For the past 11 years, the Thrasher Lane Mobile Home Park off of East Riverside Drive has been home for Blanca Torres and her family of four. They moved in shortly after the birth of her youngest child, when Torres and her husband, Luis Lerma, decided to leave apartment life and purchase a mobile home to accommodate their growing family.
But when Torres, 38, received a notice in February informing her that the mobile home park in Southeast Austin was closing and that she and all her neighbors had to move, a hundred questions raced through her mind: Where would they go? What about her children’s school? Could they afford to move?
The Thrasher Lane Mobile Home Park, a small community of about 15 mostly Hispanic families, is the latest mobile home site to be squeezed out by new development in a city where affordable housing options are shrinking. With many Austin mobile home parks at capacity or only accepting newer homes, most of the Thrasher Lane residents said they fear they will be displaced out of Austin.
“Mobile home parks are under siege,” said Susana Almanza, president of the Montopolis Neighborhood Association. As Austin grapples with affordability issues in the city’s core, Almanza wants to seek ways to preserve and protect mobile home parks. “You can’t get more affordable than mobile homes.”
Thrasher Lane Mobile Home Park sits within the East Riverside Corridor Master Plan, which aims to make the area more walkable and bicycle-friendly with denser, mixed-use housing options. Herman Cardenas, managing partner at Urban Rio LLC, which owns the mobile home park property as well as other nearby lots, said that covering the costs of a mobile home park in an area with rising property taxes and increasing fees is too expensive and not profitable.
“I regret that we were in this position,” he said. “That’s just part of the evolution in the city’s growth.”
Cardenas said the small company, which typically builds apartments and condos in South Austin, purchased the property in 2013 and always intended for the land to eventually fit in with the city’s East Riverside Corridor vision. Urban Rio has no firm plans yet on what the mobile home park will become as the company decides whether to develop or sell the property, he said.
In the meantime, it has been working with the residents to come up with an agreeable financial assistance plan. Urban Rio has offered residents $7,000 to relocate and waived two months’ worth of rent, equivalent to $500. Although the initial move-out notice gave residents about 45 days to move out, Urban Rio later granted the residents’ request to stay until the end of the school year.
“We wanted to be fair,” Cardenas said. “And we wanted to do the right thing to help them.”
But that doesn’t mean relocating will be easy. “Honestly, it’s going to be very difficult to find another place in two months,” Torres said in Spanish.
In 2016, the Austin City Council approved an ordinance that requires developers applying for zoning changes to give at least 270 days of notice to mobile home park residents. But if developers don’t file for a zoning change, as in the Thrasher Lane Mobile Home Park case, then tenants are required to be given just a minimum of 60 days of notice.
While crafting the ordinance aimed to mitigate the effects of forced relocation, city officials foresaw the loophole in the new rules, said Nicholas Solorzano, communications director and policy adviser for District 3 Council Member Sabino “Pio” Renteria’s office.
“We haven’t figured out a way (to solve this),” Solorzano said. “There’s only so many limitations you can put on landowners because of state property rights.” But with the rapid pace of development and redevelopment in the city, he said Renteria is looking into ways to strengthen the ordinance.
Torres hasn’t found another Austin park that will accept her 1996 mobile home. Over the years, the family has made several trailer renovations, but the upgrades haven’t helped them secure a new location. “In Austin, there are no mobile home parks that want us,” she said. “It’s been very stressful.”
All of the residents have to make sure that their mobile homes are in good enough condition to handle a move. Torres said the cheapest trailer moving bid she’s received has been $2,800 to $3,000. However, that would cover a move only within two to three miles from Thrasher Lane, she said. Prices go up, the farther the move.
“We don’t want to leave the trailers because it’s been years’ worth of work,” Torres said. “It might just be a little box, but it’s my house. It’s where my children grew up, and I love it.”