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Mobile Home Residents Feel Threatened by New Developments. Are Their Fears Real or Imaginary?

Filipa Rodrigues/KUT News
Alice Smith was kicked out of her apartment last year. After a friend helped her finance this trailer, she moved in to a park near the Montopolis Bridge.

MostAustin residents are renters and, chances are, you might be a renter yourself.

But some Austinites living in trailer parks aren’t necessarily guaranteed the perks of a leasing agreement and, as residential and commercial development sprawls across the city, some worry landlords may cash out and sell off parks.

Alice Smith has always been a free spirit with no savings. The 68-year-old grandmother has short hair in light shades of pink and a tiny nose ring. She describes herself as an old hippie.

Smith's husband is gone, so for more than 10 years, the efficiency apartment she rented on Avenue A was more than enough until last year, when her landlord sold her property.

Smith says her rent went up by almost 50 percent. And she couldn't afford it with her Social Security check. Once she told her new landlord, she was given thirty days to leave. Smith's free spirit went into panic mode. Months later, she began to question both the motive, and the timing, of the rent hike.

"They didn't want us to have time to be able to organize, or call the TV stations or get anything going because we were all just scrambling to find a place to live," she says.

Perhaps there were other reasons why Smith got 30 days to get out. It's not clear, but her story is a familiar one. More and more Austinites now know what it's like to have their homes flipped and their rents raised to levels they can't afford.

Smith now lives in a tiny RV. One of her neighbors from Avenue A lent her the money to buy it. Smith calls him "her angel." Because, she says "I didn't know him before and don't really know him now." They just collided at that point in time long enough for him to lend her the money.

Credit Filipa Rodrigues/KUT News
Code officer Anthony Major finds many code violations in Austin's RV parks. But, he says, many of the parks sit on prime real estate.

Smith's RV is in a community that overlooks the Colorado River near Montopolis Bridge. It's surrounded by beauty.

Other RV and mobile home parks are too. Officer Anthony Major with the City of Austin's Code Department drives through mobile home neighborhoods looking for code violations. He finds plenty. Still, Major says, the homes and parks are situated on prime Austin real estate.

Many sit conveniently along bus lines, while others have mature trees and small creeks that cut through them.

Credit Filipa Rodrigues/KUT News
Eric Ramirez is 19 years old. He says his family would have no place to go if developers were to buy the RV and mobile home park where he lives. There are a couple of new developments around Ramirez's community. He fears his is next.

Nineteen-year-old Eric Ramirez says developers have taken notice of his mobile home community, which is bordered by new development. His is one of the most rundown RV communities in Austin, and Major says it's certainly one with the most code violations. But, it's in a desirable location, minutes from downtown Austin on Riverside Drive.

"The housing development that's going on around here is moving quickly," Ramirez says. "Just within the last year [developers] have built a whole literal community right next door to us. Right behind ours there's another section of trailers that has been cleared out for whatever reason, but I'm thinking it's for that same reason, for the housing community."

The mobile homes Ramirez is talking about were actually cleared because a pipeline runs under them. Still, Ramirez has seen engineers driving through his community and measuring the land. 

"I don't know how much longer until this section is next," Ramirez says.

If developers were to buy the RV and mobile home park where Ramirez and his parents live, where would his family go? Where would the hundreds who live there go?

There are 44 registered mobile home communities in Austin, and an estimated 20,000 people live in them. Just like Ramirez, Smith fears developers will soon take notice of her riverfront RV park, then buy it and flip it.

"They're eliminating all places we can live," she says.

If she's displaced again, she fears there may not be another "angel" to come to her rescue.

Texas Standard reporter Joy Diaz has amassed a lengthy and highly recognized body of work in public media reporting. Prior to joining Texas Standard, Joy was a reporter with Austin NPR station KUT on and off since 2005. There, she covered city news and politics, education, healthcare and immigration.
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