‘I'm Being Displaced’: Phoenix City Council Fails to Stop Evictions at Three Trailer Parks

Residents of three Phoenix mobile home parks and their supporters protested at a City Council meeting on March 22.
Residents of three Phoenix mobile home parks and their supporters protested at a City Council meeting on March 22. Katya Schwenk
A young girl approached the podium on March 22 and looked up at the members of the Phoenix City Council seated before her. "My name is Michelle," she said in Spanish. "I'm being displaced."

Last April, Michelle's family was one of the dozens living in the Periwinkle Mobile Home Park that received an unexpected eviction notice from Grand Canyon University. According to the notice, residents had just six months to leave their longtime homes.

In the months since, Periwinkle residents have joined forces with two other Phoenix mobile home parks whose inhabitants are also facing eviction. The other parks are Las Casitas — which is located at 18th Avenue and Buckeye Road and is now called Beacon — and Weldon Court in midtown.

With eviction dates fast approaching — Las Casitas has until Saturday, April 1, while Weldon Court has until May 1 and Periwinkle until May 28 — residents and their supporters appeared at the City Council meeting to urge councilmembers to take action on several proposals that could help them.

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Michelle, who lives at the Periwinkle Mobile Home Park with her family, speaks on March 22.
City of Phoenix

Nowhere to Go

Outside the council chambers, mobile home park residents and their supporters handed out water and snacks. They beat on drums and lifted protest signs into the air in a last-ditch effort to be heard. For months, residents and their supporters rallied, attended city meetings, and even held benefit concerts.

Through organizing, residents of Periwinkle succeeded in forcing GCU to offer some concessions, including an extension of the eviction deadline. "They didn't offer us anything from the beginning. We fought for all that," Alondra Ruiz Vazquez told Phoenix New Times. Ruiz Vazquez has lived in the Periwinkle park for years.

Although most residents own their trailers, they don't own the land on which the trailers sit. Additionally, it's difficult to relocate aging mobile homes without them sustaining damage. Relocating is also expensive, and there are limited places to go.

Staff with Trellis, a nonprofit that is providing assistance to some of the residents, told a City Council subcommittee on March 6 that it hasn't been able to relocate any trailers. During the March 22 council meeting, many residents testified that they still had no place to go.

For some residents, the issue is less about finding new homes than it is about leaving behind the ones they built.

A Weldon Court resident, who gave his name as Joel, described the work that he and his family had done on his trailer. He worked in construction during the day, and in the evenings, he would work on his home, he said through a translator. "We changed the plumbing. We changed flooring. We painted. My brother and my nephews after school would come to help me so that my little home would look nice," he told the City Council.

"Remembering my family working on my home is what makes it valuable to me. I put all my savings and my dreams in it," he added.

While GCU owns Periwinkle, shell companies are listed as owners of the other two parks, according to records from the Maricopa County Assessor's Office. Weldon Court is owned by a Phoenix limited liability company called Casa Oaks Weldon. The Las Casitas park is owned by a Colorado LLC called Kerru.
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Residents of the mobile home parks urged the Phoenix City Council to help them stop the impending evictions.
Katya Schwenk

‘Meet These Families’

Not all speakers during the March 22 meeting supported the residents.

Susan Brenton, executive director of Manufactured Housing Communities of Arizona, an organization representing mobile home park owners, argued for the evictions. Others spoke in favor of GCU, touting the university's presence in west Phoenix.

Camden Marasco, the GCU student body president, went up to the podium and argued that the university "works as a force for good."

"How does it make you feel hearing the stories of the folks behind you who are going to be left without a home?" Councilmember Carlos Garcia asked Marasco. "As a human being, it'd be important for you to meet some of these families." The room erupted in applause.

But even after hours of emotional testimony, the council voted against two proposed measures that could have temporarily kept residents in their homes.

Those two proposals were a zoning overlay, which would have forced landowners to get city approval before changing the land use of any of the three mobile home parks, and an 18-month moratorium on land development at the parks.

Instead, in a close 5-4 vote, the council opted to create a $2.5 million fund using federal American Rescue Plan Act dollars. The fund will be divvied up as relocation money for the soon-to-be displaced residents.

Some residents will qualify for $1,875 per trailer and $3,125 for multi-section mobile homes — from the Arizona Department of Housing's fund for mobile home park residents. The fund offers more money — between $7,000 and $12,500 — to help with relocation expenses. Still, for most of the residents, relocation simply is not an option, even with the stipends.
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Residents of the Periwinkle Mobile Home Park have been organizing for months against Grand Canyon University’s plans to evict them.
Katya Schwenk

‘We're in Crisis’

Councilmembers Laura Pastor, Betty Guardado, Carlos Garcia, and Yassamin Ansari tried to push for stronger action to prevent evictions, and the four voted against the watered-down proposal. Mayor Kate Gallego and councilmembers Sal DiCiccio, Ann O'Brien, Jim Waring, and Debra Stark voted in favor.

O’Brien suggested that instead of the original proposal, the council approve 12 more minor policy recommendations by city staff to prevent the displacement of mobile home park residents. However, the recommendations — which included a new “communication strategy” to help assist residents as well as housing navigation services — had already been in the works.

The proposals were insufficient, Pastor told the rest of the council, scoffing at the idea that a communication strategy was the help the people who had spoken over the last several hours needed.

"We're in crisis right now. So I don't know what communications plan you'll do," Pastor said. "Maybe you'll be like, 'Uh, tomorrow you'll be homeless. Thank the city and thank those that voted for you to be homeless.'"

Most councilmembers who opposed the zoning overlay and moratorium said they voted against it over concerns about whether the policy was legal. They said it ran afoul of Proposition 207, a ballot measure protecting property rights that voters passed in 2006. Stephen Montoya, an attorney for some of the Periwinkle residents, told the council he disagreed. Supporters of the proposal said that the crisis made the legal risk worth it.

That argument did not sway the mayor.

"Those of us who make laws should follow them even when we think they were incorrectly made. It's just misleading for us to tell people that we can ignore the law," Gallego said in some of the few comments she made about the proposals.

A last-minute effort by DiCiccio — who did not support the moratorium on development but said that the residents "need a lifeline" — ensured that the $2.5 million fund made it into the final motion on Wednesday.

The original proposal described the fund as being used to subsidize "housing navigation to mobile home residents facing displacement" with the help of a nonprofit. While the councilmembers indicated that the three mobile home parks would be the beneficiaries of the fund, it's unclear how long the fund will take to get up and running or how exactly the money will be used.

"I'm really disappointed," Garcia said at the end of the meeting. "I don't think these $2.5 million are going to do anything."

What the residents said they needed was more time. In an interview after the council vote, Ruiz Vazquez said she and her neighbors were experiencing mounting anxiety. “We're all fighters,” she said. They had not given up — even for a moment — over the last year.

But after Wednesday, Ruiz Vazquez found herself at a loss. “We can't leave here May 28," she said. "I don't know what's going to happen. There are no answers.”
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Katya Schwenk is a staff writer for Phoenix New Times. Originally from Burlington, Vermont, she now covers issues ranging from policing to far-right politics here in Phoenix. She has worked as a breaking news correspondent in Rabat, Morocco, for Morocco World News, a government technology reporter for Scoop News Group in Washington, D.C., and a local reporter in Vermont for VTDigger. Her freelance work has been published in Business Insider, the Intercept, and the American Prospect, among other places.
Contact: Katya Schwenk

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