One of Julie Crites’ favorite things to do is to give back to the community.
As the months leading her to retirement peeled off the calendar, Crites looked forward to spending her days volunteering, on medical mission trips, or baking bread for local food banks.
But a substantial rent increase has put a pin in some of her plans.
In 2019, the Criteses purchased their manufactured home with cash in a community park designated for senior living in Woodland. The space rent was $685, which the couple considered reasonable. She said that when they signed the paperwork for the home, the property manager said their space rent would stay the same within the first year. But the Criteses received their first of three rent increases eight months later.
They now pay $1,000 for the land their bought home sits on — a 45 percent increase.
“It is just outrageous,” Julie Crites said.
There are about 9,000 mobile and manufactured homes across Clark County, according to the U.S. Census.
Like Crites, many see mobile home ownership as an affordable option, especially seniors gearing up for retirement. However, even though they own their manufactured homes, they rent the land that their homes sit on.
There is no legislation to protect mobile home owners from intense rent increases. Advocates of rent controls, including the Washington Low Income Alliance, say high rent increases can lead people to displacement, homelessness or tough financial decisions, especially by large out-of-state companies that purchase the parks.
Crites said the impact of high rent is evident in her park.
“We’ve gradually seen the places (around my home) start to look more and more unkempt because people who don’t have that kind of income to keep paying continually rising rent are not able to keep up their own places themselves,” she said.
According to a 2020 study by U.S Government Accountability Office researchers, a $100 increase in rent was associated with a 9 percent increase in homelessness.
“(A high rent increase) doesn’t just affect the renters. It carries over when people are forced out of their housing because the rents have gone up too much,” Crites said. “We have an increase in homelessness, increase in crime, hospitals, medical care — they become higher users of the system because they aren’t able to take care of themselves.”
The Criteses are on a fixed income; although Julie works as a nurse, her husband retired last year. As they experienced their third round of rent hikes, they initially considered pushing back her retirement and adjusting to change their budgeting. Now the couple have decided to pack their bags and try to sell the home.
“It’s hard to even consider moving since who will want to move in here with such high rent prices?” she said. “Other homes (in the neighborhood) are sitting for sale for a long time, and they can’t get them sold. One of them was just abandoned because somebody couldn’t afford it. Apparently the place has been abandoned for about a year.”
Possible solution up for review
What the Criteses and their neighbors are experiencing isn’t a one-off situation but rather a statewide issue that has caught Olympia’s attention.
Washington legislators are keeping their eyes on several bills that could alleviate rent increases for owners of mobile and manufactured homes. Some have been killed during review; others, like HB 1129, are moving along.
If passed, the House bill would give manufactured and mobile home owners and residents more opportunities to purchase their community. Landlords would give a two-week heads up when they intend to sell the community park. The House bill is awaiting approval by the Rules Committee to move to the next step.
Another legislation garnering speed and support is House Bill 1389, introduced by Alex Ramal, D-Bellingham. The bill aims to install a cap on how much landlords can raise the rent in 12 months and rewrite the manufactured and mobile home landlord-tenant act to prevent high rent increases for owners.
Rep. Monica Stonier, D-Vancouver, is one of the secondary sponsors of HB 1389. She said she supported the bill because the community of Vancouver has taken the responsibility to address the housing crisis. She referenced the recent voter approval of Proposition 3 in Vancouver and said the community saw the issue and wanted to make a change.
“People not having affordable housing has contributed to our housing crisis in the region,” she said to The Columbian. “While in the absence of a crisis I probably would not support a bill like this, I truly believe that we have to do everything we can to get people housed, and to keep people from losing their homes by exorbitant rent increases.”
HB 1389 is awaiting the next steps by rules committee.
“This is not just about policy. This is about a crisis impacting people’s ability to survive in Vancouver, and the stakes are higher,” said Stonier. “Our efforts need to be bigger.”
Impacts beyond rent
Although Crites said what she and her husband are experiencing is manageable, she has concerns for the impacts it could have on others — especially lower-income seniors. As a medical professional, Crites said that when rent is high, other needs are unmet.
“When people are financially burdened, they can’t take their medications because it’s expensive — diabetics can’t take their insulin. I used to see people come into the hospital with heart problems that got worse because they couldn’t afford their blood pressure medication and were trying not to get evicted,” she said. “Those are things that have major impacts. If housing isn’t affordable for low-income (people) and seniors, everybody is going to suffer.”
Crites said the issue is overarching and affects all aspects of society.
“Rent increases impact everybody. It’s not just the (renters) themselves that are hurt — it impacts society in general,” she said. “People that put too much out in rent can’t do the other things that are necessary in their lives.”
This story was made possible by Community Funded Journalism, a project from The Columbian and the Local Media Foundation. Top donors include the Ed and Dollie Lynch Fund, Patricia, David and Jacob Nierenberg, Connie and Lee Kearney, Steve and Jan Oliva, The Cowlitz Tribal Foundation and the Mason E. Nolan Charitable Fund. The Columbian controls all content. For more information, visit columbian.com/cfj.