A developer plans to build 19 high-end homes on the site of a mobile-home park in Kirkland that's home to 32 families. Many are seniors and on fixed incomes. Four are veterans. Two are disabled. And there are young families with children.
When Lynn and Bill Leonard found a notice taped to their front door in late April that their Kirkland mobile-home park had been sold, Bill said his first reaction was panic.
The couple bought their double-wide for $55,000 in 2005 and sank most of their savings into fixing it up. The interior is immaculate. The furnishings are contemporary. The back deck features two levels where they can look out over trees and nearby Juanita Creek.
But the couple, who live on Social Security and Bill’s part-time job as a security guard, now face moving costs of about $15,000 — if they can find a vacant spot in another mobile-home park.
“You’re faced with losing everything you’ve worked for. You’ve got one year to move and no place to go,” said Bill, a Navy veteran.
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In all, about 32 families will be displaced from Kirkland’s only mobile-home park. Many are seniors, like the Leonards, and on fixed incomes. Four are veterans. Two are disabled. And there are young families with children.
Some, in single-wide trailers, likely won’t be able to move their homes because they are no longer allowed in most mobile-home parks, neighbors said.
An Austin, Texas-based developer, PSW Real Estate, purchased the 3.4-acre Firwood Lane Mobile Home Park for $3.2 million in February and plans to build 19 homes selling for about $850,000 and up, according to city officials, who met with the developer about the plans in November.
The property is just a five-minute walk from Juanita Beach Park, in the Lake Washington School District and in a neighborhood where surrounding homes have recently sold from about $400,000 to $1 million.
“Nobody here is going to be able to afford one of the new homes,” Bill Leonard said.
The city of Kirkland looked into buying the property several years ago, said Planning Director Eric Shields. City Council members recognized the value in maintaining some of the city’s most affordable housing stock. But the appraised value — about $1.5 million — was much less than the owner was willing to consider — and the city legally could not pay more, even if it could have found the funds.
State Rep. Joan McBride, D-Kirkland, who was on the City Council at the time, advocated buying the property. She remembers running into a friend from Lake Washington High School who was a checker at a local store. The friend mentioned that she lived in the mobile-home park and was worried that it had recently been sold.
McBride said she organized a field trip to the property that included some low-income-housing providers and a mobile-home tenant advocate based in Olympia. But with its high valuation and an owner who at the time said he had no immediate plans to sell, McBride said the effort was abandoned.
She called the displacement of almost three-dozen families “tragic.”
“It’s a very stable neighborhood in a beautiful location with great schools. We lose something as a city and a community when we lose an entire neighborhood,” she said.
Across the lane from the Leonards, Barbara and Ron Brown are trying to work through their own panic about finding a new place for their double-wide. They bought it for $38,000 in 2003 and still owe $20,000 on their mortgage. Now they, too, are looking at $15,000 to relocate.
Barbara Brown said they were unable to find any mobile-home parks in North King County but have found two in Snohomish County with vacancies.
She said they don’t have the money for the move.
“We don’t know what we’re going to do,” she said. Still, she’s grateful that their mobile home can be moved. She worries that the residents in single-wides, some with outstanding mortgages, will be pushed into bankruptcy or homelessness.
Barbara, a graduate of Redmond High School, is a breast-cancer survivor who works part-time at Toys R Us. Her feet are swollen, and she said she can’t spend full-time on her feet. Ron, an Air Force veteran, has chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and relies on oxygen for breathing.
Both the Browns’ and the Leonards’ homes have American flags flying above the front porch.
The residents met this month with Ben Rutkowski, the Seattle division president of PSW Real Estate. He didn’t return calls to The Seattle Times requesting a comment. Several residents said he is working with them and hoping the state, which regulates mobile homes, will provide some relocation expenses.
But Barbara Brown said she isn’t counting on a bailout.
“He’s trying to be nice, but sometimes you still get screwed,” she said.