In a city with some of the country’s fastest rising rents, Oak Leaf has been a stable home for people who can’t afford to live anywhere else.

The Portland Housing Bureau has provided a $1.3 million loan to help preserve a Northeast Portland mobile home park, the Oak Leaf, that was threatened by redevelopment. It’s the first time the Housing Bureau has stepped in to help preserve a mobile home park.

“There are many steps to come, including upgrading the park, but this is a huge milestone,” said Portland Housing Commissioner Dan Saltzman.

While the Oak Leaf deal is unique, the Housing Bureau has taken other steps in the past year to preserve housing that people on the brink of homelessness can afford. In June, it purchased the Joyce Hotel, a hostel that was the last remaining weekly stay building in the city. On Wednesday, it will seek authorization from the city council to spend $51 million to purchase The Ellington, a 263 unit affordable housing complex.  

The Oak Leaf mobile home park in the Cully neighborhood is one of the last places in the city that rents units for under $500 a month. It has spaces for 35 mobile homes and houses a number of seniors, veterans and people with disabilities.

Earlier this year, Oak Leaf’s owner told the residents she planned to sell the park to a developer. Many of its residents said they would become homeless if the mobile home park closed. The coalition Living Cully worked with Oak Leaf residents to launch a campaign to make a competing offer on the land and save the park.

“It’s a huge victory and we’re really thankful to all the partners that made this happen,” said Cameron Herrington, with Living Cully. “We’ve been able to preserve this land for generations to come. There will always be a place for lower-income families to have housing they can afford in the Cully neighborhood.”

Residents had hoped to form a co-op, qualify for a loan, and purchase the park themselves, a strategy that a handful of other manufactured home parks in Oregon have used to stop re-development. But that plan fell apart after the Housing Bureau decided to try to use federal block grant funding to buy the park, and CASA of Oregon backed out of the deal.

“Commissioner Saltzman had earlier discussed using local funds that didn’t have as many restrictions,” Herrington said.

That left the residents, and Living Cully, scrambling to come up with a new plan before their option to buy the property expired in November.

Living Cully formed its own LLC to take ownership of the park, and the Housing Bureau loaned the non-profit $1.3 million to make the purchase.

The non-profit has no experience owning or managing mobile home parks, so it recruited another organization, St. Vincent de Paul of Lane County, to manage the park in the short term and take ownership of it in the long run.

“We will own the park as an interim measure, until federal funds are available for St. Vincent de Paul to buy it from us,” Herrington said.
St. Vincent de Paul owns several other mobile home parks in the Willamette Valley and has rehabbed them to serve as affordable housing.

“We are trying to specialize in parks that are distressed because of age and condition, where they are not a likely candidate to be owned by tenants and maintained in a cooperative,” said Terry McDonald, the Executive Director of St. Vincent de Paul of Lane County.

St. Vincent de Paul will attempt to qualify for a federal community development block grant to purchase Oak Leaf from Living Cully and rehabilitate the park. Living Cully’s LLC would then use the block grant funding to repay the loan from the Portland Housing Bureau.

“It’s a competitive process. We are not guaranteed to get anything,” said McDonald.  “But this kind of re-development for low income people is a high priority for HUD and the city of Portland.”

McDonald said his staff has started assessing improvements the park needs. He said the sewer and water system at Oak Leaf leaks and needs to be fixed. McDonald also intends to improve the layout of the park, adding a laundry area, a community gathering space, and a place for a social worker.

“It shows all the signs of benign, sometimes not so benign, neglect.” McDonald said.

Manufactured home parks are among the largest privately owned source of affordable housing in the state.  

“There are real human beings living in those parks and they often have very limited incomes and options,” McDonald said.  “Finding ways to prevent that housing of last resort from being lost will create more opportunities for us to prevent homelessness.”