BY ANDREAS YILMA
BEACON FALLS — State and federal rent relief may be on the way to River’s Edge Mobile Home Park residents who experienced a sharp rent increase from their new out-of-state owner.
Town residents in November voted against a town ordinance for the establishment of a fair rent commission even though there were months of outcry from the mobile home residents.
The residents’ new landlord, Athena Real Estate of Orlando, Fla., raised monthly rent by $50 last year, following increases of $30 and $45 in the previous two years when it acquired the 55-unit mobile home park in 2019 from the community’s current manager, Mark Kudasik. Many of the residents are elderly or on fixed incomes.
Athena CEO Richard O’Brien previously said the rental increases are justified and in line with the inflationary consumer price index increase for the last year and demand at the community is high with occupancy at 100%.
First Selectman Gerard Smith previously said the Board of Selectmen is charged with picking up residents’ trash, paving roads, paying for fire trucks and making sure residents are safe at home and not getting involved in rental issues.
Mobile home residents previously attended consecutive Board of Selectmen meetings and petitioned their support for a fair rent commission and also met with state Sen. Jorge Cabrera, D-17th District, who has said he would look to introduce legislation and talk to U.S. Senator Richard Blumenthal after the election.
Five state lawmakers including Cabrera proposed a new bill titled, An Act Concerning Rent Stabilization in Mobile Manufactured Home Parks. The bill aims to protect owners of mobile manufactured homes in mobile manufactured home parks from unfair and unreasonable increases, according to the state General Assembly website.
The proposed bill was referred to the Joint Committee on Housing on Jan. 12.
Colleen Dana, who is a mobile home park resident and has been the main advocator leading residents for the fair rent commission and initiated petitions, said her fingers are crossed for the proposed new state legislation that would bring aid.
“What a huge relief it would be knowing that our annual rent increases would be reasonable and manageable,” Dana said.
A new state statue mandates cities with more than 25,000 residents need to create a fair rent commission by July 2023. Beacon Falls, however, only has about 6,000 residents, according to the 2020 Census.
Some state legislators are also pushing for a bill to make it mandatory for towns to have their rent commissions with populations of 10,000 and under. Mobile home residents are expected to voice their issues and concerns as well as pushing for the mandate to be for 3000 residents and over. The residents are planning to back to the capital with Dana to advocate for a proposed rent cap bill for mobile home parks, Dana said.
On the federal level, U.S. senators Christopher S. Murphy and Richard Blumenthal, both Democrats, along with over 40 other lawmakers across the nation signed and sent a letter President Joe Biden to pursue all possible strategies to address rent inflation, end corporate price gouging in the real estate sector and ensure that renters and people experiencing homelessness across the country are housed this winter.
The letter is endorsed by over 80 housing, climate, education and immigration organizations.
Legislators also laid out seven steps the Biden administration should take to which include directing the Federal Housing Finance Agency to establish renter protections for individuals residing in properties financed with government-backed mortgage properties, directing the Federal Trade Commission to enforce action against unfair rent gouging practices and directing the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to issue new guidance mitigating cost burden and adopting anti-rent gouging measures.
“The rent is too high and millions of people across the country are struggling to stay stably housed as a result. Housing is the largest monthly expense for most Americans, and skyrocketing rental costs increase the likelihood of evictions, foreclosures, homelessness, and health issues for people across the country. Rent is a major driver of inflation,” the lawmakers said in the letter.
“According to the Consumer Price Index, the cost of shelter rose 0.8% in October alone, which the highest rate in 40 years. Furthermore, as was highlighted in a recent House Financial Services Committee hearing, over the last few years, median asking rents have increased by 31% and house prices have increased 48%.”