ROCKLAND, Maine — Nearly 100 families have more secure housing after two mobile home parks were purchased by their residents.
The sales of the Sunset Terrace Mobile Home Park on upper Park Street in Rockland and the adjacent Sunset Acres Mobile Home Park off Pleasant Street in Thomaston were finalized Feb. 24.
“This is a win-win situation,” Jessica Pooley, a cooperative development specialist and the director of Resident Owned Neighborhood Association of Maine, said.
George Krise, president of the cooperative board for Sunset Terrace, said he lobbied residents to agree to the creation of the cooperative and for the acquisition.
“We knew the owners were going to sell. Either we could own it or put up with another landlord,” said Krise, who has lived in the park for 13 years.
Krise said that at first most residents were undecided about whether they should purchase the park. That was just a natural reaction to a major change, he said, but once more information was provided, the residents supported the move, with 80 percent voting to make the purchase at the end.
Rents will remain at $345 per month, he said. There will be no substantive changes of rules in either Sunset Terrace, where 74 of 76 lots are occupied, or Sunset Acres, where 22 of 24 lots are full.
Former owners Alan and Marion Sewall, who operated the park for more than 30 years, contacted Pooley in August 2015 when they decided to sell the park.
“Alan and Marion were looking ahead to retirement and felt turning the communities over to the residents who lived in them was the best outcome for everyone,” Pooley said.
In September, Pooley contacted residents to begin the discussion about whether to form the cooperative. She said conversions of ownership to a cooperative usually take 90 to 120 days to complete.
The sale of Sunset Terrace was $1.9 million, with the purchase financed through a $311,000 loan from the Genesis Community Loan Fund in Brunswick and a nearly $1.8 million 30-year fixed loan from the Maine State Housing Authority. The additional loan funds were used to pay closing costs and to set money aside for maintenance in the parks. Sunset Acres sale price was $600,000 paid for a $440,000 loan from Genesis and $250,000 from Camden National Bank.
The cooperatives also agreed to a 10-year consulting contract with Cooperative Development Institute, a nonprofit corporation based in Northampton, Massachusetts, that will provide expertise and education to cooperative members to ensure long-term success in their operations.
Cooperative Development Institute already has provided training to the residents on running the cooperative. A board has been formed that will set policies and decide on matters such as the amount of rent for lots.
Each resident can become a member by purchasing a share of the cooperative for $100.
Residents can move their mobile homes out of the park if they want. If they sell the home in the park, the cooperative will screen potential new residents.
Pooley said both communities are anxious to get started on some needed repairs and taking over regular maintenance of their communities.
The sales of these two parks to cooperatives bring to eight the number of mobile home parks in Maine that have been purchased by park residents, Pooley said. There are 170 resident-owned communities across the country, according to Andy Danforth, director of New England Resident Owned Communities.
The first acquisition in Maine occurred seven years ago with the Medomak Home Cooperative in Waldoboro. Other mobile home parks that have been purchased by cooperatives in Maine are Brunswick Bay Mobile Home Cooperative, Deer Ridge Mobile Home Cooperative in Augusta, Pemaquid Villas Mobile Home Cooperative in Bristol, Wardtown Mobile Home Cooperative in Freeport and the Greystone Mobile Home Cooperative in Veazie.
Dale Whitmore, president of the Resident Owned Neighborhoods Association and president of the cooperative board of Wardtown Mobile Home Cooperative in Freeport, said he was looking forward to meeting the newest members and sharing the association’s knowledge and resources with them “as they embark on this challenging and rewarding adventure in cooperative living.”
Whitmore said the Freeport cooperative has been in place since May 2015 and the move has been tremendous for residents. He said the lot rents have been frozen at $270 per month for the next three years. The rates can be kept down because there is no longer a profit motive for the owners, he said.
Significant improvements have been made to the park during the past nine months, Whitmore said. For instance, the cooperative had a significant number of old trees cut down and donated to a Freeport program to provide firewood to low-income residents. The cooperative also is planning for a new wastewater project.
“Each individual owns a share, they take pride in their homes and their community,” the Freeport resident said. He has lived in the park since 1991 after the previous mobile home park he lived in was sold and residents were asked to leave.
The cooperative board enforces the rules, but he said it is done with friendly reminders and notices to residents who may be violating a rule. He said once violators are informed, they come into compliance. No one has been evicted since the cooperative assumed ownership, he said.
In his role with the Resident Owned Neighborhood Association of Maine, Whitmore said the organization also looks at other ways to help residents of mobile home parks. He said the group provides education, such as informing residents that they are entilted to the state’s homestead exemption.
“We have looked to state government to help provide affordable housing but this is a way we can control it on our own,” he said.
He said that at the Freeport cooperative, a resident does not have to become a member but that an additional charge of $30 per month is added to nonmembers pay for services. He said that if a person is not a member of the cooperative, that individual also will not be able to serve on the board, which makes the rules for the park.
The Genesis Community Loan Fund has provided financing for all eight cooperatives in Maine.
Bill Floyd, director at the Genesis Fund, said in a written statement issued after the Rockland and Thomaston sales, “We feel a true partnership with the Cooperative Development Institute in the conversion of these communities to resident-ownership. It is always very exciting to be involved in assisting people in gaining ownership of the land their homes sit on and preserving affordability into the future, and now the folks of Sunset Terrace and Sunset Acres get to enjoy it, too.”
Jane Sturk, portfolio loan originator at the Maine State Housing Authority, said in a written statement that the agency is working to develop an ongoing program for financing cooperatively-owned mobile home parks.
“We believe these parks, which are a form of affordable housing, will be one component of sustainable housing for low and moderate income families in both rural and high cost communities throughout the state,” Sturk stated.
Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated the sale price of the mobile home parks. Sunset Terrace sold for $1.9 million and Sunset Acres for $600,000.