Rob Leeper and his wife have lived at Westwinds Mobile Home Park in North San Jose for more than 30 years. It’s where they raised their two sons and developed friendships with many of their long-time neighbors. But last week, Leeper pulled a warning letter off of his front door that said he may have to find a new place to live once the ground lease expires at the end of August 2022.
“This past week has been a real roller coaster of emotions for all of us,” he said, referring to the 700-plus families that live in the park. “Remaining calm when the state of your home and livelihood is at stake is not an easy task.”
The notification that Leeper received stems from a dispute brewing between the management company—MHC Operating—and the property owners, the Nicholson Family Partnership. Last week, MHC Operating sued the owners claiming that they want to illegally force residents out and reclaim the grounds for themselves. But according to the Mercury News, the Nicholson family refutes that.
Co-manager Bruce Nicholson said in a statement that MHC has been “unwilling to collaborate to find a long-term solution for the tenants, taking the unfortunate position that it has no obligation whatsoever to its tenants or to us when the land leases expire.”
While the contract dispute unfolds in court, San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo and Councilman Lan Diep want to fast-track a General Plan amendment to help preserve mobile home parks. The reform, first proposed in March 2018, would change the land-use for swaths of mobile home parcels that are zoned for high-density residential housing to an exclusive mobile home park designation.
“Our city is proud to have more mobile home park owners than any other city in the country,” Liccardo said at a Thursday morning press conference. “For a city that is experiencing a dreadful housing crisis, we currently need to hang on to the affordable housing that we have. This is natural affordable housing.”
Diep—who represents District 4, which encompasses Westwinds—said the potential closure of the park is personal. During his first campaign for the D4 seat three years ago, he said he befriended a couple from the Winchester Ranch Mobile Home Park who told him what it was like to live with the impending threat of displacement as developers sought to replace their home with luxury housing.
“Mobile home residents are homeowners—they don’t own the land beneath their homes, but they own the units that they have,” Diep explained. “And it’s very hard to sell your home for a fair market price to recoup your investment when a potential buyer knows that the park’s going to close.”
Huy Tran, an employment rights attorney who’s challenging Diep’s re-election this year, has also gotten involved with the situation at Westwinds.
“As we look for opportunities to build more housing, the once reliant option for affordable housing, our mobile home parks, have become the prime targets for redevelopment for profit,” he said at a news conference that took place an hour after the one staged by Diep and Liccardo. “This has been known since 2014 when the owners of Winchester Mobile Home Park first gave notice of intent to convert their park.”
Tran also accused Diep of authoring a memo in 2018 to “squash” efforts to create an exclusive land use designation for mobile home parks. Diep’s proposal—co-authored by Liccardo, Vice Mayor Chappie Jones and council members Magdalena Carrasco and Tam Nguyen—sought to delay work on the zoning policy for roughly a year so they could finish completing other council priorities.
“I support the mobile home community and I feel I’ve been consistent,” Diep told San Jose Inside. “I challenge anyone to point out that I’ve done otherwise.”