Delores Holland realized just how vulnerable she was a few years ago when she learned the Bangor mobile home park she had lived in for 15 years was being turned into a strip mall.
She lost her home, her neighborhood and her entire sense of community.
She eventually resettled in Greystone Mobile Home Park in Veazie only to learn the owner, Mark Mullins, had put the park up for sale.
On a fixed income with only limited housing options, that news caused more uncertainty. Would the new owner keep the park open? Raise lot rents?
She now knows the answers to those questions because Delores Holland is the new owner of the park along with Sarah Brown, Ian MacGregor, Adam Barker-Hoyt, Julia Hathaway and 49 others who live in homes there.
On Tuesday, April 13, The Greystone Mobile Home Park became the second in the state to be purchased by the tenants themselves.
Just over a year ago, ERA Dawson Bradford Realtor Philip Cormier began advertising the online sale of the park, once called a “blight” on the Veazie landscape.
Representatives of the Genesis Community Loan Fund, a nonprofit Community Development Financial Institute with the mission of expanding affordable housing opportunities, saw the ad.
“We were looking for an opportunity in Maine,” said Genesis Executive Director William Floyd.
“He [Floyd] came here. Took a quick tour of the park, stepped back and said, ‘I think this is the one,’” Cormier recalled this week.
Last Tuesday, with the sweep of a pen, 54 previous renters in a mobile home park became property owners. The price: $1.025 million.
“It may seem like a small thing to others, but already I’ve seen people in the park reaching down, picking up a piece of trash and throwing it away,” said resident Sarah Brown, who has agreed to serve as operations manager for the new cooperative formed during the sale. “Before, they may have walked around it and considered it the owners’ responsibility. We are the owners now. It is our responsibility.”
On Monday as children darted in and around water-filled potholes, Brown noted, “Those potholes are now our responsibility to fill.”
A cooperative affordable housing corporation is a Maine corporation formed by park residents who agree to purchase their mobile home park.
The cooperative agrees to purchase the land the homes sit on, while members own their homes. Resident-members of the cooperative are part-owners of the park.
The members elect a board of directors and form committees to operate the park. The cooperative holds the mortgage on the land, collects the lot rent, makes the mortgage payments, pays the property taxes and bills, does the bookkeeping and maintains the property.
The cooperative is responsible for insurance and upkeep.
In a park filled with the “working poor” who live paycheck to paycheck, this deal means their costs will increase about $15 a month, Brown said on Monday.
“We probably would have seen that increase anyway when the park was sold and now that means that we are paying toward a mortgage that will be paid off in 20 years. I have three grown sons who also live in this park. They will see the end of this mortgage,” she said.
In New Hampshire, about 90 mobile home parks have been purchased by the tenants with similar help from the New Hampshire Community Loan Fund.
The deal at Greystone is the first in the state of Maine that was financed mostly by a commercial bank, Floyd said.
Camden National Bank financed 65 percent of the sale, while Genesis took on the second lending spot at 35 percent.
“Basically what we did was finance the $200,000 down payment,” Floyd said. “Certainly this group of buyers didn’t have that kind of money to put up the down payment and so that was what we did, as well as educating them and steering them through this process.”
“It took 13 months to do this deal,” Cormier said. “Myself and the owner were approached by Genesis. The owner was agreeable to give it a try. It was a lot of knocking on doors in the park and getting the residents on board. The town of Veazie gave us their community rooms to meet and helped out a lot, and it was a big learning curve for everyone. There were times when people wanted to walk away from the table, but we got it done, and now these people who may never have really owned the property they live on, do. In one day we took all of those renters and made them property owners.”
Hathaway and her husband have raised their children in Greystone Mobile Home Park over the past 20 years and are aware of the reputation it has in the small town that connects Bangor and Orono.
“We are definitely considered lower-class residents,” Hathaway said Monday. “There are certainly parents who will not let their children come and play with my children in the park. Now we have prevailed. This is ours now. We have the pride of ownership. We rallied as neighbors and we will make this our neighborhood. And hopefully it will soon not be considered a place where other parents don’t want their children to come and play, but as an example of what can be done. … You know that some people would go to the movies and pay $8 to see this kind of story.”