RCAP in the news: A new idea is taking root in Pasadena (Houston Chronicle article)

November 16, 2009 | Applications, Broadband, Funding

Taken from the Nov. 16, 2009, issue of the Houston Chronicle.

A new idea is taking root in Pasadena (Texas)

Residents of mobile home park band together to buy the land they live on

By MIKE SNYDER
HOUSTON CHRONICLE

 
In the laundry room of a Pasadena [Texas] mobile home park — an unlikely setting for an experiment in self-determination — a half-dozen residents gathered on a recent night to plan the future of a community that they and their neighbors now own.
 
With the help of Community Resource Group, an Arkansas-based nonprofit, the 94 households in Pasadena Trails became the first group of mobile home residents in Texas to collectively purchase the land under their homes.
 
The sale closed June 30, and the residents who have served as interim leaders met earlier this month in the laundry room to rehearse the formal election of board members a few days later. On Saturday, the residents gathered for barbecue to celebrate their collective purchase of the park.
 
Leaders of Community Resource Group and other affordable housing advocates say conversion of mobile home parks to resident ownership represents a promising approach that’s received insufficient attention in government and nonprofit programs. About 8.8 million households nationwide live in manufactured homes, according to the 2000 Census.
 
“For decades the affordable housing community, particularly the rural affordable housing community, simply refused to acknowledge manufactured housing,” said Lance George, a research analyst with the Housing Assistance Council, a nonprofit focused on rural housing needs.
 
Resident ownership initiatives such as the one in Pasadena, George said, represent “manufactured housing done right and done responsibly.”
 
Most residents of mobile home communities own their homes but lease space in a park that provides utility connections and other services. The properties, often on the fringes of metropolitan areas, are popular among real estate investors who can buy them cheaply and then sell them at a profit as they are absorbed into expanding cities and their value increases.
 
When this happens, residents are forced to move, often with little notice and at considerable expense.
 
60-day notice
 
Troy Thomason, 63, said he and his wife were living in another Pasadena park about five years ago when they received a notice that they had to leave within 60 days because the property had been sold. It cost them $2,300, plus the expense of several days in a hotel, to move their mobile home and reconnect it at Pasadena Trails, Thomason said.
 
Thomason said he jumped at the chance to create a resident nonprofit group that would buy the property when it was listed for sale.
“If we didn’t buy it then somebody else would, and then they could sell it out from under us,” Thomason said.
 
John Squires, Community Resource Group’s chief executive officer, said resident ownership offers not just greater stability but also a valuable sense of investment in a community. An out-of-state investor who has never set foot on the property might be indifferent, but people who live there have a strong motivation to maintain it, Squires said.
 
Profits reinvested
 
To finance the purchase, the organization starts by converting the residents’ security deposits into a down payment fund, then obtains financing from foundations and lenders. Once the sale is completed, Squires said, the residents essentially are paying lease fees to themselves.
 
Any profits, Squires said, are reinvested into the community.
 
The concept of mobile home park conversions began in New Hampshire, where residents have purchased about 100 properties, Squires said. It’s been done on a smaller scale in a few Western states, he said.
 
Government and nonprofit leaders have been slow to recognize the needs of manufactured home residents in part because of a lingering stigma, said George, the Housing Assistance Council analyst. But the quality of the homes improved markedly after new federal standards were imposed in the 1970s, he said.
 
Bernadette Alvarado, who has been serving as interim president of the nonprofit board since the residents purchased the property, said she’s grateful to have the opportunity to plan improvements to the property.
 
“It’s a nice park, very tranquil,” Alvarado said. “It just needs a little buffing up.”
 
In addition, she said, the purchase of the property was empowering. “We make our own decisions, and we can make sure that all the residents know everything that’s going on.”
 
 
Community Resource Group is the Southern RCAP. Its CEO, John Squires, quoted in the article above, is on RCAP’s board of directors.The work of RCAP’s Southern region that is described above is not carried out under a national RCAP program (RCAP’s national programs focus only on water and wastewater projects), but many of the RCAP regions have programs of their own that assist communities in the area of housing like this case. This article is provided to showcase the other work of an RCAP region that is done outside the national RCAP programs.