‘The truth is they’re vulnerable’: Inside America’s mobile home crisis | documentary movies | Techy Kings


uEither way, the affordable housing crisis is a term that can make your eyes water. News stories about how Americans who aren’t in the 1% are being pushed out of the housing market tend to rely on data and reports, statistics and graphs. Sarah Terry’s uniquely intimate and unsettling documentary about the crisis gripping the nation, A Decent House, tells this ever-evolving story on a refreshingly human scale.

Terry spent six years working on his film, which follows a group of residents in a quartet of mobile home parks under threat from developers who want to raise rents — sometimes by more than 50 percent. – or put the land to more profitable use. Moving a mobile home can cost up to $20,000, making it easier for landlords to avoid sudden rent increases. “I guarantee they won’t move if they can avoid it.” The feeling was, they’re just going to go to the local Walmart and work a few more hours,” Terry told The Guardian. “Greed is very hard to deal with, but that was my goal.

Decent House was inspired in 2015. A Guardian article detailing how investment firms are targeting trailer parks, one of the country’s last reliable sources of affordable housing. Mobile home owners usually buy their own home, but unlike other homeowners, they have to pay rent for the land they live on. At the same time, they enjoy much less robust protection than regular apartment dwellers. This fact has become even more apparent in the past decade, as a flood of financiers have taken the plunge into mom-and-pop real estate and rewritten the rules, declaring what homes should look like and sending rents out of control. Terry’s film presents different ways of fighting subjects. Spoiler alert: victories are few and far between.

This shift in the mobile home market is a microcosm of what’s happening across America, where more and more private equity firms are buying single-family homes and repurposing them as rentals, putting homeownership out of reach for many working Americans and forcing many communities to unravel. “I read a report by several academics that 41% of the housing stock in Los Angeles is owned by corporations,” said Terry, who left an early career in print journalism to pursue photojournalism and documentary filmmaking. Mathematics is mind boggling. While inflation and stagnant wages are making it difficult for the average American to make ends meet, rents are skyrocketing. “When the New York Times runs a story called ‘the next affordable city,’ it’s too expensive,” Terry said. “We’re just driving the affordable housing crisis from city to city, city to city.”

As stated at the beginning of Terry’s film, during the 2008 4.7 million people lost their homes during the recession. Americans. Investors spent 60 billion While the size of American households is shrinking, the typical house has gone in the opposite direction, with premiums placed on mega-dwellings that are affordable to a small fraction of the population. From two-bedroom apartments to sites in mobile home parks, modest-sized apartments that can keep their occupants safe and warm are becoming increasingly rare. Based on 2021 According to market research firm Real Capital Analytics, institutional investors accounted for 23% of all housing stock purchases over the past two years and 13% over the past two years. “The easiest homes are the ones that are most needed by the people who have the least ability to defend themselves,” Terry said.

Her film aims to disrupt the common understanding of mobile home parks as places of poverty and despair. Her film depicts humble and intelligent people doing their best – making and drinking coffee, taking care of family members and pets, in scenes of life filled with sunlight and birds chirping. There are grandmothers and immigrants, children and veterans, gathering for Thanksgiving dinner or a block party with a bouncy castle. “You hear people call them ‘trailer trash,'” she said, “but the truth is they’re vulnerable and in most cases they’re wise.” So many people I’ve worked with know when enough is enough.

Finding members of mobile home communities willing to open up about their plight was easy, Terry said. The film features interviews with people who live at Villa Santiago in Mountain View, California, an expensive mobile home park near Google headquarters, and scenes from a New Hampshire resident-owned mobile home community. The film’s fulcrum is the struggle that residents of the Denver Meadows in Aurora, Colorado fought to stay put when the owner made a play to convert the land.

Christine Cray-Rudine paid $54,000 for her mobile home at the Santiago Villa mobile home park near Google's headquarters in Mountain View, California.  This is the first time in her life that she has her own house.  She furnished it with thrift store finds and used salvage items.  She relies on Social Security to pay the bills.
Christine Cray-Rudine paid $54,000 for her mobile home in the Santiago Villa mobile home park near Google’s headquarters in Mountain View. Photo: Mobile Movies

Scenes depicting those who seek to profit are moving because they only depict heartlessness. The apparent comfort with their position among investors and sympathetic politicians is troubling, from Frank Rolfe, one of the founders of get-rich-quick Mobile Home University, to Bob Legare, who until recently was mayor of Aurora, Colorado. Legare, a former real estate developer, held closed-door meetings and helped a Denver grasslands owner put the land on the market, pushing out an entire community.

“I think of that quote from Hannah Arendt: the banality of evil,” Terry said. “It was banal how they reacted to me, because they didn’t feel how outrageous what they were doing and saying. Terry’s footage of a session at Mobile Home University, where Rolfe instructs aspiring mobile home park owners on edicts like never befriending the residents, made it to the 2019 John Oliver’s Tonight segment. After the damning episode came to light, Rolfe stopped working with Terry.

Which was good. Her main priority was to capture the grace and tragedy behind the story. There is a scene near the end of the film where the residents of the Aurora mobile home community have been forced to pack up and move out when a displaced resident named Petra Bennet returns to the site of her former home. The ground is now bare except for a couple of dwarf figurines that have been left in the weeds. “When are the rich rich enough?” she ponders quietly.

“People who live in mobile homes may have to work two or three jobs to keep it together,” Terry said. “But I think they know a lot more than some of us.” The Denver Meadows site has been cleaned up, but thanks to the efforts of activists and politicians who responded to what happened there, Colorado just passed a new law that expands protections for mobile home owners. While it doesn’t take rent increases into account, it gives mobile park residents more time to make an offer to a landlord looking to sell the land and addresses the issue of tenant complaints, which are often ignored.

“It’s about paying attention and connecting the dots,” Terry said. “A lot of people don’t care until it’s in their neighborhood, but we can’t wait that long.” Because if we don’t increase it, all our neighborhoods will disappear.


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