Tenants of Lawrence’s Brookwood mobile homes organizing for better conditions

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People living in Brookwood Mobile Home Park say they’ve faced challenges ranging from delayed maintenance and sewage in the streets to rejection of rental assistance and threats of eviction.

Tenants have said that in some cases, broken pipes had gone unfixed for almost two months, and a recent sewer leak left the park’s streets exposed to fecal matter. They say that lasted for weeks before it was fixed, and the repair only occurred after the opening was marked with signage by the city.

Brookwood’s new management has also opted not to accept rental assistance through the Kansas Emergency Rental Assistance Act or housing choice vouchers, leaving tenants who rely on them with the possibility of eviction. In eviction proceedings, renters who can’t afford and are not provided legal counsel are often at a disadvantage against landlords who can. 

Joel Gallegos, of the tenant advocate group Renters Together LFK, said that in response to the growing challenges, Brookwood tenants and organizers of Renters Together are forming a joint union through canvassing and holding meetings with people who are interested. Kansas law prohibits landlords from increasing rent or decreasing services in retaliation to tenants forming or joining a union.

The mobile home park, at 1908 E. 19th St. in eastern Lawrence, was acquired by Denver-based YES! Communities last year. The company owns communities and homes across 21 states, including two in Kansas: Brookwood and Santa Barbara Estates in Olathe. YES! Communities did not respond to phone messages seeking comment for this article.

Residents have raised concerns around the park’s strict new rules about what they have in their yards — kids’ toys, basketball goals or small pools are sticking points, for instance — and how they’re asked to maintain their home’s appearance. Others have noted that the park’s regulations change frequently, without much notice or engagement from management before residents receive notices of eviction for not following them.

Tenants involved with the early stages of the union are currently working on a list of demands. Some of the most urgent ones include a storm shelter and more clarification and consistency on the community’s guidelines.

August Rudisell / The Lawrence Times The leasing offices at Brookwood Mobile Home Park, 1908 E. 19th St. in Lawrence

“They’re starting to see the power of coming in together and being more of a collective voice,” Gallegos said. “We want to keep people housed, especially during a pandemic, and make sure that people aren’t bullied out of their housing like they have been there before.”  

Several residents and organizers from Renters Together voiced specific concerns to the Lawrence City Commission during the public comment period of Tuesday’s meeting. The group took an example from the Sunrise Movement’s recent initiative in approaching the commission about the importance of addressing climate change, Gallegos said, and this meeting was the last opportunity for the current commission to take a stance on supporting the city’s renters before the Nov. 2 election.  

“This is our second, if not third, change in management ownership in the last three years,” one longtime Brookwood resident told commissioners. “… The rules and regulations seem to change at just the spur of the moment, and usually we don’t learn about them until we get a haphazard Scotch-taped note on our gate or door or whatever of what they’re telling us we need to do and get done by such-and-such time or face eviction.”

He also said he got a note on Oct. 4 saying his rent was late, and if not paid within three days he’d be evicted — but the company’s automated payment system wasn’t set to withdraw his rent until Oct. 7.

John Oliva, an organizer with Renters Together, told commissioners that he’s spoken with many Brookwood residents who have had “terrible” experiences there. Due to the financial impact of changes they’re asked to make, such as switching from a window air conditioner unit to central air conditioning, many of them can no longer afford to live there.  

“A lot of them are just effectively getting priced out because this is some of the most affordable housing in town, but where else are they going to go?” he said. “This feels like this rental company is really — by pricing these people out, they’re contributing to the homelessness that’s really gone up in the city, and that’s just terrible.”  

Mayor Brad Finkeldei told the speakers that the commission will consider their concerns going forward. 

Ultimately, Gallegos said facilitators from Renters Together want to provide Brookwood tenants with community support and help them navigate the process of exercising their right to safe and affordable housing.

“It would mean a lot, especially in a place in Lawrence that prides itself on being very socially aware and proactive,” Gallegos said. “These kinds of issues are right under everyone’s nose, right? Not a lot of people know that these folks in these mobile park homes are being terrorized by their landlords and their property managers. I think it’s something we definitely need to look closer at, especially in regards to the local government as well.”

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