Utah Seniors Form Co-op to Keep Housing Affordable

An affordable housing crisis is sweeping across the country, putting the squeeze on millions of people with modest incomes. I was one of the many older Americans whose retirement security was threatened by skyrocketing rents. But after a long, hard battle, my neighbors and I managed to beat back a redevelopment proposal that would’ve displaced our senior community. Our story might help others do the same.

My community, Applewood Homeowners Cooperative, Inc., in Midvale, Utah, has long played an important role as an affordable housing option for many seniors on fixed incomes. Things started to change in 2013, when our community was purchased by a construction corporation called Ivory Homes. Ivory rapidly began to enact massive rent increases over a two-year period. It seemed clear to us that their plan was to economically evict homeowners in order to build a large apartment complex that would have provided no affordable housing.

My neighbors and I decided to fight back. We got in touch with UCOMH (Utah Coalition of Manufactured Homeowners) and MHAction, a national group that also advocates on behalf of mobile home owners. And we began organizing. Our goal was to build a base of support and turn that into the necessary people power it takes to win.

We went door to door with petitions and collected over 2,600 signatures. We attended city council meetings and city planning meetings. We met with the mayor. We reached out to ROC USA, an organization that assists communities like mine to become cooperatively owned. We researched the Olean Walker Housing Fund, a state loan fund that helps to promote and preserve affordable housing. We brought to bear public pressure on Ivory Homes to ensure that they couldn’t get away with displacing seniors who called Applewood home.

In the end, we prevailed. This month we signed paperwork to emerge as a cooperatively-owned community. This allows us to have local control over rent levels and to keep them at an affordable rate. We are a community where our neighbors are valued and no longer threatened with unjust evictions.

We believe that cooperative ownership, along with community land trusts, public ownership, and non-profit ownership, are examples of ownership models that allow for manufactured housing to remain affordable. We need to continue to build support for community-friendly ownership models like these as a counter balance to the predatory real estate investors.

Through MHAction leadership trainings I learned that our situation in Midvale mirrored the housing crisis that millions of families are grappling with in cities and communities across the country. One cause of this crisis is the rise of private equity funds that are greedily gobbling up communities and driving housing prices sky-high by catering to wealthy buyers and renters. One of these is Equity International, owned by Sam Zell, a billionaire who owns numerous manufactured home communities across the country.

In 2016 I had the opportunity to work with community leaders involved with New York Communities for Change to disrupt a presentation by Zell to real estate investors in New York City. Moments like that taught me that it’s okay to fight, and that I have a right to stand up and speak out.

My neighbors and I hope our victory in Midvale will help promote more efforts to push for and win housing justice for all communities. We’re committed to continue this fight until all families have a safe and affordable place to call home.