In the end, after a marathon 18-hour negotiation session, it was the best deal the mostly Hispanic, mostly low-income residents of Firs Mobile Home Park figured they could get.
The 6.7-acre site just off International Boulevard in SeaTac will be going the way of land of any value in this region. In this case, a hotel and apartments are planned for the site Firs residents have called home for years.
The deal, signed March 22 and announced this week, means each of the 42 households in the park gets $10,000, and tenants won’t have to pay rent for more than a year.
After that, the 170-some residents have to be gone by June 30, 2020.
Their problem then will be, go where?
“I have no idea,” says Misael Salinas, who lives with his wife and three children in a single-wide in the park.
The family moved into the park 10 years ago. “But my mobile home is from 1976. It’s really too old to move anymore,” he says.
What happens to an old single-wide that can’t be moved? “If immovable,” says the agreement, title is signed over to the developer.
As a January 2018 Seattle Times story pointed out, many of the region’s mobile-home parks already have closed, those that remain in the suburbs are crammed, apartment rents are sky-high and public-housing lists are long. In Seattle, there are only two mobile-home parks left.
Mobile-home parks remain one of the last affordable-housing options for the low-income, disabled and seniors not dependent on government subsidies. But the land parks sit on is often coveted by developers.
That’s what residents of Firs Mobile Home Park faced when the owner announced plans to develop the property in 2016.
The Firs residents responded by forming the Firs Homeowners Association, holding a demonstration in a local park, writing a petition asking SeaTac City Council members for help and creating their own documentary.
In the film, residents told of how neighbors help one another fix cars or baby-sit, and kids walk together to Madrona Elementary School one block away.
“We know everyone here and we are very close and you don’t find that anywhere else,” said Johana Sanchez in the 2018 Times story. “If you live in apartments, you don’t know who your neighbor is.”
For a decade, landowner Jong Soo Park enjoyed good relations with his tenants. That changed when he decided to develop the property.
“They want to stay there forever … why should I solve the problem?” he told The Times in 2018. He added, “I feel badly but I cannot give charity. I’m a businessman.”
It all ended up in King County Superior Court, a move that delayed their eviction. That’s what led to the settlement.
Salinas paints houses and figures he makes $35,000 a year. His wife, Sarai Reyes, works at a Jack in the Box. They have a daughter, 16; and two sons, 13 and 7. The kids share one bedroom.
A $500-a-month space in a mobile-home park fits in their budget. And even then, says Salinas, “You have to work all the time” to stay even.
Salinas is president of the Firs Homeowners Association that negotiated the settlement.
He says that the residents looked at their alternatives, at what would happen if the mediator sided with the landowner and “he tells us we have a month, two months” to move out, and “they start evicting people.”
Says Salinas, “That can be a worse mistake we can make, affecting families trying to build up a nice credit to buy or rent a house. We were forced to take this offer.”
A voicemail and email left for an attorney representing Park was not returned.
Meanwhile, there is just over a year to find another place.
Says Firs resident Jesus Bravo, 43, a landscaper who lives with his wife and a cousin, both house painters: “I’m looking for an apartment. Man, the rent is too much everywhere.”