New owners, new name. What life at the former ‘Trails End Mobile Home Park’ is like now
A Fresno mobile home park which saw some of the city’s worst living conditions after years of neglect is now under new ownership. But residents still have questions about their future at the park.
FRESNO, Calif. — It’s 9 a.m. on a recent Tuesday and a team from the City of Fresno’s code enforcement has a scheduled visit to Trissie Shawn’s mobile home. Shawn works in some last-minute cleaning around her front yard at La Hacienda Mobile Estates.
It was previously known as Trails End, but the name, like Shawn’s home, has seen a lot of change in one year.
There’s an open area in the space that is considered Shawn’s front yard. Tools are stacked and organized neatly in sections. But it didn't always look this way. “It was completely packed, I’m talking a jukebox, tubs of 45’s and crates of records,” she said, pointing at the yard.
The 59-year-old former IRS worker accumulated lots of items after her dad died in 2019. As they piled up, problems elsewhere in the park also began to stack up.
The 60-lot mobile home park is located just west of Highway 41 in northeast Fresno. In 2021, hazardous conditions at the park came to light following two separate fires, including one that killed a resident and destroyed several mobile homes. A homeless encampment was formed in the back part of the park, Shawn said, adding that “someone made a bathroom out of a car.”
“And then code enforcement came in and they kind of closed down the park. So, we were thinking we were gonna have to move without knowing what was going on,” Shawn said.
The park was indeed shut down, though residents remained there. The sequence of incidents, however, marked a turning point in the way mobile homes are run in the city, and a change to the way of life of residents at this mobile home park that still has no final conclusion.
New owners, rules and questions
The conditions at the park were dire enough to force the City of Fresno to take over enforcement of all mobile home parks. The California Department of Housing and Community Development typically has full control of mobile homes.
A court-appointed receiver later listed the property for sale and in October, it was officially handed over to Harmony Communities – a Stockton-based company that manages more than 30 parks across California, Nevada and Oregon.
Soon after the sale, nearly half of the residents received notices to fix code and rule violations within 60 days or face fines and possible eviction. Shawn received one of those notices.
After the recent visit from city code enforcement in December, she learned she had passed. But Harmony Communities has not spelled out what happens to those who don’t pass. Residents have faced a limbo in their living situation ever since their issues came to light.
Harmony Communities declined to speak directly to KVPR. But a written statement from the company said: “We remain firm in our commitments to the city, court, receiver and other tenants. We will continue to enforce state law as is required of us to keep residents and the neighborhood safe.”
Yet, there remains uncertainty about separate rules that Harmony Communities will begin enforcing in April. The new rules prohibit residents from having anything outside their house, except for their trash and recycling bins and patio furniture. Another rule requires dogs to be kept on leashes even if they’re in a fenced yard.
Mariah Thompson, staff attorney with California Rural Legal Assistance represents a group of Trails End residents who organized a committee during the park’s handover to the receiver. Thompson fears residents could be forced from their homes. The legal aid group contends many of the new rules are “unreasonable” and “unlawful” because they deal with a home’s aesthetic appearance rather than health and safety.
“So, residents would receive a citation for having anything outside their homes,” Thompson said.
Trissie Shawn is concerned the rules will apply to wind chimes and glass bottles hanging in a large maple tree in her front yard. To her, those aren’t simple decorations.
It’s “my memorial to my mom. My tree. I love that tree,” Shawn said.
The tree towers over the yard. Bright blue bottles suspended from branches stand out against the deep red and gold leaves. The bottles are a tribute to her mother who used to place blue bottles along hiking trails in northern California. Shawn started putting the bottles up nearly 20 years ago after her mother died.
“I come out here in the mornings. I usually sit in my chair and I look up at it – you can just hear the bells, the leaves. It's just so calming and I just think of my mom,” Shawn said, her voice cracking. “I miss her and I love her so much.”
Shawn says she’ll go to court to keep her memorial.
But that’s not the only challenge Thompson, Shawn’s attorney, expects in the new year. She is familiar with Harmony’s ownership of other parks, and is afraid a rental increase may come for residents of Trails End.
A test for a new rent rule
Last March, park residents formed a rent-control committee they hope will give them some protection. They were the first mobile home park in Fresno to organize a committee under the City’s Mobile Home Park Rent Review and Stabilization ordinance.
The ordinance was created in 1987. It limits rent hikes by tying increases to changes in the Consumer Price Index, taxes and utility rates.
Thompson said tenants of mobile home parks are often especially vulnerable to rent hikes because mobile home parks are some of the last affordable housing options available for them as it is. And California does not have statewide rent control, so Thompson said the park owners may have discretion to hike rents despite the city ordinance, though it remains to be seen how the city’s new task force will deal with the new ownership of this long-beleaguered park.
Thompson says it’s unclear how the Fresno ordinance will hold up in court. The city has not yet fully appointed a commission to review rent increases for mobile home parks.
Thompson said she is“not sure what will happen if a rent increase gets challenged if there’s not an entire commission to hear the challenge.”
But Shawn says she’ll be there as the park moves ahead in its new chapter. She is the chair of the park’s rent control committee, and says she isn’t going anywhere. The park has been her home for 25 years and she’s now part of a decision-making body that gives power to residents they didn’t use to have.
She says, at least so far, things are improving somewhat.
“It's been a lot of work and a lot of tears, but it looks so much better,” Shawn said.