Converting Mobile Home Parks convert to Resident-Owned Co-ops

Published by VTDigger

By Anne Wallace Allen

May 8 2019

Four Vermont mobile home parks have been sold to become resident-owned cooperatives since the start of the year.

Lakeview Cooperative in Shelburne, Westbury Park in Colchester, Sunset Lake Cooperative in Hinesburg, and St. George Community Cooperative in St. George all worked with Cooperative Development Institute or CDI, a Northampton, Mass., nonprofit that helps small businesses and other entities form cooperatives.

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Helping mobile home park residents form a cooperative protects those residents from the uncertainty of living on land owned by someone else, said Andy Danforth, director of New England Resident Owned Communities, a CDI program.

Otherwise, if the land is sold for another purpose, the residents have to move their homes or lose them, and mobile homes are not easy to move.

“It costs a lot of money to move them if they move at all,” Danforth said. The homes are usually sitting on a slab and hooked up to water and sewer, with external improvements like stairs and landscaping. “In New England, it’s rare to see one move from a park.”

Even if the land continues to be used as a mobile home park, residents don’t have much control, Danforth said.

“Here’s the thing about landlords: You can have a great landlord, and we’ve all had terrible landlords,” he said. If landlords continually raise the rent, or fail to enforce park rules, he said, the residents are stuck.

“If you own it, you control it,” he said.

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When two of the four mobile home parks went up for sale, the owner, Burlington businessman Trey Pecor, asked Champlain Housing Trust to buy them, said Michael Monte, the trust’s chief operating and financial officer.

“We said, ‘You should work with CDI and residents in creating a coop,’” said Monte. “We made the introduction because that was the best thing. Trey was going to get the real value, and the people who lived there would have the opportunity to get really good financing and technical support and assistance.”

CDI’s NEROC has been converting mobile home parks to cooperatives since it started in 2009, said Danforth. It has now converted 13 in Vermont and 46 in New England.

According to the state Department of Housing and Community Development, which maintains a registry, there were 241 mobile home parks in Vermont in 2018. Those parks included more than 7,000 lots and had a vacancy rate of 5.1%. The average monthly rent was $340.

Vermont law uses the terms “mobile home” and “manufactured home” interchangeably, according to Housing and Community Development, which said on its website that only about 1% of the mobile homes in Vermont were moved in any given year.

Danforth said that Vermont law governing mobile home parks helps supports CDI’s goals.

“Vermont has some of the best laws in the country for anything to do with manufactured homes,” he said. “Residents have the right to purchase the community, the right to negotiate. In Texas you could be given five days notice and have to move our home; in Vermont I think it’s a year and a half.”

The St George Community Cooperative mobile home park. Photo by Glenn Russell/VTDigger

Nowadays, the most common purchasers of mobile home parks in New England are residents, Danforth said. When CDI steps in, it talks to residents about the merits of cooperative ownership versus ownership by a nonprofit, and then participates in negotiations with the owner. CDI helps find the financing for the purchase price; Danforth said the nonprofit has received financing from the Vermont Community Loan Fund, the Vermont Housing Authority, the Cooperative Fund of New England, and the Vermont Housing Finance Association.

Residents don’t put any money down, Danforth said. Instead, the CDI loans cover the purchase price and residents repay the loan through their monthly rents.

The cooperative is governed by an elected board and committees. There is one vote per home, Danforth said; the board is almost always made up of park residents.

“Basically it’s a democracy like a small town,” he said.