In 2016, Lowry Grove was a mobile park still home to 90 families. In 2017, real estate developers in St. Anthony were entertaining a grand design familiar to most rapidly changing neighborhoods around the country: What if the land had luxury apartments on it instead?
The families in the park were evicted in favor of this plan. And the situation surrounding the closure of the park is exactly what has prompted Rep. Ilhan Omar, who represents Minneapolis and some of its suburbs, to introduce the Manufactured Housing Community Sustainability Act (H.R.2832), which uses tax credits incentivize owners of mobile home communities to sell their property to residents.
“Those closure of the Lowry Grove mobile home park in St. Anthony really exemplifies what this bill is designed to prevent,” Omar said. “Ninety families were kicked out of their homes with little notice.”
The bill’s full name is actually The Frank Adelmann Manufactured Housing Community Sustainability Act, named for a resident in the park, Frank Adelmann, who had nowhere else to go and took his own life days before the closure. Another resident recalled to MPR at the time that Adelmann, who had lived in the park for more than a decade, was adamant about not leaving: “He told me very carefully: This is my home. I’m not going to leave Lowry Grove.”
Prof. Edward Goetz, Director of the University of Minnesota’s Center for Urban and Regional Affairs at the University of Minnesota Humphrey School of Public Affairs, has studied the situation around Lowry Grove extensively.
“A number of people moved to other mobile home parks — those were the ones lucky enough to have manufactured homes that could be moved,” he told MinnPost in 2018. “Other folks, families have split up and people have moved away from the region or moved out of the Twin Cities. Other people went through periods of homelessness afterwards, so there’s a wide range of experiences.”
Omar’s predecessor, Rep. Keith Ellison, made protections for manufactured home owners a key part of his policy agenda prior to leaving Congress, pushing for a comprehensive overhaul. One of those bills was the first introduction of the The Frank Adelmann Manufactured Housing Community Sustainability Act.
The bill would create a 75 percent tax credit on the sale of a mobile home park, provided it is sold to a cooperative of the residents of the community.
“Many sellers are private individuals who have owned their communities for decades. Often they face very significant income tax liability on their gains from a sale of the community. Because of a feature of U.S. tax law if they hold on to the community until they die, their heirs can sell the property with minimal tax liability,” said Shaun McElhatton, Senior Development Counsel at the Northcountry Cooperative Foundation, an organization that provides assistance to community-owned mobile home parks.
“The proposed legislation would mitigate the tax liability on a sale and, hopefully, incentivize more investor owners to sell manufactured home communities to the residents.”
The Northcounty Cooperative Foundation is an endorser of Omar’s bill and worked with Ellison, who is now the Attorney General of Minnesota, to craft the original language.
“We updated the bill to ensure that related state laws are taken into account, so that no parks are inadvertently left out, but the core of this bill was built on the excellent work of Attorney General Ellison and Sen. Jean Shaheen [D-New Hampshire],” Omar said. “As the new representative for the 5th District, I am proud to take up the baton in fighting for fair housing.”
Industry research places the total number of Americans living in manufactured housing at 22 million, with a median household income of $30,000. (The phrase “mobile home” technically refers to buildings built prior to 1976, before the Department of Housing and Urban Development expanded on quality standards. “Manufactured homes” are those built after 1976.)
In Minnesota, while no new mobile home parks have opened since 1991, at least 12 parks have closed. And the parks are a critical resource for families who often cannot afford to move.
In the case of Lowry Grove, the luxury apartments never came to be. After significant protest from local neighbors and community activists, the City of St. Anthony voted down the proposal. The current plan is to turn the land back into a mobile park called “Urban Grove.”
But the residents from 2016 were still evicted. Their homes were torn down.
Omar’s legislation, had it been in place at the time, might not have made much of a difference in the Lowry Grove case. “The circumstances that led to the Lowry Grove sale were not related to the lack of tax incentives, and one can’t say for sure whether such incentives would have changed the situation in Lowry Grove,” Goetz said, noting that the owner found a buyer who paid him “$2 million more than it was worth as a mobile home park,” in the hopes of turning it into an upscale development.
Still, Goetz favor’s the bill: “Everything helps,” he said.
The bill is currently cosponsored by seven members, a majority of whom are affiliated with the Congressional Progressive Caucus, where Rep. Omar serves as Whip: Representatives Barbara Lee, D-CA; Joe Neguse, D-CO; Mark Pocan, D-WI; Chris Pappas, D-NH; Annie Kuster, D-NH; Ro Khanna, D-CA; and Peter DeFazio, D-OR.
The bill will now go to the House Ways and Means committee, and Omar said she hopes the bill makes it out easily and then eventually, to a floor vote.
“You can never say for certain what would have happened in the past,” Omar said, “but the goal of this bill is to encourage owners of mobile home parks to sell to the families that actually live in the parks — rather than for-profit developers.”