Dade's mobile home park moratorium continued
By Risa Polansky
Unhappy with alternatives offered by staffers, Miami-Dade commissioners voted Tuesday to extend for four more months an already year-long moratorium on issuing building permits for mobile home parks.
During that time, county officials are to continue exploring zoning remedies to protect residents from displacement — but the real change must come at the state level, commissioners agreed.
Responding to cries from mobile home communities that owners are evicting tenants to make way for development on the park sites, the commission passed the building-permit moratorium in October 2007.
It applies to 40 mobile home parks of 8,000 units in unincorporated Miami-Dade.
The ban does not prohibit evictions — the county doesn't have that authority — but it does prevent property owners from legally building on the sites, which commissioners hope keeps residents in their homes.
They voted in February and again in May to continue the moratorium. Their action Tuesday marks the third extension of the freeze.
They'd lengthened the moratorium to give county administrators time to draft solutions that would safeguard residents and offer affordable alternatives to mobile homes but continue to press staffers for more.
"I don't feel that all the information is there," Commissioner José "Pepe" Diaz said of the most recent report.
It suggests creating a new "villa" development zoning district "to allow for a mix of [a] variety of affordable housing types including: detached single-family residence, mobile homes or modular homes that would be developed and maintained within a high-quality, park-like setting."
Property owners would apply to rezone their land to "villa."
The county would offer incentives to encourage landowners to apply for the new categorization, said Planning and Zoning Director Marc LaFerrier, including that, if an existing park is destroyed by a fire or natural disaster, it could be rebuilt with the same number of units as previously approved.
But that privilege would come without affordability requirements, Mr. Diaz pointed out, suggesting those be included.
County staff recommended also that commissioners approve a zoning ordinance codifying state requirements for an "exit plan" regarding availability of alternative housing for mobile home owners and requiring they be notified of impending development that would result in eviction.
The new ordinance would require also that park owners inform the county if their park hits a vacancy of 20% of allowed capacity, as well as of any possible redevelopment plans for the property.
But even these suggestions are not enough, Commissioner Rebeca Sosa said.
"We are not really, really taking the steps to solve the situation."
She aired frustration that the state is tying the county's hands and pressed for the county to lean on the Legislature to provide mobile home park residents the first right to buy their property.
"Unless the state changes the guidelines, there's very little we can do," she said.
The county's Department of Planning and Zoning prepared suggested requests to the state, including reassessing the amount of reimbursement available to displaced residents from the state's relocation trust fund.
Other requests include allowing for a longer notice period for land-sale-related evictions.
In response to the commission's request in May to explore the idea of the county purchasing and maintaining mobile home parks, the staff report lists the value of each of the 40 parks governed by the moratorium.
"If there is a desire by the board to purchase any of the mobile home parks, the administration will prepare a logistics plan to fund, operate and maintain the selected site or sites," the report says.
At Tuesday's meeting, mobile home park residents lined up to plead for help, many asking commissioners to uphold the moratorium.
No one showed up to speak against the ongoing freeze.
But in a separate interview, Jeff Bercow, a land use and zoning attorney, noted that "the county doesn't regulate the landlord-tenant relationship… it made everybody feel good, but the moratorium only relates to pulling building permits. It has nothing to do with the landlord-tenant relationship."
The moratorium could even be "counterproductive," he said, as some mobile home park owners could shut down operations to avoid the repercussions of any future action the county might take.
A former client who Mr. Bercow would not name did just that, he said.
"My personal opinion is that he [the park owner] didn't accomplish very much for the short term. He certainly hurts himself by eliminating revenue… but I think in the future, once the moratorium is lifted, he will be able to say, "I'm not a mobile home park, and you can't regulate me anymore.'"