This letter is a follow-up to one written on March 3 and published in the March 7 edition of the Star. We reviewed how during the past 50 years the City of St. Helena has been actively involved in the code changes necessary, a referendum whereby voters decided whether to allow Vineyard Valley to be built, rescue from bankruptcy, and establishment of design standards to build Vineyard Valley.
After two disastrous floods and the passage of Measure A the City was the principal agency in building the $37.2 million flood project. In each of these instances the resident/renters certainly benefited from the actions of the City. However, the primary and only business to receive financial benefit was the Vineyard Valley LLC of family and shareholders of approximately 40 persons. It is true that homeowners with mortgages were freed from the requirement to purchase FEMA insurance after the completion and certification that Vineyard Valley was no longer in a flood plain. Owners profited by negotiations with the City for properties the City needed to purchase in order to build the project. The value of the entire property likely increased but without access to tax information that is a conjecture. Home sales increased. People from St. Helena who wanted to downsize started to move in without fear of flooding. The lots where homes were removed were now available for the owners to bring in new homes from a company in which they have shares of ownership and sell them at a handsome profit. The property became immensely more marketable.
Now, the City of St. Helena in meeting its goals to stabilize housing and especially homes that are affordable to middle- and lower-income residents have done something to benefit the people who own homes and rent the space on which their homes are located.
Some people are up in arms questioning why renters who live in that very nice mobile home park should get any protection. There are several answers to those questions. It is legal to establish rent stabilization ordinances for mobile home parks and these ordinances are in effect in all of Sonoma and Contra Costa counties. This is true in Napa County in the City of Calistoga and a type of agreement in the City of Napa that accomplishes the same goal.
Owners of mobile home parks, and Vineyard Valley is no exception, raise the rents at least 10 percent when an owner of a mobile home sells it to a buyer. That can hamper the ability of the owner to sell their home, but more importantly it destabilizes rents. We all know we will receive a 3 percent annual rent increase but when the rents continue to increase with the sale of homes, the exponential increases will have the effect of making this senior housing unaffordable to middle income people over 55 and most certainly to people of lower income. Even though rent increases have been consistent over many years, there is absolutely no guarantee that they will remain consistent without a metric to which the increases are tied. The owners adamantly swear they will never sell but they cannot make that promise. They are beholden to shareholders and circumstances beyond their control. There is always the offer out there that cannot be refused.
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Mobile home parks are very marketable in today’s economy. Each of us have owned our own homes since we were in our 20s. We have fortunately never had a fire in those homes but would never think of not having fire insurance. The Rent Stabilization Ordinance is insurance against unforeseen events here in Vineyard Valley.
The Vineyard Valley Mobile Home Park in its Internet advertising states that this is an affordable place to live and those of us in favor of Measure F would like to keep it that way. Please help us by voting yes on Measure F.
Pat Dell and Grace Kistner