Oasis Mobile Home Park families struggle to move despite millions in aid

2022-06-18 12:04:56 By : Mr. DI YI

Despite a financial commitment of tens of millions of dollars from several government agencies, progress toward moving residents out of Oasis Mobile Home Park in Thermal — where contaminated water, trash build-up and sewage issues have long been the norm — has stalled due to a lack of affordable housing in the eastern Coachella Valley.

Since fall 2020, the Riverside County Housing Authority has helped 35 Oasis families move with $6.25 million in funding from the CARES Act and $7.5 million from Project Homekey, a state initiative to facilitate permanent housing for county residents. 

Project Homekey money also is being used to expand Mountain View Estates, a newer mobile home park in the east valley, where most Oasis residents hope to relocate. 

Last year, at the petition of 49 organizations made up of mostly local nonprofits, Assemblymember Eduardo Garcia, D-Coachella, requested $30 million be included in the 2021-22 California budget for Oasis residents to relocate to better living conditions. In July 2021, Gov. Gavin Newsom authorized the request.

Even with millions in funding, however, Oasis residents have been left wondering where and when they can expect to move. 

Maria Jose Sandoval moved from Mexico to Oasis about seven months ago to be with her husband, who grew up there. They essentially took over his parents' mobile home unit, as they now spend most of their time out of the country.

"This is what is accessible, sadly, for us to live," she said. "Our income is too little for a house and too much for Mountain View," Sandoval added, regarding housing options in the area.

Though her husband is the sole income provider in their household of three, which includes their 1-year-old daughter, Sandoval said his earnings of $60,000 a year make them ineligible to get on the waitlist for Mountain View, which is for families of four who make 50% of the median family income in the area — around $44,000 — or less.

In a meeting held by county officials at Oasis in November to discuss future housing projects, Sandoval said she became "very aware" of how long it could take to relocate. "The project dates they were talking about were for 2027," she said. 

According to Riverside County Housing Authority Deputy Director Mike Walsh, the meeting was also held to gauge what type of housing would best serve the estimated 238 households currently at Oasis, ahead of commissioning any projects with the $30 million obtained from the state. 

"You have seniors out there, like 62 and plus folks, you have larger families that may be making more income, you have maybe some people with disabilities. They may all have different needs," he explained. 

To get a better grasp, Walsh said the county asked Oasis residents to participate in a survey and is now analyzing results received in May. 

"We've put together a list of potential projects that span a wide variety of sources. We're also waiting for the developers to finalize their numbers for us to make commitments to those projects to allow those projects to move forward," he said.  

Walsh added that the county's Fourth District supervisor, V. Manuel Perez, plans to hold another meeting with Oasis residents in the third week of July.  

The housing shortage in the east valley area of Thermal also means that as residents manage to relocate from Oasis Mobile Home Park, their previous spots are soon filled by new tenants, creating a challenging cycle. 

According to Walsh, the same 35 spaces that have been vacated by families who relocated from Oasis had already been re-occupied by new residents just a year later. Even when the old trailers are demolished, he added, new tenants will bring their own.

"People are making the most rational decision for themselves based on their own circumstances and their own stresses within their lives. And even though they may know that there are these dangers in the park, related to the water, etc., there could be other sorts of positives there that make it a better decision for them," Walsh said, using family ties and proximity to the market across the street or closeness to transportation services as examples. 

Of Mountain View Estates' 398 homes, 30 are currently open, Walsh said, and the county plans to relocate some families from Oasis to those spaces in the coming months, while others will go to people who are homeless or at risk of becoming homeless. 

As of now, 11 Oasis families have been approved to move to Mountain View, while 23 were denied for having too much income or due to family size. There are still 62 pending applications. 

"I think the larger concern is that we'll develop all this replacement housing that would serve as alternative housing for residents to relocate, (but) if there aren't larger-level pieces done and coordination to keep new families from moving in, we're essentially gonna be fighting the tide," Walsh said. 

Aside from the $30 million available from the state for moving people out of Oasis Mobile Home Park, Garcia said he believes that the federal government will need to step in with funding to build better infrastructure in the east valley that could advance affordable housing projects for more residents living in similar conditions. 

"There are dollars at the federal government level, I'm talking big dollars, right? You can't compare those dollars with the state's. So, you have those resources that somehow need to make their way down to our community as the state dollars are," Garcia said.

He noted that Rep. Raul Ruiz, D-La Quinta, "has been very loud about something needing to be done."

In March, Ruiz announced he had secured $2.7 million in federal funding to improve access to clean drinking water in the area with the help of the Coachella Valley Water District. 

Garcia said the water district and the tribes that own mobile home park land also need to work together on water infrastructure for current residents.

Overall, Garcia believes a collaboration among agencies is necessary to advance improvement efforts. "We need intervention by the federal government to be able to ensure that there aren't any additional families moving in (to Oasis) and that we're working with those same people and families and Riverside County to identify other options," he said. 

Eliana Perez covers the eastern Coachella Valley, including the cities of Indio and Coachella. Reach her at eliana.perez@desertsun.com or on Twitter @ElianaPress.

"tap:top.scrollTo(duration=200)" class="scrollToTop">Top