By MADELINE HUGHES
The crowd was buzzing with anxiety and there was standing room only as residents of Lakeview Mobile Home Park finally met to hear their options after Trey Pecor announced plans last month to sell the mobile home park.
More than 50 people gathered for the public meeting, a majority of whom were residents of the park. Representatives from the Champlain Valley Office of Economic Opportunity and other community partners were at the ready to answer questions to help residents make decisions.
Toward the end of the meeting, organizers asked for a clear direction. In two informal polls by a show of hands, the residents unanimously decided to set in motion the process forming a co-op to buy the park.
At the end of the meeting, residents were given an option to circulate a petition needing 33 signatures – just over half of the property owners – to ensure that residents will have the 120-day negotiation period that would aim to form a cooperative and negotiate the sale of the park.
As of Monday night there were 41 signatures.
The future of the mobile home park came into question in early July when residents received a letter telling them park was for sale.
“It was a shock at first because we didn’t know what to expect,” said Vivian Jordan, who has lived in the park for five years. “I had a lot of anxiety about what was going to happen.”
Rumors swirled. Jordan and other residents were told to do nothing until a meeting with the Champlain Valley Office of Economic Opportunity and other community partners.
That didn’t quell the questions, however. Residents worried about what would happen next. Would they need to move? Could they afford what comes next?
Jordan said her home, like many others in the park, would be impossible to move, and affordable and comparable options in Shelburne weren’t likely.
“I’d much prefer this to an apartment. You get your own driveway, and you get your privacy. It’s really preferable to some forms of housing and less expensive,” she said. Jordan is retired and on a fixed income, and was struggling to afford a home after her Hinesburg rental home was put up for sale a few years ago.
Pooling resources with her now ex-husband, she was drawn to Lakeview. The first home they looked at didn’t fit their needs, but with a stroke of luck, as she went for a drive through the park, a new house was up for sale. The couple dropped off their deposit later that afternoon. Now, they still share the home five years later.
She said she enjoys that she can sit on her deck and watch her grandchildren play in her yard.
Residents of mobile home parks have state-mandated protections when the owner wants to put their park up for sale. The first step is to send a letter to residents briefly outlining the process the state requires in order to protect residents. There is a 45-day period where owners meet with tenants to discuss their options, as they did Monday night. Then the residents have 120 days to negotiate a sale.
Lakeview Mobile Home Park has been in the Pecor family for three generations, and the family has consistently kept the rent low for its residents.
Pecor is asking $2.4 million for the 7.39-acre property, which sits along the west side of Shelburne Road at Penny Lane. The park contains 64 mobile homes owned by 54 people.
“It is the Pecors’ full intention to sell the property back to the mobile home owners. The park has consistently one of the lowest rents in the state and in Chittenden County,” said Dale Arango, chief financial officer at the Pecor business Lake Champlain Ferries.
“The intention right now is to give the homeowners the opportunity to own their own park and direct their future,” Arango said. “This is not a close-and-sell-to-the-highest-bidder scenario.”
Weighing the options
Representatives from Cooperative Development Institute, Champlain Housing Trust and The Housing Foundation, Inc. were at Monday’s meeting to discuss the options with residents.
Option one: Do nothing. Maybe the land wouldn’t sell, and the residents could stay. This option guarantees the least amount of control.
Option two: Have a nonprofit buy the park.
Option three: Residents form a cooperative to buy the park.
Someone in the crowd asked what the difference between a nonprofit running the park would be versus a co-op – would it come down to the budget and what rent was?
Another person from the audience answered: It’s more about control and ownership. If a nonprofit takes over residents have less control, and if the park becomes a co-op residents gain more ownership.
Also, it comes down to financing. A nonprofit would have to search for grants and financing for the park. The co-op group would be able to finance the whole sale for over 100 percent, which would also pay for potential infrastructure upgrades to the park.
Everyone weighed the options during the meeting.
“We want to save our home,” resident Chrissy Reyome said after the meeting. She signed the petition to allow 120 days of negotiation.
“We are a low-income family,” she added, questioning how her family would come up with the money to move, or outright buy the property. Instead she was comforted when Andy Danforth, director of Cooperative Development Institute, explained that over 100 percent financing was available, and that rent would cover the mortgage and the services provided by the co-op.
As a co-op, residents would vote to set their rent each year, Danforth said. Committees would work on addressing infrastructure needs and contracting for services such as snow-plowing. Without a landlord trying to make money, the rent would cover basic day-to-day operations.
Going forward with negotiations, state officials urged the group to choose a path forward at the meeting. They advised that the negotiation table shouldn’t be too crowded.
The clear consensus: Maintain control and start forming a cooperative.
“I was surprised everyone was so on board. I thought it would be more divided,” resident Tammy Thompson said. “I know we all wanted numbers, but that’s a little premature at this point. I hate the thought of having to leave my trailer before I had the chance to pay it off.”
The process will continue with another meeting, that has yet to be determined, where Lakeview residents will put a small $5 deposit towards the cooperative. Then they will form a board of directors and committees for the cooperative.
The total buy-in for the cooperative will be $100 for current residents within two year, and for future residents moving into the park to maintain affordability. Rent will go towards day-to-day operations and the mortgage for the park.
The Champlain Valley Office of Economic Opportunity will help individuals navigate their rights through the process, and help manage communication rumors.
“We are going to take the rumors from the sky and throw them on the ground,” repeated Jonathan Bond, director of the mobile home program at the Champlain Valley Office of Economic Opportunity. Questions about the process can be directed to his office at 660-3455 x204.
The Cooperative Development Institute will help form the co-op, handle negotiations, and survey the property before a potential sale.
This process could take longer than the time set in state statute. Shelburne Woods, a mobile home park off of Dorset Street in Shelburne, was officially incorporated in 2015, but took about 10 years to be finalized.
Lakeview is currently one of the three mobile home parks in Chittenden County for sale. A Colchester mobile home park has been recently listed, and Villa and Sunset Villa in St. George and Hinesburg have been on the market for about a year.
Though the Hinesburg and St. George mobile home parks have been on the market, there continue to be negotiations, and state Rep. Jessica Brumsted, D-Shelburne, who represents St. George and Shelburne, said she is hopeful for the negotiations between the two potential cooperative boards and the current owner.
Bond said these other sales and transitions with other mobile home parks have paved the way to help make this process easier for Lakeview residents.