Not Trending: Why trailer park residents face harsh evictions

When we only pay attention to the things that are trending in our social networks, we may be missing some compelling stories. Carlos Watson, CEO of website OZY, joins Gwen Ifill to share a story about some vulnerable residents of trailer parks who are being evicted for the land they live on.

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    Time for a look at some interesting reporting that's not trending, as we say.

    In this case, it's a housing story that rarely gets close attention, but is the subject of new battles and growing interest.

    Gwen has the story.


    Not trending this month, a small part of the housing market, where 20 million people live, trailer parks. Mobile home residents often stay there for decades and make up a significant percentage of housing in some regions of the Southeastern United States.

    But in some parts of the country, the land the homes are on is becoming more valuable, leading to evictions with as little as five days' notice.

    That's part of the focus of a series that the Web site OZY has been reporting.

    Here's an excerpt from one of their video reports about families on the brink in Louisiana and the woman who is trying to help.


    This is fourth of the older communities that's closed in the last two years.


    Here in the Pine Haven trailer park, 35 families are in crisis. Kathie's help is in high demand.


    It's heartbreaking to see the parks close, because these older houses have no place to go.

    If the dirt is there, I'm going to try to get trucks in there now.

    What about the gray one?


    The owner of the park sold the land, and now a community is being dismantled in a hurry.


    Said they collected the rent up to the 15th of January?

  • WOMAN:

    Next thing we know, 15 days to get out.


    Carlos Watson is the founder and editor of OZY, and he joins me now.

    Carlos, I want to start by asking you, why did you, West Coast, Silicon Valley Web site, decide to go inside the worlds of mobile homes?


    You know, we're always interested in what's not trending.

    And it's such an important part of the economy, one out of 15 Americans living in these mobile homes. And they're changing a lot, Gwen. And they're not only in the Southeastern United States, where you pointed out the situation near Lake Charles, Louisiana.

    But, even in Silicon Valley, even in some of the most prosperous parts of the countries, where Google and Facebook and LinkedIn live, people are facing these same issues, threats of eviction, lacking the ability to prevent against high raises and prices. It's a difficult situation for a number of people.


    Now, here's what I didn't know before I watched your series. One of them was how many people actually call — for generations, call these mobile homes, trailer parks, whatever you call them, home, and why.


    Very much so.

    So, cheaper is the short answer, often, than living elsewhere. People buy these for anywhere from $30,000 to $100,000, cheaper than buying a home in many other places, a chance to own some of the American dream. Sometimes, these get passed on generation to generation. You have many families living in one place.

    And why do they not move elsewhere? Well, as you and I know, there is both a rental crisis in much of the United States, where it's tough to rent elsewhere. And buying, post the housing crisis, has gotten tougher because people want you to put more down.


    Now, one thing I don't think most people realize is that, even if you own your trailer home, you may not own the land under it.


    Quite a contradiction.

    Even the former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor wrote about that contradiction, that mobile homes aren't very mobile in many cases, because you don't own the land underneath. So you're scared to move. And often you can't move unless you're evicted. And when you are evicted, sometimes after having been there for several decades, you don't get much notice.

    Now, some states require notice as much as 60 days, but, as you saw, in Louisiana, the notice period is only five days. And imagine if someone told you or me that you have got five days to move. Very difficult for a number of people. And in places like Louisiana, where they're having some economic booms, in that case fracking, right, for natural gas, it's really starting to happen quickly.

    You heard the woman in the story say this is the fourth such eviction that has happened in the last year.


    And we're talking about $5,000 to move that, if you just — even if you found another place to go, $5,000, which is not small money, to move it.


    Right. And then some people are saying, I just can't afford it, and so leaving the homes there to be bulldozed and finding themselves moving to Section 8 housing or in other places.

    But one of the interesting things about this, Gwen, is while that part of the story in some ways is both a struggle story and in some ways may feel familiar to people, there are a couple other elements as we started looking at these trailer parks all around the country that surprised people.

    First of all, who is there? So, not just low-income families and seniors. You're seeing more immigrants, from Vietnamese-Americans to Mexican-Americans throughout the countries. Also beginning to see millennials. So, they're saying, rather than move back home with mom and dad, let me try and get a piece of the pie of my own.


    You have a photograph in the slide show of Google bikes. There are — Google employees can ride to work on their bikes — who lived in a trailer home. And that's the way he gets to work because it's cheaper than living in mom's basement.


    He gets to work at one the 10 most valuable corporations in the world that way.

    And so, as I was saying, not exactly who you would expect to be there. Another interesting turn in this story, some hipsters — because hipsters are always creative about a lot of things — they now are taking over old school buses. They're buying old — you remember the old yellow buses?




    They're buying the old yellow buses and turning those into their own mobile homes, and in many cases parking alongside classic mobile homes and even what people call tiny homes. And so you have got kind of a mixed housing stock in some of these markets.


    So, it's not trending, but it's a trend.


    Well said.

    And it's a trend that is worth watching. I was with the secretary of housing and urban development earlier today, who faced some of these issues in San Antonio. And he said the reality is, the law has not caught up yet with the reality that 20 million people are living there, that they don't own the land underneath it.

    And so maybe there will be some change. If there is not some change, you could get more hipsters, more millennials moving in. You could get, frankly, a lot of older people, low-income folks, in some cases being pushed out.


    Which won't be the first time that has happened in the housing stock in the United States.


    Gentrification in mobile parks. Who knew.



    Carlos Watson of OZY, thank you very much.


    Always good to be with you.

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