Monday, October 21, 2019

The Omaha World-Herald left out a lot in Sunday's full-page piece on trailer park tenant exploitation

On Sunday, the World-Herald devoted a full page to an AP story on how Big Money has invaded mobile home parks, the last refuge of heretofore affordable housing in America.
     (We suggest you skip the Herald's edited version, and go directly to the source.)
     One of the cuts was the highlighted part below:
Rolfe’s training academy has been widely criticized — including on “Last Week Tonight” with John Oliver — for teaching people how they can reap profits from homeowners whom Rolfe has referred to as held “hostage.” In defense, Rolfe said local owners have kept rent “unsustainably low” and that many are “held together with chicken wire and duct tape.”
      Maybe that deletion was for reasons of space — or maybe it was removed because the referenced video didn't exactly flatter the Herald's owner, Berkshire Hathaway or its founding tycoon, Warren Buffett.
     Besides the Omaha World-Herald, Berkshire owns America's biggest builder of manufactured homes: Clayton, which finances its houses with chattel loans of up to 15%.
     The Herald did not disclose that, but we suppose it wasn't ethically obligated to, unless Berkshire owns mobile home parks too.
     Oliver's video (below) vividly documented that Clayton Homes collection agents are not above suggesting that buyers donate blood to make make things right with Warren Buffett's Berkshire subsidiary, if they are unfortunate enough to have fallen behind in their payments of principal and hefty interest.
     (Pssst. Don't tell anyone at World-Herald Square, but Al-Jazeera and The Guardian have also made videos about the scurrilous business practices of the biggest mobile home park operator in eastern Nebraska. Maybe if Fox News blows a gasket, someone who assigns stories at the Herald will notice.)
     Frank Rolfe, mentioned above, became the biggest player in Omaha-area mobile home court acquisitions via his various companies, such as RV Horizons, Impact, Strive, Mobile Home University and various other partnerships of him or his partner devoted to separating from as much of their money as possible those tenants trapped by the immobility (structural or financial) of their trailers.
     Rolfe once memorably and stupidly told a Bloomberg reporter that owning a mobile home park is like owning a waffle house in which all the customers are chained to the booths. The segment on Rolfe, a capitalist piece of work for the ages, begins at 9:10.

     Rolfe's web of companies and business partners (mostly domiciled in Cedaredge, CO) now manage or own or partly own the following mobile home parks in Omaha, Carter Lake, Bellevue, Lincoln and Plattsmouth: Peaceful Valley, Garden Valley, Lakeside, Contempo and Hi Vue.
     The Herald's Sunday headline was "Investors buy up mobile home parks, imperiling key source of low cost housing" and was based on extensive research into the mobile home landscape in Colorado by several newspapers there.
     Had the Herald wanted to live up to its claim of comprehensive local coverage, it needn't have ventured very far to find cranked-up trailer park exploitation in its own back yard.
     For example, the story the Herald reprinted included a quote from Rolfe claiming he had no "hillbilly" parks or gravel roads. Since two Rolfe parks are 10 minutes or less from the Herald's downtown Omaha offices, that fiction would have been easy to bust, even on a short lunch break.
     Had someone from the Herald cruised up 16th Street, s/he would have found Garden Valley, the north part of which has dirt roads and rutted concrete to make Jean Stothert die for; it's the most delapidated of Rolfe's local properties. There, the Herald could have asked an elderly couple who have lived in the court for 61 years about the park's demand that their home be repainted and about the new 37-page lease they must sign (but were afraid to read), which demands a $1,000 deposit if they want to move their home elsewhere.
     Had the Herald looked at evictions within the last two years, it would have found dozens by RV Horizons, Strive, and Impact. And rent increases of 50%. And water and sewage fees never levied before. What do residents of Rolfe communities say? Go here.
     Had the Herald checked other court records, it might have found out why Omaha sought an injunction against the 2017 sale of Garden Valley  — and about OSHA citations of the contractor engaged to lay new water pipes and city fines of same for exceeding the scope of a permit.
     The Herald could have talked to a man on disability who was told (shortly after moving into it) that he needed to buy his ramshackle trailer (and assume responsibility for repairs) or face eviction, a common Rolfe trick.
     It could have talked to a woman in Peaceful Valley who, outraged by Rolfe's new management, made an inquiry at a different park about moving her home there, without realizing that it, too, was part of the Rolfe corporate octopus.
     It could have talked to Spanish-speaking tenants in Lakeside about their understanding of their new landlord's policies.
     Or the woman slapped with a $50 late fee because she was hospitalized for a few days beyond the grace period.
     Maybe The Reader will investigate. Or a TV station (unlikely, absent a shooting).
     Or perhaps nothing will happen at all.


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