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February 8-14, 2006

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Grove Rebellion


By Patricia Lynn Henley

The spirit of dissent lives in Rohnert Grove's 152-unit Sonoma Grove Trailer Park, with at least 30 residents refusing to pay a substantial space rent hike effective Feb. 1. That's despite the Rohnert Park City Council's authorization of $50,000 in homelessness-prevention money to assist Grove denizens in paying the increase for the first few months. The city's heart was in the right place, but the $50,000 will just line the pockets of the park's new owners, says Grove resident Candace Birchfield. "We don't want a handout [from the city]," Birchfield says. "The thing we wanted most was a rent freeze, and we didn't get that." She adds that, according to attorneys assisting Grove residents, anyone who pays the higher rent loses the legal right to contest the increase. Founded in the 1970s, the Grove's funky collection of aging trailers and RVs came under new ownership in November. As reported earlier in these pages ("Home, Sweet Trailer," Jan. 25), notices of strict new rules and rent increases of 84 percent to 135 percent came in early December. City council members have suggested that a nonprofit that operates two other area mobile home parks could do the same with Sonoma Grove. The Grove's new owner is willing to discuss the idea, and the nonprofit has been given her contact information, but that will take time, says Cas Ellena, Rohnert Park's housing and redevelopment project manager. Ellena adds that rent stabilization is possible only if the city can prove that the increase would cause the loss of some of its affordable-housing stock. One of the sticking points is in defining the term "affordable." Even with the increase, the top Grove space rent will be under $500, which is well within federal guidelines that set the "low income" marker for one person at a maximum of $40,250 a year, or $3,350 a month. Many Grove inhabitants live on $800 to $1,100 or less each month, and paying close to $500 for rent is impossible. "We are not just low-income. We are very, very low-income," says Birchfield, who works as a teaching assistant for autistic children. The rebel residents who paid their old rent rate but not the increase are now waiting for the owner's response.

Flood Funds Flow

It only took a month or so. On Friday, Feb. 3, the feds finally agreed that the New Year's storms created an official major disaster area in 10 California counties, including Marin, Napa and Sonoma. Residents trying to repair or rebuild flood-damaged structures may be eligible for grants or low-cost loans. To apply for assistance, call 1.800.621.FEMA (3362), or go online at www.fema.gov/register.shtm.


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