The state has allocated up to $2.5 million to save the Firs Mobile Home Park, whose 170 residents face eviction under the owner’s plans for redevelopment. But the amount falls far short of the $10.7 million fair-market value of the SeaTac land.
The state has allocated up to $2.5 million for a grant toward the purchase of a SeaTac mobile-home park whose residents are facing eviction because the owner plans to build a hotel and apartments on the site.
The amount, however, is far below the $10.7 million fair-market value for the Firs Mobile Home Park, and its landowner, Jong Soo Park, said such a sale doesn’t make economic sense.
Park plans to evict the park’s 170 residents, including 90 children, so he can redevelop the land and capitalize on the region’s economic boom.
But sometimes money can talk. At least, that’s the hope of Rep. Mia Gregerson, D-SeaTac, one of the sponsors of the state funding for the mobile-home park. The state’s supplemental capital budget, which passed Thursday, includes a direct grant in the housing trust fund for an entity to purchase the land to preserve the Firs. Gov. Jay Inslee still needs to sign the legislation.
“I’m proud of the state taking a leap of faith,” Gregerson said. “I believe this will help us solve problems around homelessness.”
Mobile-home parks are one of the last affordable-housing options for low-income wage earners, disabled people and seniors. Gregerson hopes an organization will purchase the land, partner with the Firs homeowners or offer a bridge loan to avoid the displacement of families.
One of the logical entities to purchase the land is the King County Housing Authority, which offers low-income housing and supports solutions for homelessness. It commissioned an appraisal to determine how much it would need to pay for the land if it wanted to save the mobile-home park, where a close-knit, mostly Hispanic community has lived for decades.
The market value of the land is listed at $10.7 million, which is out of reach for public funding, said Dan Watson, deputy executive director of the King County Housing Authority.
Because the 6.7-acre site off International Boulevard, near the Angle Lake light-rail station, is zoned office, multifamily, retail and business services, its value and best use is development, the February appraisal report says. While the value isn’t a surprise to most who want to save the Firs, it’s a reality check.
“It’s too much money,” Watson said. “Realistically, it’s a difficult task to come up with that funding” through county and/or state funds.
But Gregerson said the housing authority needs to step up, especially now that the state set aside a grant.
“I don’t understand these institutions that don’t want to come in unless it’s an easy win,” she said. “It’s a difference of what’s moral and what’s legal. We all knew it was worth $10 mil, but that means we don’t shy away from it, instead we lean in.”
Park, the landowner, previously said he had no intention of selling and even refused rent, saying the homeowners should have left Oct. 31 after he sent them eviction notices. A lawsuit is pending.
Gregerson has faith that if funding can be acquired — almost $11 million — Park will be reasonable and sell the property to keep the community intact.
Park said it doesn’t make sense to save the mobile-home park because much of it is not up to city code.
“It’s too old and not safe,” Park said. “Why not just buy them homes?” he said, for the amount it would cost to buy the land.
He said he would have to ask his five redevelopment partners if they would sell.
The Housing Authority has purchased three mobile-home parks in the past, but Watson said the Firs’ appraisal price is so much higher and he doesn’t know the condition of the water, sewer, power distribution and streets.
“We’re concerned about the plight of the residents, and they could lose all the equity they’ve poured into their homes,” Watson said.
For Martha Zamora, the uncertain future has affected her mental and physical health. The mother of two can’t sleep at night and said the stress of the potential eviction has created problems with her kidney transplant.
She and other families at the Firs are banking on their chances in court. They filed suit in King County Superior Court claiming Park and the city of SeaTac violated the city’s mobile-home-park closure and relocation requirements. A judge will hear oral arguments March 30.
Teen residents of the park have made a documentary on how closing the park would affect the 90 children’s friendships and academic futures. The Seattle Film Forum will show the documentary at 7 p.m. March 21 at 1515 12th Ave. in Seattle.
Firs residents own the mobile homes but pay the landowner $500 per month for their lots.
Gregerson said when apartments in the SeaTac area rent for double or even triple what Firs owners are paying, they can’t relocate.
She said 80,000 people are living in 1,700 mobile-home parks across the state, but the parks are closing as the value of land and housing continues to increase.
In February, the median home price in Southwest King County, which includes SeaTac, Burien and Federal Way, was $417,500 — 17 percent up from a year ago.
“This isn’t a problem that’s going to go away anytime soon,” Gregerson said.