Barbara McPherson worked hard all her life.
Despite some health struggles, she earned a college degree. She went on to become a computer programmer and technical writer. She raised two kids, and she saved up for retirement.
Now, ensconced in those retirement years and living in a mobile home in Long Beach’s Belmont Shores Mobile Estates, McPherson, at 77, fears she could soon become homeless.
That’s because she, along with every other resident in the mobile home park for folks ages 55 and up, received a letter late last month notifying her that the rent she pays for the land on which her home sits is going up, effective Jan. 1. The hike comes amid an ongoing housing crisis, with legislators locally and at the state level scrambling to protect renters. But recently enacted laws don’t include mobile homes — because they rent the land their houses sit on, not the structures.
Candace Holcombe, senior vice president of operations at Newport Pacific, the company that manages Belmont Shores Mobile Estates, said in a Tuesday, Oct. 8, statement that the owners are merely adjusting the rents based on the market — and on the $28 million the park has spent in recent years to renovate the property.
“Belmont Shores Mobile Estates is raising monthly rent rates for the first time in three years,” Holcombe said. “BSME continues to offer a unique ability for 55+ residents to live a beach city lifestyle at an affordable cost.”
The increase varies by resident, but for most, including McPherson, the hike is 35% more than what they currently pay.
For Newport Pacific’s part, Holcombe noted the company is doing its part to help residents manage the increase. Along with the notice of the increase, folks were offered $3,600 in rent credits for the first two years “to help residents adjust to the new rent level,” Holcombe said.
The Sept. 26 letter that McPherson and her neighbors received, though, noted that the credit “is fully revocable and may be cancelled or adjusted or discontinued in management’s sole discretion.”
Regardless, McPherson and many others who live there wouldn’t be able to pay the full hike once the two years of rent credits are up, multiple residents have said.
McPherson, for example, said she’s been paying $1,020 a month for the land — and even that seemed steep. Come January, the going rate will be $1,375.
Her Social Security income, small pension and dwindling IRA will no longer cover her monthly living expenses.
“I told a friend I’m going to be a bag lady,” she said with a chuckle Saturday, Oct. 5. “You know, what do you do?”
In the seniors-only park, McPherson is far from alone. That much was clear on Saturday, when more than 100 people crowded the community’s wood-paneled clubhouse, where her fellow residents had a meeting to discuss the forthcoming hike.
The facility quickly filled with a standing-room-only audience, even as folks in line outside the building continued to filter in.
“Please sign in,” resident Karen Angonne said as she kicked off the meeting. “We need the ownership to know how upset, disappointed and disgruntled we are about this situation.”
Representatives for Belmont Shores Mobile Estates did not attend the meeting. So the gathering, Angonne told the crowd Saturday, was an opportunity to air communal grievances and compile a list of questions for management.
“We’re no attorneys. We’re just as confused as you are,” Angonne said. “We can’t answer all your questions, okay? We’re just going to gather them and shoot them to the person who gave us this devastating news.”
The questions that popped up throughout the two-hour meeting exposed confusion with the letter itself — which offered residents four options for moving forward, giving them a Nov. 15 deadline to decide — as well as doubts about whether the rent hike would be legal.
A representative has committed to attending a meeting Saturday, Oct. 12, to answer those questions.
Holcombe said Belmont Shores Mobile Estates hopes to answer all questions and concerns before Nov. 15.
But in terms of the latter worry, Holcombe said, “We are simply bringing rents more in line with local housing market rates.”
Another frequent topic during Saturday’s meeting was the recent passage of tenant-protection laws at the city, county and state levels.
Long Beach passed a tenant relocation ordinance over the summer, which requires landlords to pay tenants anywhere from $2,700 to $4,500, depending on unit size, if they are forced to relocate through no fault of their own — including because of a 10% or higher rent hike.
At the state level, Gov. Gavin Newsom signed Assembly Bill 1482 on Tuesday, Oct. 8, which caps rent hikes at 5%, plus the local rate of inflation.
But neither of those laws applies to mobile home parks.
Deputy City Attorney Rich Anthony, who wrote Long Beach’s law, said mobile homes are exempted because the law relies on the city’s definition of a “dwelling unit,” which means the floor-to-ceiling space where a resident lives. Mobile-home residents typically own that space but pay rent on the land, which is not considered a dwelling unit.
A spokeswoman for Assemblyman David Chiu, D-San Francisco, who drafted AB 1482, said he originally considered including mobile home parks, but was later dissuaded by the Golden State Manufactured-Home Owners League, which advocates on behalf of mobile-home owners.
Mary Jo Baretich, vice president of the lobbying group in L.A., Orange and San Bernardino counties, said the group requested exemption because of many complicating factors with how mobile homes are defined in the law, like the issue Anthony identified in Long Beach.
“There is a possibility that a new bill could be written specifically for mobile homes to be covered under a statewide rent stabilization ordinance,” Baretich said in an email, “but provisions would have to be inserted to not circumvent the very well-crafted and working rent stabilization ordinances already in place in around 110 cities and counties.”
If a law like that were to be considered statewide — or even locally here in Long Beach — it might look something like an ordinance coming to the L.A. County Board of Supervisors next month.
A temporary measure is currently in effect in mobile home parks throughout unincorporated L.A. County that caps rent hikes at 3%. A permanent version of the ordinance is expected to come to the panel on Nov. 12.
“These residents are in a terrible position,” Supervisor Janice Hahn said in a statement about the Belmont Shores Mobile Estates residents. “A 35% rent hike would be hard on anyone — but these residents are paying this ground rent on top of mortgages for their actual mobile homes.”
Hahn — who represents a large swath of southeast L.A. County, from Long Beach to Diamond Bar — said she hopes legislation like what the county is considering will come to Long Beach.
“Our ordinance only covers LA County’s unincorporated areas,” she said, “but it is a model that works, and I hope Long Beach will consider adopting it as well.”
Whether the City Council would consider that type of action is unclear. Councilwoman Suzie Price, who represents the Third District in which Belmont Shores Mobile Estates is located, did not respond to a request for comment.
But even if the city did take action, it likely wouldn’t happen quickly enough to help McPherson or her neighbors.
“What do I do now?” McPherson said. “And I think there are a lot of people living here who are asking the same question. Am I supposed to go back to work at 77? If I did, who would hire me?
“So what does one do?” she continued. “I don’t know.”