The following is NCF's response to a recent article in a City Pages article, "Tsunami in St. Anthony: Antonia Alvarez's holy war to save her mobile home park." The story chronicles the leadership behind a year-long fight to save Lowry Grove Mobile Home Park in St. Anthony, Minnesota.
Dear City Pages Editor:
Thank you for publishing your story, “A Tsunami in St. Anthony: Antonia Alvarez’s Holy War to Save Her Mobile Home Park." The story accurately illuminates the key role that manufactured housing communities (mobile home parks) play in providing critical workforce housing. About 50,000 households live in Minnesota manufactured housing communities and their homes are the largest store of affordable home ownership in the state.
But, as your story illustrates, that housing is at risk. Most of the manufactured home parks in Minnesota were developed 30-50 years ago. The roads, electric, sewer and water systems in those communities, all typically privately-owned and maintained, are failing. When the plumbing systems serving an apartment building fail, the owner has a huge incentive to repair or replace the failing system to protect the owner’s investment in the building. In a manufactured home park, the community owner typically does not own the homes—tenants like Antonia Alvarez own their own homes. Because the community owner does not own the homes and has no direct investment in the homes to protect, it is often economically rational for a community owner with failing infrastructure to close the park and sell the land for redevelopment, rather than fund the costs of repairing or replacing failing utility systems. When that happens, residents like Antonia lose their most valuable asset – their homes. As your story makes clear, they also lose their neighborhood, their children lose continuity in their schooling, and an entire community is disrupted; many often face homelessness. National Public Radio recently aired a two-part series highlighting this same problem.
Our organization, Northcountry Cooperative Foundation (NCF), works with residents and willing sellers of manufactured home communities. We help residents negotiate a market-rate purchase of the community, obtain financing to own and operate their communities, and support their efforts to improve them. In the cooperative model, residents themselves ensure that these communities are an asset and can maintain the affordability of their communities in perpetuity. In our nine manufactured housing cooperatives, home to 660 households, lot rents have stabilized while residents have invested a total of well over $2 million in new streets, sidewalks, bus shelters, water and sewer systems. Several of our co-ops are now partnering with us on construction of storm shelter-community centers.
Too often, however, the costs of replacing failing infrastructure systems can preclude resident purchase / park preservation—as it did at Lowry Grove, Antonia’s community. An NCF bill now before the Minnesota Legislature (HF876 / SF1215) would help resident organizations, local governments, and nonprofits replace failing infrastructure in Minnesota parks. Please help us spread the word that passage of this bill would help reduce tragedies like the one faced by Antonia and her neighbors.