Whidbey News Times
By: Jessie Stensland
June 3, 2010
Yet another mobile home park in Oak Harbor is in danger of being razed, inevitably exacerbating the lack of affordable housing on Whidbey Island.
Bellevue developer Nat Franklin, the owner of the aging Windmill Court mobile home park on Swantown Avenue, has submitted applications to the city to build "Franklin Manor," a 158-unit apartment complex made up of four buildings, each four stories high. The applications state that 47 manufactured homes will be removed, which will eventually displace 71 low-income residents.
It's the third mobile home park to face such a fate in Oak Harbor over the last couple of years. The M & M Mobile Home Park on the north end of the city was torn down last year to make way for a funeral home. The Evergreen Mobile Home Park, a senior community off of Goldie Road, was also in jeopardy of being closed, but the owner now says he's willing to sell it.
Kristin Senter, a two-year resident of Windmill Court, learned of the plans when a yellow project sign went up at the entrance of the 5.6-acre site. She enjoys living in the park, which she describes as peaceful, but is most concerned about all the struggling folks who will lose their homes. She pays $525 a month to live with her cats in a tiny single-wide trailer.
"A lot of people rely on this place because it's relatively reasonable and it's a nice piece of land," she said. "People are just struggling to survive and this is a little piece of shelter."
Franklin said he hopes to minimize the impact on his current tenants as much as possible. He said the apartment project will be phased, with only the first building and a road being built in the first year. That means about half of the mobile homes at Windmill Court will remain until the other apartments are built someday.
Franklin pointed out that he owns all of the mobile homes and nearly all the tenants rent month-to-month. He said they were all warned of the impending development when they moved in. Even though there's a dearth of affordable housing on the island, Franklin said the park isn't full. Some people renting homes that will be destroyed may move to empty trailers.
While the project is still in an early phase, Franklin said he will give the residents plenty of notice when plans are firmed up. He also said he will help folks who will lose their homes and plans to give them a special deal on rent in the new apartments, which he described as "high quality but affordable."
"I feel I have a moral obligation to do certain things to help" the tenants, Franklin said.
Franklin originally planned to build condos, but he said there's absolutely no market for them. Instead, he changed the plans to apartments, which he said are actually lacking in Oak Harbor. He hopes that his development, in the long run, will help the affordable housing problem on North Whidbey.
Lisa Clark, director of the Opportunity Council, said the lack of affordable housing is an issue all over the state, but the recession worsened the problem. The Island County Housing Authority closed the extremely lengthy waiting list for Section 8 housing vouchers. Clark said she's seeing more and more people who've never asked for assistance before coming into the office in Oak Harbor.
"Even if people have jobs, they are often facing reductions in hours," she said.
During a 10-month period ending on April 10, the Island County Opportunity Council gave rental assistance to 185 households, but had to turn away 102 households for various reasons, including lack of funding. Over the same period, the agency provided housing to 25 homeless families, but turned away 220 requests.
Another Windmill Court resident, Kim Franchi, wrote a letter to the city in protest of the construction plans. She indicated that she and her young daughter had been homeless for several months before finding a home at the Windmill Court.
"Tearing down this park could leave not just us, but many other residents and employees homeless," she wrote. "As a single parent, this is not something I want my young daughter to experience again."