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Residents of a Waukee mobile home park say the amount of rent increase the new owners of the Midwest Country Estates will hurt a lot of residents.
Des Moines Register

A Utah-based investment firm that’s faced criticism for increasing rents at Iowa mobile home parks says it saved residents of at least two parks from possible eviction and it is committed to preserving affordable housing.

In a letter to U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren and Rep. Dave Loebsack, Havenpark Capital managing partners J. Anthony Antonelli and Robison Pratt positioned the company as the savior of parks in North Liberty and Waukee.

“Had Havenpark not recently purchased manufactured home communities in North Liberty, IA and Waukee, IA — two of the fastest-growing areas in the region and country — they almost assuredly would have been sold to a developer that would have closed those communities,” the letter says.

Havenpark Capital has faced growing criticism from local, state and national officials since announcing in March that it planned to raise rents on North Liberty tenants by 58% and Waukee tenants by 69%. 

Residents at Midwest Country Estates in Waukee were told standard lot rents would increase from $295 to $400 on July 1, then from $400 to $500 on April 1. Residents have said they are worried elderly neighbors and those on fixed incomes will have trouble covering the increase. 

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Warren and Loebsack sent a letter to Havenpark Capital officials in May that questioned the rate increases, citing reports of residents having to choose between basic necessities and abandoning their homes. U.S. Rep. Cindy Axne, D-Iowa, and Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, denounced the rent increase while touring Midwest Country Estates in Waukee earlier this month.

► Related: Sen. Elizabeth Warren intervenes North Liberty Mobile Home dispute

Another presidential hopeful, former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julián Castro, said in a visit to Havenpark’s mobile home park in Waukee that he wants to take the issue to the 2020 debate stage.

In its response, Havenpark Capital said it stands in the way of developers “mass-evicting hundreds” of mobile home residents to redevelop the land on which the parks sit.

The company said it needed to raise rents to recoup the $29.8 million it spent on the North Liberty and Waukee properties.

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Midwest Country Estates in Waukee. (Photo: Ian Richardson/The Register)

“Manufactured home communities are prime targets for developers of big box retail, luxury apartments, office buildings and other types of development,” the company writes. 

“We are committed to preserving affordable housing by purchasing manufactured home communities and investing heavily in them — upfront, and on an ongoing basis — to ensure they are a secure, safe, clean and desirable place for our residents to live long-term.”

The company said it supports exploring legislation to support low-income residents afford housing, including the creation of refundable tax credits for renters paying more than 30 percent of their income for housing.  

“Another proposal would benefit residents by providing federal tax incentives to owners of manufactured home communities if they sell the community directly to the residents,” the company writes. 

Havenpark Capital’s letter was shared with media outlets by 10 to 1 PR, a firm that specializes in among other things “crisis” communications.  

Havenpark, which had an F rating from the Better Business Bureau as recently as May, now boasts an A+ rating.

The rating is the BBB’s opinion of how the business is likely to interact with customers. According to the BBB website, the rating is based on information it is able to obtain about the business, including complaints received from the public. 

Havenpark Capital’s corporate website, which once included a listing of properties across the country, has since dropped that map. Now it is only an investors’ login and a line of text: “Securing and improving manufactured home communities to preserve long term affordable housing for our residents.” 

“We’ve already acknowledged to residents that we could have communicated better with them and are updating our website and have hired public relations experts to help us improve our overall communications both with residents and the greater community,” a Havenpark Capital spokesperson said. 

Zachary Oren Smith writes about government, growth and development for the Press-Citizen. Reach him at zsmith@press-citizen.com or 319-339-7354, and follow him on Twitter @zacharyos.

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