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Debbie Boernsen

I’ve reflected on why I took a trip to Chicago with the MHAction leadership team, and wanted to share those reflections and my personal story with everyone.

I was born and raised in Hartley, Iowa. My father was a truck drive and we moved around quite a bit, but I’ve always felt a deep personal connection to California. Now that I’m 63, I plan on living out my years in the Golden State.

I worked a variety of jobs my entire life, mostly in retail. For the last ten years, I’ve been working as a caregiver. I feel that caregiving for the elderly, especially those with significant health issues, is a vitally important and rewarding profession. Caregiving also seems to be a “calling” for my family. My mother and sister are also caregivers.

Given that we’ve all made modest wages as caregivers, we really needed to make sure that all of us could live in an affordable setting. We felt that moving into a manufactured home community provided us with the best option to do so.   We could own our own home, live in a community with others and still put food on the table and pay for our basic necessities. That’s when I decided to purchase a home in Royal Holiday, a community owned and operated by Equity Lifestyle Properties, Inc. (ELS), located in Hemet, CA.

However, if I had known as much about ELS as I do today, I would have never moved into one of their housing communities. They have raised the rent so high that many people have been forced to move out. Right now, there are over 60 vacancies in our community alone. To make matters worse, ELS has put virtually zero money into maintenance. ELS’s infrastructure strategy seems to be to charge homeowners ground rent and put nothing back into the community. Our roads, sidewalks and waterlines are crumbling apart and breaking. It’s really a disgrace.

Some days I want to hand in my keys and walk away, but given that I am now drawing my income from what I can pull together from caregiving and a meager monthly Social Security check, I’ve decided to stay and fight for my right to live out my retirement affordably. And I want to get others involved.

This is exactly why I took a recent trip to Chicago with other manufactured home owners across the country. Our main goal was to build relationships with homeowners from a number of states and sharpen our skills to make large corporations like ELS more accountable to the needs of our community. Our time in Chicago focused on skill-building sessions that ranged from telling our stories effectively to social media training. We then put our training into immediate actions by attending an ELS shareholder meeting to share our concerns, and heading to Wells Fargo, a major ELS investor, to hold a protest (pictured above). We need investors like Wells to understand how their investment decisions are impacting our community and our way of life.

I returned from Chicago with renewed hope and vigor. I plan to put to use what I learned in Chicago to make sure that I and my community members, especially the seniors, can live out our lives in an affordable and safe manner. I truly believe that our country’s strength is grounded in our ability to work together and care for each other. We are stronger when we recognize we rise or fall united, and are weaker when greed insists we be left to fend for ourselves.

I am asking you today to reach out to other manufactured home owners that are affected by these issues to get involved in the campaign.   A very simple task you could ask your friends to do to get updates on the campaign is by ‘liking’ MHAction’s Facebook page.