MISSOULA — Residents of mobile home parks are increasingly susceptible to forced displacement and disruption of their lives when the land beneath their homes is sold to developers looking to build more permanent and profitable housing.
That's what happened last year at Hansen's Trailer Park in Missoula, when the residents of 21 trailers were evicted after the property was sold and redeveloped.
There is a solution, but it takes cooperation and a little help: The residents can band together and purchase the land, thereby securing the future on their own terms.
That’s exactly what the 68 residents of River Acres, a manufactured home community in Missoula, did in 2013 when they were faced with possible eviction.
The owner of the land under the 31 home sites wanted to sell, but a loan from the Montana Community Development Corp. allowed them to buy the property, giving the residents long-term, stable housing and control of their own destiny.
Now, the MCDC has received a $1.65 award from the Community Development Financial Institution Fund – a program of the U.S. Treasury Department – to help residents in other mobile home parks do the same thing.
According to MCDC president Dave Glaser, the grant money will be put into a loan fund dedicated to these so-called resident-owned communities.
“As of right now, there are only five resident-owned communities that have been financed in Montana and Idaho,” Glaser explained. “But across Idaho and Montana, there are 600 possible mobile home parks.”
The potential communities are all mobile home parks where the owner wants to sell the land. The MCDC works with NeighborWorks Montana and ROC USA, a national lending program, to identify potential communities where a residents' cooperative can buy the land at fair market rates.
“NeighborWorks Montana goes in and does community organizing, teaching residents that this is a possibility,” Glaser explained. “They form a cooperative like a board, like a neighborhood association, and they apply for financing from ROC USA and us. They get the community together and finance the land with long-term, fixed-rate financing.”
In the last two years, the MCDC has financed the purchase of two other manufactured home communities by resident-managed cooperatives: Northwood Community in Ronan and Trailer Terrace in Great Falls.
All told, 421 people gained secure housing. Glaser said he predicts that MCDC will lend to two or three additional communities each year, helping between 250 and 300 people.
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“The land is already for sale, or you can identify owners who are willing to sell,” he said. “And it’s market value. Plenty of people would be willing to sell. It’s one more really powerful way to use financing to help low-income people in Montana. The idea is by financing the land for a cooperative, it provides stability and opportunity for the cooperative to be a landowner, and have stability and predictability going forward in the lowest-income housing in the state.”
Glaser said his organization hasn’t yet specifically identified which communities will be helped by the new grant money, but that should happen soon.
The beauty of resident-owned communities is that people who live there gain an ownership stake in their future.
“That’s one of the most powerful things, to give a community ownership of the land,” he said. “What you see afterward is a community that is an amazing steward. It’s a really amazing outcome. Once you own where you live, you take really good care of it.”
Glaser said resident-owned communities have been successful for the last 10 years, especially in states with larger populations, and they have a 100 percent track record of communities paying back the loans.
The cooperative charges rent to residents to pay off the loan, and residents can move in or out at any time.
“They have to maintain a minimum occupancy, but people moving in and out is not an issue,” Glaser said.
This is the seventh consecutive year MCDC has received this type of award, but the competition is always fierce.
This year, 374 organizations applied for $435 million in assistance, but there were only 152 awards totaling $160 million. The largest award was for $2 million.
“It’s very competitive,” Glaser said. “Less than one-third of applicants got it. We have a track record of identifying needs in Montana and deploying capital in places that really need it most. That really sets us up to be successful year after year.
"Our organization is so pleased to bring capital from across the country and deploy it in Montana and Idaho in communities that need this financing to be successful. It goes to underserved communities. We’re bringing capital here so we can grow.”
For more information, visit mtcdc.org.