Risk of Park Closure
Park residents have an unusual rental situation because in most cases they own their home but rent their lot. Thus, the closure of a manufactured home park neighborhood can be financially devastating for residents. It most often means the loss of their homes and possibility of homelessness. In 1987, APAC worked to pass legislation allowing cities to adopt ordinances that guarantee relocation compensation in the event of a park closing. APAC and park residents have worked together to pass such ordinances in 22 cities; from Rochester, to Bloomington, to Brainerd. In 2007, APAC lobbied the Minnesota Legislature to establish the Minnesota Manufactured Home Relocation Trust Fund providing a statewide guarantee of relocation compensation when a park closes to 180,000 residents in over 400 cities.
Lack of Resident Control
But even guaranteeing compensation for relocation costs is not enough with park vacancy rates so low. Don Pierson, a long-time APAC board member, summarizes the problem of many residents when he says, “I can’t afford affordable housing, when the cheapest apartment in town is renting for $700 per month.” Mr. Pierson is a retired senior living on Social Security who has lived since 1963 in Southgate, one of the two Bloomington parks remaining after three closures. Because park residents own their homes but not the land, they face the threat of a park being sold or closed, needed park improvements not being made, unfair or inconsistently applied park rules, profit driven rent increases and an inability to accumulate equity.
Community Preservation Solutions
A solution to all of these problems is conversion to resident-ownership through a cooperative, land trust or non-profit. There are currently two routes that can be taken for residents to purchase their parks:
- The first is by making an unsolicited offer to a willing buyer. Working in collaboration with APAC, Northcountry Cooperative Foundation and residents since 2004 have been able to purchase Sunrise Villa in Cannon Falls, Paul Revere in Lexington, Bennett Park in Moorhead, Madelia Mobile Village in Madelia, and Park Plaza in Fridley with other resident-owned cooperatives in development.
- The second route for residents to purchase is by exercising their “right of first refusal” provided for under state law (Minnesota Statute 327C.095) when a park is being sold for redevelopment. APAC and the residents of Shady Lane in Bloomington worked with Community Housing Development Corporation to exercise this right for the first time in Minnesota. This action was challenged by the park owner and successfully upheld in court, establishing a legal precedent for the right of first refusal. Working with CHDC, APAC and residents were able to secure the $2 million purchase price. Unfortunately, the effort ultimately collapsed due to an additional $1 million required for infrastructure work necessitated by decades of neglect by previous owners.
Several very significant changes came as a result of the effort to purchase Shady Lane and the road blocks that brought the effort to an unsatisfying end. The media took notice of park closings like never before. Twin Cities Public Television commissioned a half-hour documentary on park closing, which originally aired on April 23. Several new non-profit developers have indicated some desire to become involve in park preservation including CHDC, Central Community Housing Trust and Central Minnesota Housing Partnership. Finally, APAC is working with advocates, developers and funders to increase the capacity for park preservation through purchase by residents, non-profit and land trusts. The principle goal is to increase the funding for public policy work, community organizing and legal advocacy and the financing and for acquisition, infrastructure improvements and manufactured home replacement and rehab.