Common Ground: A response to Daniel Zwerdling's NPR Story

Kevin Walker, Director of Business Development, NCF

“For this to happen, as with any deal, you need a willing seller, a willing buyer, and a viable deal.”

Who speaks these words?  The President-Elect?  A local real estate agent? Or a nonprofit network that has helped 12,000 homeowners buy land that they used to rent in manufactured housing communities (fka “mobile home parks”), yielding about 200 resident-owned communities? These are the words that Northcountry Cooperative Foundation (NCF) staff use at all of our first organizing meetings. This market language is a constant in the work of NCF and its seven sister organizations affiliated under the ROC USA® banner. ROC USA organizations have directly helped 12,000 homeowners in 14 states purchase their communities. 

Some read Part 1 of NPR reporter Daniel Zwerdling’s recent investigative story as an indictment of investor-ownership. We do not. Mr. Zwerdling’s story importantly highlighted an extreme situation in Idaho. In our experience, the majority of community owners provide good and critically needed workforce housing opportunities in their land-lease communities. Many carry out successful preventative maintenance programs and work to ensure that their communities provide desirable places for homeowners. In one example, we know one community owner who brought an engineer in-house to oversee capital improvements on his portfolio so as to deliver on a long-term value proposition to residents and their communities.

Resident ownership, as shown through our work, and that of our ROC USA affiliates, is often a choice residents wish to make and that well over 180 community owners around the country have made possible. Part 2 of Mr. Zwerdling’s story focused on Park Plaza Cooperative in Fridley, Minnesota. Like all of the nearly 200 Resident Owned Communities (ROCs) in ROC Network, Park Plaza residents relied on an investor willing to make his community available in good faith to the residents.

Resident ownership cannot happen without cooperation of community owners and residents in a win/win transaction. NCF and our peers have worked with community owners and residents to create Park Plaza-like opportunities for over 30 years in 195 communities. With each deal, investors realize the fair market value of their investments and homeowners secure control of their communities. The cherry on top? High-quality workforce housing gets preserved, at little or no cost to the public sector. 

At a time when Time magazine recently referred to the USA as the "Divided States of America," this common ground deserves special attention. As industry veteran, Frank Rolfe, who with his partner Dave Reynolds, is one of the largest owners of American manufactured housing communities, said after a recent sale to residents, “Frankly, we can’t come up with any reason why a community owner would not want to sell to the residents over an outside party.” We see resident and investor ownership not as opposites, but as complementary – both can preserve and sustain crucial workforce ownership housing. 

Sales to residents can represent the best long-term preservation strategy for this critical workforce housing resource. Residents have demonstrated over 32 years that they can purchase, operate, improve, and govern their communities. But, all such opportunities only happen in viable deals between willing sellers (community owners) and willing buyers (resident groups).

Watch Daniel Zwerdling's 30-minute Facebook Live video for even greater background on the story.