by Dennis Dalman
An effort is underway to save the former Hi-Vue Mobile Home Park in Sartell by allowing owners to buy and manage the place.
The Colorado-based RV Horizons, its current owner that bought the Park two years ago, announced last February it plans to sell the property.
At the Sept. 26 Sartell City Council meeting, members listened to a lengthy presentation by the Northcountry Cooperative Foundation and board members of Eagle’s View, the tentative name of the Park if residents succeed in buying, owning and operating the Park. The presentation included a tentative request the City of Sartell help acquire a $1.5-million loan for infrastructure needs at the Park, to be repaid with strict provisions. The council was not expected to make a decision, only to consider the request for the time being.
The Park in question, located along Second Street. S. in Sartell, is now known as Sartell Mobile Home Park. It has been at that location for nearly 50 years, and some of its long-term residents have lived there that long, not to mention some of their grown children and their children. The Park is, in that respect, generational.
At the Sept. 26 council meeting, Kevin Walker of the Minneapolis-based Northcountry Cooperative Foundation presented an outline of residents’ plans for the Park. Northcountry lends assistance to new and existing co-ops, mainly ones that involve housing, including mobile-home parks. Northcountry has been in operation for 17 years.
There are 163 lots with mobile homes on them in Sartell Mobile Home Park.
Since February, Northcountry and residents of Sartell Mobile Home Park have been meeting in an effort to buy the land at the Park from its owner, currently RV Horizons. To do that, 51 percent of residents there had to agree to proceed with the purchase. That was accomplished with strong support, about 68 percent. The next step was a process to form a non-profit association, “Eagle’s View,” and a corporate board comprised of residents.
There are about 1,000 mobile-home parks in Minnesota containing about 50,000 living units on lots owned by companies. Those who live in the mobile homes pay monthly lot rents to live in the parks.
Many of those parks, because of crumbling infrastructure or other reasons, are being sold by the property owners, leaving the parks’ residents in a lurch. Two such parks, in St. Cloud and Waite Park, were recently sold, and the residents had to find places to live elsewhere with some help from the companies that owned them or other sources.
Walker said many people in mobile-home parks live there because they are economically disadvantaged in one way or another. Others are older people, some in wheelchairs and others even amputees, who just do not have the wherewithal to move elsewhere. The people living in most mobile-home parks have no direct voice in any decision-making that happens, Walker noted, and what often happens is the infrastructures in those parks, such as water and sewer lines deteriorate, corporate owners are less inclined to make major improvements and so resort to temporary fixes. There were 11 breaks in water lines at Sartell Mobile Home Park, for instance, Walker noted. Lot rents increase year by year, to the point some park residents have trouble paying them and yet have no say over park policies or what the money is spent for. That can leave residents helpless, unable to sell their homes or unable to move, “over a barrel,” as Walker put it, leaving residents at a chronic risk of displacement.
Northcountry has helped eight mobile-home parks’ residents purchase and own their parks – seven in Minnesota, one in Wisconsin.
The process of mobile-home residents buying and owning their own parks is quite common in New Hampshire. There are one in five mobile-home parks in New Hampshire that are resident-owned, about 120 of them, Walker noted.
What happens is the residents collectively form a non-profit association, then they seek a loan lender with all sorts of provisions and guarantees, including a thorough examination of infrastructure and other factors.
Typically, the residents agree to increase their lot rents, which become loan repayments. In the case of Sartell Mobile Home Park, residents agreed to raise their lot rents from $365 to $410 and then later to $425 in order to make the process work.
The good news, Walker said, is once residents take ownership of their parks, lot rents (loan payments) almost always increase by less than 1 percent a year, and, as in most co-op associations, residents often receive annual rebates.
In the case of the Sartell Mobile Home Park, about 75 percent of its water mains need to be replaced, as well as about 20 percent of its sewer lines.
That would total about $1.5 million to do.
The purchase price for the Park is $5.15 million, with total costs of everything combined about $7.34 million.
At the Oct. 10 Sartell City Council meeting, a homeowners’ petition will be presented to the council to form a Housing Improvement District. The organizers are hoping Sartell can use its full faith and credit to help obtain a low-interest loan so the infrastructure improvements can be made and a loan secured via a non-profit loan agency. Grants and other forms of state and federal aid could also lessen the overall costs, Walker noted. More detailed information will be provided to the council later.
Walker said the park residents hope to close on the sale deal, if all goes well, by Nov. 3.
Several residents of Sartell Mobile Home Park, all of them board members of their new association, spoke to the council.
Among them was Melanie Slattery, chair of the Eagle’s View Board, who has lived in that mobile-home park ever since she was born. Her father, who was also at the council meeting, has lived in the park for more than 40 years.
Slattery has been raising her own children there for 14 years.
“It’s all about affordability,” Slattery said. “My children want to stay there.”
She thanked the council and said she hopes its members can help families who live in the mobile-home park remain “intact.”
Other speakers said they are worried about the fate of older members of the park, about how there has always been a sense of friendly community at the park and how everybody involved wants to work hard together to ensure their neighborhood remains a safe, clean, healthy and secure place to live.
Dalman was born and raised in South St. Cloud, graduated from St. Cloud Tech High School, then graduated from St. Cloud State University with a degree in English (emphasis on American and British literature) and mass communications (emphasis on print journalism). He studied in London, England for a year (1980-81) where he concentrated on British literature, political science, the history of Great Britain and wrote a book-length study of the British writer V.S. Naipaul. Dalman has been a reporter and weekly columnist for more than 30 years and worked for 16 of those years for the Alexandria Echo Press.