Going deep into the Oak Leaf: Things get funky at nexus of mobile homes, affordable housing

Just a minute inside Victor Johanson’s single-wide trailer at the Oak Leaf Mobile Home Park on NE Killingsworth in Portland, Oregon, and three things became clear.

First, mold spores in the air were at a level so high as to be unhealthy to breathe, and possibly dangerous. Water was actively dripping through his tarp-covered roof into plastic bins on his living room couch.

Second, Johanson, 57, who is disabled and uses a wheelchair, is doing his best to maintain his dignity in the face of overwhelming odds. He said he couldn’t smell the mold himself due to his vulnerable medical condition.

“My sense of smell is gone, with the diabetes,” Johanson said. “It’s tough for me. I’m trying to hang in there.”

Victor Johanson, 57, inside his Oak Leaf mobile home. (Photo: Thacher Schmid)

At a city council hearing on June 16, Portland City Commissioner Dan Saltzman, in charge of theHousing Bureau, promised Julie Massa of CASA of Oregon, a Sherwood-based nonprofit that has helped other mobile home communities around Oregon to form self-owned cooperatives, and a group of cheering supporters asking for an Oak Leaf self-owned cooperative, “One way or another, we’ll get it done.”

“One way or another, we’ll get it done.” ~Commissioner Dan Saltzman

Now, Oak Leaf residents say Saltzman’s gone back on his word, and Portland Housing Bureau Assistant Housing Director Javier Mena, a participant in the Oak Leaf process, said CASA of Oregon has “pulled out of the deal.” At a planned meeting October 19 at St. Charles Borromeo, Mena said he may unveil details of a new strategy to help Oak Leaf residents stay, but it’s not clear what that will look like. Oak Leaf residents insist self-determination is their salvation, but may soon have to downgrade expectations in order to avoid homelessness.

While the sign in front of the Oak Leaf reads “No Vacancy,” residents report there are numerous mobile homes in the park currently unoccupied, but some are boarded up and may not be habitable. (Photo: Thacher Schmid)

“The political people have to understand, what’s important here is doing the right thing,” said Johanson.

“We at the housing bureau have not really dealt with mobile home parks at all,” Mena said. “This is our first opportunity to address the issue; we’re learning a lot.”

Even in fast-gentrifying Portland, there are still mobile home parks left. “This is the tip of the iceberg,” Mena said. “What I’ve been trying to do is use this as a pilot to see what is our strategy regarding mobile home parks. There is no way we would be able to save all of them if all would turn right now, there’s too many of them.”

Read the rest of the story at TruthOut.