Residents of Edgewood Mobile Home Park in Newport celebrated Wednesday, having bought the park they call home.
“We decided as a group to pursue buying it,” said Armand Perras Jr., who is now president of the Edgewood Park owners’ cooperative. A neighboring park went co-op a while ago, so when the owners of Edgewood announced they wanted to sell, Perras and other residents followed suit.
There are 11 units in the park. “Everybody gets along with everybody else,” said Perras. “It’s a great place that way.”
In New Hampshire, mobile home park owners who want to sell have to notify the residents of the park, giving them the right of first refusal within 60 days. The Community Loan Fund (CLF), a private investment group, sponsors the Resident-Owned Communities- New Hampshire program (ROC-NH) which helps mobile home dwellers organize a cooperative to buy the land they’re on and walks them through the financing process.
“Say I own a manufactured-home park,” said Steve Vellum, of CLF. “If I decide to close the park, unless you have the several thousand dollars it takes to move your house, literally your house is going to be put in a dumpster.
“One of the reasons people in manufactured housing can’t get loans is because the land is insecure,” said Vellum. “Now, the homeowner’s right to the land is secure.”
Edgewood Park is the 126th mobile home park in the state to go co-op under the ROC-NH program. The terms of the mortgage through the CLF prohibit the co-op from selling the park within ten years, and the interest rate on the loans is 5.5 percent. Members of the co-op pay a maintenance fee to ROC-NH.
While mobile home parks can and do go co-op without the help of ROC-NH and the CLF, people without experience in financing say they find the training and technical assistance invaluable. “They’re helping us so we don’t stumble and fall,” said Perras. “They’re very familiar with what needs to be done.”
Residents say that going co-op has financial benefits beyond the sense of security. Rents often go down, and with secure ownership of the park they can become eligible for other kinds of financing. When parks are run by the people who live there, maintenance and upkeep often improves.
“Manufactured home parks are a very lucrative business,” said Vellum. “The profit that most owners take out of parks is enough to fix what needs to be fixed and upgrade what needs to be upgraded.”
Once a park goes co-op, that profit can be plowed back into the park itself. Perras said the co-op has a list of projects that need to be done, such as trees that need to come down before they drop on someone’s house, road repairs, and so forth. He expects the rent to go down, because when the park makes a profit that has to be returned to the residents, or else it gets taxed.
The co-op board can also set the rules for incoming residents. Edgewood co-op will vet prospective residents and run background checks and credit checks. They also want to encourage people 55 and older to move in.
“If we get two equal offers and one is low income, we have to take that one, unless there’s a special circumstance,” said Perras.
The conversion of mobile home parks to cooperatives offers a solution to the affordable housing crisis, according to ROC-NH and ROC-USA. According to the ROC-USA website, New Hampshire has more resident-owned communities than any other state.
“Owning a manufactured home is much less than rental housing,” said Vellum. “As affordable housing is disappearing, mobile home parks are unsubsidized affordable housing for working families.”
Perras and his wife are both on fixed incomes, and their monthly housing cost is half the standard rental price for a one-bedroom in Newport. Now, the two of them feel secure: “In either case, if one of us passes, we’ve still got it covered.”
Vellum said in the nine years he’s been working for the Community Loan Fund, the cooperative mobile home parks have gone from a trickle to a flood. “As there are more cooperative parks, we have a number of park owners coming to us, wanting to sell to their residents,” he said.
“When I started we almost never had an owner contact us, but the pendulum is swinging toward the owners contacting us. They’re going to get their price,” he said.
-- GLYNIS HART