New documentary features North Liberty residents in effort to highlight mobile home park injustices

·6 min read

(Editor's note: This story has been updated to better reflect the ownership and other details about the Mobile Home University program).

It has been three years since Candi Evans's mobile home park in North Liberty, Golfview, was bought by Utah-based investment firm Havenpark Capital.

The months that followed included widespread worries that Havenpark would be raising rent by 58%, as Evans and other residents became engulfed in national attention. This included calls and visits from national media like the New Yorker magazine to prominent politicians like U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren, who was visiting the state to campaign for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination.

It's all captured in a new documentary called "A Decent Home," directed by Sara Terry, who is seeking highlight the wealth gap in the United States and to spread awareness of the struggles faced by mobile home owners. Terry's film reveals a larger trend across the U.S., but focuses on the mobile home parks in North Liberty and Aurora, Colorado.

The poster for "A Decent Home," a documentary by filmmaker Sara Terry about urgent issues of class and economic (im)mobility through the lives of mobile home park residents who can’t afford housing anywhere else.
The poster for "A Decent Home," a documentary by filmmaker Sara Terry about urgent issues of class and economic (im)mobility through the lives of mobile home park residents who can’t afford housing anywhere else.

"A Decent Home," is set to make its Iowa debut this weekend after premiering at the Denver Film Festival in November and touring the country from New York to Montana.

A trailer for the documentary shows Evans, other residents of Golfview, and local and national political figures like Warren, state Rep. Amy Nielsen and Johnson County Supervisor Royceann Porter.

'A Decent Home' coming to Iowa City Filmscene, Dubuque and Des Moines

The Iowa premiere of "A Decent Home" will be at the Julien Dubuque International Film Festival, followed by a free screening, open to the public, at Drake University Law School in Des Moines and two screenings at FilmScene in Iowa City. According to a news release, showings in each location will include community discussions with the filmmaking team and Iowa Manufactured Home Residents.

Here's how you can catch a showing:

Dubuque — Julien Dubuque Film Festival:

Des Moines — Drake University & Polk County Housing Trust Fund

Iowa City — FilmScene at The Chauncey

According to FilmScene's website, Terry will be present at both screenings for in-person Q&As with local activists and community organizations. The screening on April 27 will include Spanish subtitles.

'Iowa fit that bill': Sara Terry's documentary features Golfview's story

Terry told the Press-Citizen that there are four parts to here film, starting in Aurora with a three-act storyline that focuses on Denver Meadows mobile home park resident Luz Galicia. The final act wraps up in North Liberty with a spotlight on Golfview and Candi Evans.

The film includes two other parks in the U.S., one next to Google's headquarters in California's Silicon Valley and another in New Hampshire that is owned by residents.

"The film covers the first attempt by park residents and affordable housing activists to get legislation through," Terry said. "I was also interested in a place where residents were fighting back. ... So Iowa fit that bill."

She said she didn't want to leave viewers thinking that the situation was hopeless and that she and other filmmakers informally call this section "The People Rise Up."

Terry said it had been two years since she had made a documentary film when she read an article in The Guardian about Mobile Home University, a program meant to educate people on owning mobile home parks. She said this article and her previous concerns with the wealth gap in the United States prompted her to pursue this project.

Terry is a journalist and author. Her other works include the book “Aftermath: Bosnia’s Long Road to Peace," and documentaries "Fambul Tok" and "FOLK."

"I didn't think I had another one in me ... but that's what put me onto the edge, when I realized the wealthiest of the wealthy are buying up housing that is the lowest rung of what we call 'The American Dream,'" she said. "I was outraged."

Terry said she connected with Evans and then followed Golfview's story in North Liberty over three or four trips to Iowa.

Terry said, in addition to attending screenings of "A Decent Home," she and her film team will be putting on campaigns with local activists trying to build a conversation about mobile home parks. .

"I find it to be a moral outrage that I think is part of the broader national conversation on this kind of inequity and this kind of unsustainable economic imbalance that this world has become," she said.

Terry said she is happy with the response her documentary has received. She said in the future screenings of a short film advocating for protections for mobile home park residents will be shown throughout Iowa, including Golfview, in August and September.

Terry said talking about proposed legislation aimed at helping mobile home park residents is part of the purpose of the documentary and future campaigns.

Candi Evans and other mobile home park residents working to push for change in Iowa

Evans, who still lives in Golfview, told the Press-Citizen the fight is still on to protect mobile home park residents and push for protections at the state level to prevent rent increases and evictions.

Despite activism in 2019 and since, rent increases have still come for Evans and other Golfview residents. Since 2019, Evans's rent has gone from $285 a month to $495, a 74% increase.

Candi Evans leans over the balcony of her home in Golfview Mobile Home Park in North Liberty in a scene from the documentary "A Decent Home." The film will be shown April 27 and 28 in Iowa City.
Candi Evans leans over the balcony of her home in Golfview Mobile Home Park in North Liberty in a scene from the documentary "A Decent Home." The film will be shown April 27 and 28 in Iowa City.

"There's not a limit because of the lack of legislation," she said. "These (private equity firms) are not preserving affordable housing. We, the residents, are basically making the wealthiest Americans even wealthier off of what little we have been able to save."

While Evans is no longer vice president of the Golfview Residents Association, she has helped co-found a statewide organization called the Iowa Manufactured Home Residents Network. She said they've been in touch with residents in Waukee, Grinnell, Indianola and Columbus Junction.

"I've been working to try to educate," she said.

Evans said part of that education is to change the wording from what people commonly refer to as "mobile homes," to "manufactured homes."

"Mobile homes for years have carried a stigma, a terrible stigma that these people are less than others, which is not true," Evans said.

Evans said she is disappointed in the most recent legislation passed in the Iowa House, which she said does not do enough for mobile home park residents.

Candi Evans, vice president of Golfview Residents Association, speaks while Golfview Mobile Home Court residents and community members hold a press conference following a 'town hall' with Havenpark Capitol representatives, Thursday, May 23, 2019, in North Liberty, Iowa.
Candi Evans, vice president of Golfview Residents Association, speaks while Golfview Mobile Home Court residents and community members hold a press conference following a 'town hall' with Havenpark Capitol representatives, Thursday, May 23, 2019, in North Liberty, Iowa.

The bill passed in early April would provide Iowa's mobile home park residents with a one-month longer notice from their landlords if their rent is going up or their leases aren't being renewed. The bill awaits a vote in the Iowa Senate, where a similar bill is eligible for a floor vote.

"We just want Iowa legislators to have our back and not the back of private equity groups from Utah that take all of the income out of Iowa parks and take it away from Iowa," Evans said.

Evans said her involvement with the documentary snowballed quickly after she was contacted by Terry and she was "shocked" when she first saw the screening in Denver and the response to it since.

"I never thought anything like this would happen in North Liberty, Iowa, let alone to me," Evans said.

More: Iowa mobile home park residents are fighting for expanded rights. Will state lawmakers provide them relief?

George Shillcock is the Press-Citizen's local government and development reporter covering Iowa City and Johnson County. He can be reached at (515) 350-6307, GShillcock@press-citizen.com and on Twitter @ShillcockGeorge

This article originally appeared on Iowa City Press-Citizen: New documentary features North Liberty residents in mobile home fight