Juanita Shields: 34 years at Valley View and now her life uncertain

Juanita Shields didn’t want to move to the mobile-home park on Maple Valley Highway. It was out in God’s country, she said.

Plans in works to build homes at mobile-home park

Juanita Shields didn’t want to move to the mobile-home park on Maple Valley Highway. It was out in God’s country, she said.

Nothing wrong with the park. She said she just didn’t want to be “out with God all by myself.”

But her husband Philip was tired of the taxes and upkeep on their Skyway home. And Seattle mobile-home parks were on busy roads.

So she and Phillip moved to Valley View Mobile Home Park. That was in 1974. Philip died in 2001, but Juanita still lives in the park. Same trailer in the same spot — space 41.

Juanita, just-turned 78, has been through three owners and more than 15 managers at Valley View. Her rent has gone from $40 to about $400. Housing developments have joined her and God on Maple Valley Highway.

Thirty-four years have made Juanita fond of Valley View. She likes her corner lot and fenced yard, neighbors, birthday parties and summer barbecues. She knows the names and lot numbers of many of Valley View’s residents.

Juanita wants to stay in space 41. But like her 120-some neighbors, Juanita’s days at Valley View may be numbered.

The park’s owner, Robert McCormick, applied for a preliminary plat permit in King County this spring. That permit would allow 37 homes to be built on the park’s 12.34 acres. Those new homes wouldn’t leave room for the mobile homes or their residents.

But McCormick says he doesn’t want to build those 37 homes. He says he applied for the permit primarily to preserve his property’s zoning. Valley View was part of 374 acres annexed into Renton this summer. If McCormick hadn’t submitted his application before the annexation, his property would have been downzoned upon entering Renton, which means he wouldn’t be able to build as many homes on his property. McCormick says the downzone would have cost him $2.5 million to $3 million. The City of Renton is processing the permit under King County zoning. The city’s permitting process usually takes four to six months.

McCormick, an “older than dirt”

fruit farmer in Selah, has owned Valley View 30-some years.

“I’ve got better things to do than continue to own it, but it’s not at the top of my list to sell this property,” says McCormick, 57.

The husband and father says he owns a “great deal of property” but never sells it.

“Every time I’ve sold something I wish I had it back six months later. I have a very conservative philosophy,” he says.

McCormick wants to preserve his property as a mobile-home park. But he’s tired of doing it on his watch. He says he would love to see an organization like King County Housing Authority purchase the park, as it did last November with the nearby Wonderland Estates Mobile Home Park.

“I truly don’t want to develop it,” he says.

Still, a cloud of uncertainty settled on Valley View when the notice of proposed land use sign went up at the end of April. Vapors of that cloud remain today.

“It’s caused a lot of angst and uncertainty among a lot of the residents,” says Doug Peterson, 57, a 20-year park resident and president of Valley View Manufactured Homeowners Association. “Some people just bought their homes. Now they don’t know what the future is like. People are frightened because of the uncertainty.”

Resident Hallie Sword says three families who recently moved in didn’t know about the proposed development.

“We’ve had people here in tears — a mother and daughter who said, ‘Nobody told us they might develop the park,’” Sword says.

The mother and daughter, from El Salvador, didn’t know the meaning of the big, black and white proposed land use sign. They are not alone.

“We’re certainly uncertain about the future at this point in time, but at the same time I guess you could say we’re looking forward, seeing what we can do about saving our community,” says Peterson, who works in the electrical department of McLendon Hardware.

Residents are meeting monthly and speaking at Renton City Council meetings. They have also sought help from several organizations, including Manufactured Housing Community Preservationists, Columbia Legal Society and two mobile-home parks that won the preservation battle: Wonderland Estates and Hidden Village in Olympia. With federal, state and county funding, the residents of Hidden Village bought their park.

Valley View is at the “very, very early stages,” Peterson says. Still, he says he and his neighbors have been overwhelmed with support.

“It’s amazing how much information and help we’ve been offered by so many different organizations,” he says. “Our task is how do we get with those organizations and how do we put the pieces of the puzzle together.”

Many organizations would like to help Valley View — if they can find the funding. King County Housing Authority owns four mobile-home parks — two in Renton, one in Auburn and one in Black Diamond.

“We are more than happy to talk with the owners in parks threatened with redevelopment to think what can be done,” says Dan Watson, deputy director of King County Housing Authority.

Renton Housing Authority doesn’t own any mobile-home parks, but Deputy Executive Director Mark Gropper says the agency would consider purchasing a park under the right circumstances. MHCP has been providing guidance to Valley View, and could also help purchase the park if funding is available. MHCP is a nonprofit that purchases threatened manufactured housing communities and operates them as low-income housing communities.

So there’s lots of possibilities for Valley View’s residents. They just hope one of them works out.

“I would love to see this mobile-home park saved,” says Sword, 62, a church custodian. “If people can stay here, it’s good for them, and not only for them, but for the community at large – we don’t need more Section 8.”

Section 8 is low-income housing funded by the federal government.

Sword wound up at Valley View about a year ago, after a three-month search for an affordable, safe spot for her camp trailer. She likes the park’s spot atop a hill overlooking Maple Valley Highway.

“I like being by the treeside,” she says. “A lot of RV parks might just be in a Kmart or Wal-Mart parking lot.”

She likes the park’s “quiet, law-abiding” residents. Those residents are a diverse crowd. Seniors, veterans, children, middle-agers and families. From Vietnam, Colombia, El Salvador, Mexican, and “a lot of us garden-variety Yankees,” Sword says.

If Valley View isn’t saved, Sword could easily move. She’d need a tow truck, six hours and $600. Other Valley View residents might not be so lucky. Sword estimates half of the park’s mobiles aren’t mobile. They’re too old. Those owners would have to pay to have their homes destroyed. Owners who can move their homes are eligible for up to $12,000 in state relocation money. But there’s an eight to 12 month wait for that money.

“I don’t know where they all would go,” Sword says of her neighbors. She is most worried about the “emotionally frail” and families, who she says would be forced into high-crime areas.

Owner McCormick is also concerned about his residents.

“I do have considerable empathy for my tenants. They are in a very bad situation,” he says.

That bad situation is the rapid closure and redevelopment of mobile-home parks. According to the state Department of Community, Trade and Economic Development, 16 Washington parks are slated for closure in 2008. Since 2003, about 14 Washington parks close each year. That’s up from the 5.8 between 1989 and 2002.

Land is simply worth more as something other than mobile-home parks. Still, it’s hard to imagine the hilly landscape of Valley View operating as anything other than a mobile-home park.

“This isn’t a nice, flat piece of land,” Sword says.

If McCormick can’t find a buyer to preserve his park, he may have to develop his land. Still, he says nothing will happen quickly.

“I’m not looking for a developer. I’m not actively marketing the property. There’s nothing on the horizon in that respect,” he says. “There’s laws on the books that say you can’t just do this kind of stuff overnight.”

State law says park owners have to notify tenants and the state 12 months before closures.

As Peterson says, he and his neighbors are lucky to have a cooperative owner and time on their side. Still, he says life at their park will not stay the same.

Juanita Shields just hopes the inevitable change is for the good.

“Right now we’ve had a bunch of meetings,” she says. “Sometimes it looks good, sometimes it looks bad. We just have to say a prayer and hope we luck out like Wonderland did.”