I’m thrilled to introduce Bill Allen, our guest writer that is sharing his experience as a co-owner and manager of a resident-owned manufactured housing community. You can read much more about Bill and the community at his new blog, Living in a Resident-Owned Community.
I’ve lived in a sixty-unit mobile home community in Freeport, Maine for twenty years. For sixteen of those years, I thought, felt, saw, and did the same things most other mobile home park dwellers thought, felt, saw, and did. I knew exactly two of my neighbors and felt that this had to be temporary until I could find and afford a piece of land of my own. I looked out my window to see other homes that looked almost exactly like mine, each with their little driveways and endless, dark hallways.
In 2015 all of that changed when our park converted to resident ownership. Today, I know every person in that park by name and they know me. If I am out in my yard building or fixing a shed or a deck, before I know it, several of my neighbors show up uninvited with their tools in hand to help out, and I do the same for them. There are constant social activities – barbecues, campfires, cribbage tournaments. I love my park and the people that live here. We own it, so we take pride in our park and we care for one another. When I look out the window now I no longer see the ticky-tack houses. I see family.
This is my story. It is how I came to be where I am.
In June of 1975, Carol, the love of my life, was graduating from high school. We were making plans for our wedding in August. Seems like a whirlwind and it was, but that’s the way things were done then. My brother, ten years my senior, had gone into the Navy when I was nine and had gotten married just as quickly. He was my hero, so because he bought a mobile home when he got married, I did the same. We started our lives in an old, blue, 12 x 60 home with two tiny bedrooms with crank-out, louvered windows. We sold that in a year or so and bought a ‘real’ house.
At a point a few years later with a new baby in tow, we sold that house and went to seek fame and fortune in Boston. That didn’t last long – maybe a year. When we returned to Maine, we purchased our second mobile home, a 14 x 70 3-bedroom unit in a typical ‘trailer park’ in Scarborough. That was 1979. We lived in that home for several years. What I learned from these two experiences was that mobile homes were easy to buy and cheap to heat and maintain. Today, they call that “affordable housing.”
Fast-forward to 1999. Both of our kids were flying the coop and both of my parents had recently passed leaving me a little bit of loot. It was time to downsize. Remembering only the good parts of mobile home living, we bought a home from a friend, found a lot in a park in Freeport, and set up housekeeping. For fifteen years we were happy tenants of the Freeport Housing Trust. Then, in August of 2014, we received a letter from the Trust which told of their intention to explore converting the park to resident ownership. A meeting was to be held at the town library and all the residents were encouraged to attend. Off we went to this meeting, not really knowing anybody and having very little knowledge of what this was all about.
ROC USA and CDI to the Rescue
The short story about that meeting is that two groups, ROC USA and the Cooperative Development Institute, gave an in-depth presentation about the fundamentals of resident ownership and explained what they would do to help us toward that goal. The residents at the meeting voted to move forward and to look at the possibilities. That night, I joined the committee to do that work and report back to the residents.
That committee held a lot of meetings over the next nine months. While ROC USA negotiated a fair price with the seller and found lenders to work with us, the committee, with guidance from our Technical Assistance Provider from the Cooperative Development Institute (CDI), set up our not-for-profit corporation, established long- and short-term budgets, set up preliminary policies and procedures, and established basic rules and by-laws for the governance of the park.
We also decided to spend the money to have an infrastructure study done so we would know before the purchase what our needs would be for the future. In April of 2015, a vote was taken by the residents which passed by an acceptable majority.
Becoming an Official Resident-Owned Manufactured Home Community
On May 13th our president signed the papers that officially made us a resident-owned community. Immediately, a Board of Directors was formed and I was elected to sit on that board with eight of my neighbors. Ultimately, I became treasurer and chairman of the membership committee.
My beautiful bride – who has been by my side now for more than four decades – is our vice-president. The groups with which we work closely, ROC USA and the Cooperative Development Institute, continue to offer guidance and training which I take advantage of at every opportunity. It sounds like a lot of work, but it’s really not.
Besides, I love what I do here, and I am happier living here and serving this community than I have been anywhere in my life.
You’ve heard me ramble on about my friends at ROC USA and the Cooperative Development Institute. These guys were the major keys to our success in both buying our park and managing the community after the sale. There is nothing special about the residents of our park or the Board of Directors – we are all just blue-collar people.
Many of us are retired and some are disabled. It was ROC USA and the Cooperative Development Institute who guided us through turning this run-of-the-mill mobile home park into a flagship resident-owned community. We could never have done it without them.
ROC USA is a non-profit social venture promoting and assisting in the resident ownership of manufactured home communities. Please take the time to watch this video and let Paul Bradley, President
The Cooperative Development Institute, or CDI, is an affiliate of ROC USA. They furnish Certified Technical Assistance Providers to resident-owned communities throughout much of New England. ROC USA has a number of these affiliates across the country. This Technical Assistance Provider, or TA, works with the Boards of Directors at the parks on a day-to-day basis. Ours is there for us constantly, attending two meetings a month and answering our calls and emails at some very odd hours. CDI’s website is here.
A few years ago, they produced a video about some of the parks in Maine. You can see that here. The nice guy who starts the video talking about his father is the president of my community.
There is the whole story. I hope you are here because you are either thinking of joining a resident-owned community or, even better, becoming one. If either is the case, I hope you will jump in with enthusiasm.
There are so many benefits and so few disadvantages.
Note from Mobile Home Living:
Resident-Owned Manufactured Home Communities Could be the Solution
We are big supporters of resident-owned manufactured home communities here at Mobile Home Living.
If we had it our way, every park in the country would be resident-owned. It would help reduce the absentee investors that just want to collect checks and increase rent every year. It would also serve as protection against impromptu evictions due to park closures and help homeowners become landowners which would have a significant effect on their ability to gain equity on their homes. Resident-owned manufactured home communities could very well be the solution to whole lotta problems.
Have you been part of a resident-owned park? We’d love to hear about your experience.
Thank you, Bill, for sharing your story with us!Thank you for reading Mobile Home Living!