Lawmakers aren't sure yet what can be done to make Utah's affordable housing more affordable, but mobile-home park owners would have to be a lot more lenient under a bill that a legislative committee approved Wednesday.

Mobile-home residents, thousands of whom have been displaced when owners have sold parks for development in the past 10 years, would have twice as long to find new housing when landlords terminate a lease.

As part of the Mobile Home Owners Rights bill, residents would have a 180, not 90 days, to resettle if being evicted, and a full year's notice of a pending land-use change. The bill was endorsed by the Workforce Services and Community and Economic Development Interim Committee, although two lawmakers voted against it.

In addition to the notice provisions, the bill would also impose limits on the amount that rents could increase during the time between a notification of change of land use and the day a resident is required to vacate a mobile-home park.

"Rents have been known to increase by 300, 400 and even 500 percent in an effort to force residents out quickly," said bill sponsor Rep. Phil Riesen, D-Salt Lake. "But the main concern is lack of time when leases are being terminated."

Taylorsville Mayor Russ Wall said the issue "is very much a personal property-rights issue. But in these cases, there are two property owners, and the rights of each must be balanced."

The state has a moral obligation to provide at least a proper amount of time for residents to move house and home, Wall said.

Rep. Christopher Herrod, R-Provo, said a moral obligation also might be owed to property owners who under the bill would face financial risk of being held to an untenable time frame.

"The moral thing to do is calculate the cost of not being able to move ahead and then we collectively as taxpayers reimburse the property owner," Herrod said, noting that he would be less opposed if the law involved only parks in the future and was not made retroactive.

Cottonwood Heights Mayor Kelvyn Cullimore said in a letter to the committee that 274 residents — half of them elderly or disabled — were "traumatized" when a developer bought the Meadows Mobile Home Estates in August 2006 and sent them notices that they must move by the following March. Relocation costs for the residents were estimated between $1 million and $1.5 million, the letter states.

"I believe the proposed notifications provisions and rent cap would do much to alleviate the panic and concerns when a park is closed," Cullimore wrote.

Mobile homes are just a portion of a much larger picture of problems with affordable housing in the state, lawmakers were told.

Rose Marie Hunter, director of a joint University of Utah/West Side Salt Lake neighborhood advocacy partnership, cited the displacement this past summer of more than 1,000 adults and children — mostly refugees from across the world — who lived at a Salt Lake apartment complex called the Hartland, because rents suddenly increased to $200 from $50 after the property was purchased by a San Francisco-based business group.

Hunter said the closure of mobile-home parks and increasing rents in subsidized housing are not isolated, but are all too common occurrences. Other complexes are for sale along the Wasatch Front.

She noted that more than 7,000 families in Utah are on the Section 8 subsidized housing list. "The wait is now up to three years."

The trend "is not a ripple effect, it's a runaway train in our community, as these people who were getting settled and integrating now try to reconnect to schools and neighborhoods and services."

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