For about a month, residents of Rushmore Mobile Home Park in Nampa have only been able to use water for an hour a day. This has meant backed-up toilets, stacks of unwashed dishes and compromised hygiene.
“We can’t cook for our kids like we’re used to because we can’t clean the dishes,” said Alma Diac, with help from a translator. “The bathroom is dirty. (We’re not) able to shower when (we) need to. We feel pressure. There’s nothing we can do. Where are we going to live?”
For about half of the Rushmore residents, that answer may be trailer parks run by Boise-based QBS Property Management. Manager Michelle Gomez said that the parks’ owner, who asked to remain anonymous, called her at 5:30 a.m. Thursday and told her to do whatever she could to help the displaced residents.
Eleven of the17 affected mobile homes are owned by the tenants, and QBS is working with eight of those owners to relocate their trailers to one of the seven QBS-run parks in the Treasure Valley, Gomez said.
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“We're basically just fronting the money ... and they'll pay us back a certain amount a month, added to their space rent,” she said, adding that repayment would take five years.
At least four and up to six of the eight trailers were manufactured before 1976, which means they’ll need rehabilitation to meet requirements for the QBS-run mobile home parks, she said. An electrian and a plumber will assess the needs and cost for each trailer, and then the owner will decide if it’s worth it, she said.
Rehabilitation work will likely cost several thousand dollars per trailer, and just the move — tearing down, relocating and setting up — could cost an estimated $3,000 to $5,000 per trailer, she said, adding that all of the work would be done at cost. QBS also will assess a one-time $500 fee for lawyer and other costs in establishing the contracts, she said.
Nampa city officials sent out notices Thursday afternoon instructing tenants of Rushmore, situated on North 39th Street and Garrity Boulevard, to move or vacate their homes within 30 days — if owner Dean Leavitt provides a written action plan stating that he and residents have agreed that he will provide water service for at least five hours a day. That’s more than the seven-day notice that had been anticipated, but the city stipulates that if the trailer park’s septic system fails, all units must be vacated within a week of that failure.
Leavitt told the Statesman Thursday evening he will meet with residents Friday to get discuss the plan, with the understanding that increasing water availability could hasten the failure of the septic system, which relies on a drainfield. He said they could decide to leave the water on throughout the day and hope the septic system will last.
“If it lasts like we hope it will, they will have more time, maybe a couple of weeks or up to 30 days,” he said. “Either way, I’m out of business. I’m shutting down.”
“It’s a real hard deal for them,” Leavitt said of Rushmore residents, who pay about $200 per month rent. “The (available) places they have to move to are twice as expensive.”
Health officials began talking to Leavitt about solutions after they investigated a report of raw sewage on the grounds in the park in February. They heard of the most recent problems on March 4 from a resident who noted his water was only available for an hour a day.
Jema Ibarra is raising four children in her home, ages 11, 13, 14 and 15. She had also been babysitting, but stopped when water usage was limited to an hour a day.
“That’s how I was getting my income,” she said. “I don’t want to expose them to getting sick.”
But her own children are exposed. One of her sons has asthma, and the fumes from backed-up sewage have been aggravating his lungs, she said.
“We’re trying to flush (the toilet) with buckets of water. Sometimes it won’t flush. We have to keep the door closed on the bathroom and the windows open to keep the smell back,” Ibarra said.
Ibarra is optimistic there’s a solution on the horizon: that she’ll be able to move her trailer to a new park within Nampa. But she and her family still face a long list of challenges. While she moves, where will they stay? How will she pay for a hotel room, on top of the rent she’s already paid for March? Where will they store their furniture, and how will she pay for that? How can she make sure her children are keeping up with their schoolwork while going through such upheaval?
“People who don’t have family here, where are we going to stay for two weeks?” she said. “The least (Leavitt) can do is rent out a hotel, even if it’s a cheap one.”
Nampa city officials handed out resource information to residents Wednesday. But the city doesn’t have a program in place that can help residents in this type of situation with moving expenses, said Vickie Holbrook, spokeswoman for the city.
On Thursday, Holbrook said the local Salvation Army has offered to serve as a central location for donated goods and funds for the tenants. Items particularly needed, she said in a news release, include paper or plastic plates and utensils, laundry soap, water bottles and hygiene kits. Items can be dropped off at the Salvation Army, 403 12th Ave., S., Nampa. Volunteers will be needed to help residents move.
Leavitt said he’s done what he could to accommodate the residents of the park. He said limiting water usage to an hour a day, which he officially communicated to tenants about two weeks ago, was an agreement with tenants to prolong their stay on the land while they look for new places to live.
He said he’s not considering refunding the rent tenants paid for March.
“There is no obligation. I’m losing my business. I’m losing my income,” he said. “Everybody’s got to take care of themselves, and that’s why I’m trying to help buy more time.”
Leavitt said he’s owned the plot for more than 30 years. His septic tanks on that property have had issues since the late 1990s and early 2000s, said Brian Crawford, director of environmental health for Southwest District Health Department. The health district initiated annual visits when sewage was found on the surface in 2005. Complaints then died down until Feb. 17, when a resident reported sewage on the ground.
Leavitt said he’s undertaken multiple sewage treatments to prolong the life of the tanks. This is his only business, and he intends to sell the property.
“I’m amazed that this is news,” Leavitt said. “People go in and out of business all the time.”
Katy Moeller contributed to this report