The Shady Acres Homeowners’ Association filed a lawsuit this week to prevent Kittitas County from demolishing or closing the Shady Acres mobile home park in Ellensburg.

The complaint filed in U.S. District Court for the state’s Eastern District alleges the county is violating the federal Fair Housing Act and the Washington Law Against Discrimination, and the county’s actions will unlawfully reduce housing for Latinos in Kittitas County. The association is represented by the Northwest Justice Project.

The county purchased the Shady Acres park in September 2016 as part of long-term plans to expand the Kittitas Valley Event Center.

The suit asks the court to temporarily or permanently enjoin the county from closing Shady Acres, raising the rent, refusing to renew leases or sending notice to the state Department of Commerce about plans to close the park.

The complaint also asks for an order that the park not be closed if the county is unable to find a reasonable alternative.

The homeowners’ association represents 115 people living in the park. More than 90 percent are Latino or Hispanic.

“The county plan will demolish their homes, strip them of homeownership and home equity, uproot them from their community, and in all likelihood will force them to leave Ellensburg and Kittitas County because of extremely low vacancy rates, high rents and high costs of living,” a news release from the Northwest Justice Project said.

When the deal went through, the county had residents sign contracts guaranteeing a five-year lease with possible rent increases of 5 percent a year.

Kittitas County Commissioner Laura Osiadacz said Thursday the county hasn’t set a date to close the park.

“The county isn’t in any immediate rush to close the park, and we haven’t set a date to close the park,” she said. “We’re really working hard to provide as many options to provide good, safe housing.”

Commissioner Paul Jewell also emphasized there’s no closure date, adding he is confident “we have not violated the law in any way.”

REMOVING UNITS

The county began removing and demolishing about 23 unoccupied units at the park earlier this month. Residents are concerned about that work, said attorney David Morales of the Northwest Justice Project.

“We’ve requested the (county) refrain and not continue to take down the homes they are already taking down,” he said, saying the activity raises health and safety concerns.

Commissioners said the county is using a company that specializes in hazardous material removal and is taking precautions to protect health and safety at the park.

FAIR HOUSING

The lawsuit alleges the county’s plans for the park will have a disparate impact on Latinos living in Kittitas County, and will limit the number of Latinos in the community in the future.

The park has spaces for 60 homes. As of Jan. 1, 33 spaces were occupied, and 24 were owned by residents. More than 90 percent of residents are Latino, the document said.

The Latino homeowners at Shady Acres are 10 percent of the city and 6.1 percent of the Kittitas County total Latino homeowner population.

“Most residents of Shady Acres will lose all of their investment in their homes if the park is closed, due to a combination of age, condition and alterations that makes moving the mobile homes prohibitive or unlawful under Kittitas County law,” the lawsuit said.

The housing at Shady Acres represents a significant portion of housing available to low-income households in Kittitas County, and with rent ranging from $195 to $345 monthly, there are no comparable available housing options for low-income families locally, the lawsuit said.

The lawsuit also said the county neglected the views of Shady Acres residents during its work on the Kittitas Valley Event Center master plan.

The lawsuit included comments from the public in a county homeless and affordable housing survey in 2016 that were derogatory toward Latinos and Shady Acres residents.

The lawsuit adds the county has refused to transfer its right to purchase the property to the Kittitas County Housing Authority or develop a new mobile home park Shady Acres residents could use.

Closing the park will reduce the number of Latinos and Hispanics living the county, and “reinforce and perpetuate previously existing disparities in education and income between white residents and Latino residents of the county and city,” the document said.

The lawsuit points to income disparities between Latino and other Kittitas County residents, and higher discipline rates for Latino students in the Ellensburg School District.

COUNTY RESPONSE

Both Jewell and Osiadacz pointed out the Homeless and Affordable Housing survey occurred after the county’s decision to purchase Shady Acres, and was part of an effort to improve affordable housing in the community.

“The purpose of the survey wasn’t to get a pulse on whether we should purchase Shady Acres,” Osiadacz said. “The purpose was part of updating the county’s affordable housing and homelessness plan.”

The county has made efforts in providing affordable housing alternatives, including setting aside $500,000 in 2016 for a project in the city of Ellensburg that’s still underway, she said. The county released another $500,000 in 2017 for a number of projects, including Habitat for Humanity and senior rental assistance. The county also is looking at changing regulations to provide more access to affordable housing, including where mobile home parks are allowed.

“We’re looking at it from every angle to find solutions,” Osiadacz said.

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