issues, some sewage issues, perhaps. And a lot of those units are far too close together to meet the current Mesa density code. And so because those issues, the safety of the tenants, the city of Mesa has come in and decided that something needs to be done to make sure that the people are safe.
JOSE CARDENAS: Now, Maria, you've been writing about this in a number of pieces you've been writing. This is not news. The condition has been there for some time and one of the complaints people have is why now?
MARIA POLLETTA: What set this all in motion was a complaint that the city received. The city has a complaint-based code compliance model, meaning that's basically what will set something like this in motion. They're not driving around routinely checking out properties like this. So a complaint came in I believe in late 2013 regarding some construction I believe to an addition on one of the units and so the city obviously had to respond to that as part of its duties and inspections revealed as Jerry was saying tons of safety hazards, code violations, everything from electrical wiring hanging down to the units being too close together and creating a fire hazard. So from that, the key building official there issued a letter to Mr. Ham, kind of outlining what the issues were and giving him two options: Either bring both the park and the individual units up to code or have residents vacate.
JOSE CARDENAS And that resulted in the notice?
MARIA POLLETTA: Yes, later on. That letter that was issued to Mr. Ham came in January of 2014. It wasn't until May that Mr. Ham notified his residents of what was going on. He had tried to make some improvements I believe around $30,000 worth but that is only the tip of the iceberg. Those were the most immediate, emergency-type repairs to stabilize the situation.
JOSE CARDENAS: As I understand, the estimates are $300,000 is what an owner would have to spend to bring it up to code?
JERRY LEWIS: No one's actually gone in and done a study of every single issue that there could possibly be. To take care of the electrical, to move the units into a situation where they're not so dense, to take care of the pavement and so forth, anywhere from 300 to $500,000 to just do that much. And then once you start doing that, who knows what else you find and that's what I think is scaring a lot of the potential buyers away.
JOSE CARDENAS: And speaking of being scared, the owners, the people living there are pretty upset. They got the notice and they've been attending hearings and so forth. Your organization is now involved. What are you guys doing?
ENRIQUE MEDINA OCHOA: We're investigating complaints. That's what we're charged with from the department of housing and urban development and so we got involved with the impact that this is going to have on a primarily Latino trailer park. The people are scared. They don't know what's going on. They don't know if they're going to lose their homes. They don't know if they're going to get thrown out. They didn't know the dates, they didn't know anything of what is going on. Maria knows a lot as she's gone through our stories. Jerry just came back from travels that he had and he's filled us in on some of the details but the city has been forthcoming in providing all the information they need. There are community organizations that are involved in the picture but I've attended some meetings and meetings where they said I've got some bad news for you and it felt like they said too bad, so sad, good luck.
JERRY LEWIS: You're talking about the city.
ENRIQUE MEDINA OCHOA: The city right.
JOSE CARDENAS: A lot of criticism has been directed at the city. We do have a statement. We did invite them to appear on the show. They chose not to. We do have a statement we're going to put on the screen and I'll read for our listeners. It said one of the primary responsibilities of the city of Mesa is to protect the health and safety of its residents. This is accomplished not only through public safety operations, such as police and fire but also through ensuring that the infrastructure within the city's jurisdiction is maintained in a safe manner. The city has been working for more than a year with the owner of Mesa Royale to facilitate steps this year to correct the unsafe conditions that exist on the property. Inspections of the property as well as the structures located thereon have revealed countless code violations that not only put the residents at risk but could potentially impact homes nearby. Efforts to facilitate the needed changes have not been successful, resulting in the steps being taken now by the city intended to bring the physical property into compliance with building codes and also to provide residents with the requirements they must meet in order to bring their dwelling units into compliance with city code. That was provided by the director of the city of Mesa office of public information and communications. And I should also mention that we do have a help line number that the city of Mesa has provided so people can call and get information. We'll put that on the screen later in the show but Jerry, the owner, Mr. Ham, did ask for some time from the city to get things in order, two to five years and they said no. What happened there?
JERRY LEWIS: The original order provided Mr. Ham to get the park in order by July of 2015. And in December of 2015, he had an individual that was interested in maintaining it as a mobile home park but mentioned that to bring it up to code it would take two to five years to do so he sent the letter to the city requesting a two to five-year extension of the deadline to which they said we can't do that. We've got safety hazards here and that would be negligent on our part to do that but they did say we'll give you until September to try to find some solution here and that has since been extended to October and now, it's been extended to November 24th. But they did what they could to try to find somebody that would be able to come take it over to make all the repairs necessary, work with the tenants to bring their individual units up to code as well to make it a safe environment for them and so far, we've had five buyers and five cancellations.
JOSE CARDENAS: But you've got one right now?
JERRY LEWIS: We've got another one and we've got another one in line. If that falls through. There's been no shortage of interest but I think what happens is once they get into the nuts and bolts of everything, they figure out just how pervasive the safety concerns are, and the cost it's going to take to bring those up to speed, they would rather not invest that kind of money. It won't work for them.
JOSE CARDENAS: Now, Maria, the suggestion has been made that what the city really would prefer is that the park go away because this is prime real estate, by the light rail, on main street, and the city of Mesa perhaps more than some of the other cities in the valley has a lot of these trailer parks that are aging and something's got to be done.
MARIA POLLETTA: Well, in terms of the claim that it's light rail related, the city from the start has denied that, I can't speak to whether that's a fact. They throughout this process have maintained that it was the complaint that came in that set it all in motion and they've been responding accordingly. As for the larger than average number of manufactured homes in Mesa, you're completely right. They're over 10 years ago in the 2004 housing master plan that the city put together, they talked about that larger than average number of those mobile homes. In Mesa, there's 64, 63 manufactured home parks at the time, about 40,000 plus units and they outlined how as those units sort of came of age or outlived their life expectancy, that could create a problem or a series of problems, and I think we're seeing that happen now. So this might not be the last that we see of these mobile home park problems in Mesa.
JOSE CARDENAS: Is there a feasible solution? November 24th isn't that far away. My understanding from the articles is that there's no way these problems are going to be remedied by that date. What can be done?
ENRIQUE MEDINA OCHOA: We're trying to work with various community organizations to deal with housing, to look at possible alternatives. The conversations have been very positive. We also have to, of course, speak with the city, I made a couple of gestures there and haven't gotten too far but I think that we want to make sure that whatever is done is done in a way that the people are treated fairly with respect and with dignity. And that's again we're trying to get involved with the economic development people. If we can get a partnership with the private sector, with the community organizations and the city, I think that that would be ideal and there are ways to solve the problem. There's no doubt about it. As a former city manager I can tell you that there are a lot of things that can be done to try to resolve the issue and the right thing is to look for good alternatives.
JOSE CARDENAS: Now, I gather from some of your comments that you think that the city could have handled this better. But have you found any actual evidence of discrimination?
ENRIQUE MEDINA OCHOA: Well, overall, I can tell you that if the park were to shut down it's going to have a disparate impact on low and affordable income housing and also, it's going to have -- I would say 99% of them are Hispanic, of Mexican descent. The national origin comes into play and just the impact in and of itself is a lot. Now, we haven't found a finding of discrimination yet. We are in the process of investigation. But we will continue that and if we find that, in fact, there is discrimination going on, we will address it through the process that we have in place.
JOSE CARDENAS: So a tough situation but there may be a solution that could work? Thank you all for joining us on "Horizonte" to talk about it
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Maria Polletta:Arizona Republic Reporter;Jerry Lewis:Family Trustee for Ham Family Trust;Enrique Ochoa Medina:Arizona Fair Housing Center Executive Director