Residents in two south Carver mobile home parks went from being renters to owners last Friday, closing a $22 million deal for the land on which their homes sit.
Cranberry Village and Pine Tree Village are now owned by housing cooperatives consisting of the park residents, who say they are elated to have control of their rents and a say in how their communities are managed.
“It’s a relief it’s finally over,” said David Tessier, president of Cranberry Village’s co-op, referring to last week’s closing.
Cranberry Village, a 55-and-over community of 280 mobile homes, and Pine Tree Village, a family park with 186 mobile homes, were opened in the 1980s by David Piper. Typical of mobile home park arrangements, residents owned their homes but rented housing sites from Piper. The fees at both parks were more than $500 a month.
In December, Piper, 79, signed a purchase-and-sale agreement to sell the parks to Equity Lifestyle Properties, a Chicago-based company that owns several parks nationwide. Residents were notified of the pending sale and feared their rents would soar under a new owner. “We couldn’t afford to have our rents go up any higher,” Tessier said.
Under Massachusetts law, park tenants have the right of first refusal to buy from their landlord, but they would have to match the deal he had made with the buyer: $8.8 million for Pine Tree Village and $13.2 million for Cranberry Village.
A group of tenants from the two parks worked to convince fellow residents to make the purchase. By doing it as cooperatives, they eliminated the need for each homeowner to secure a separate mortgage.
“It took some scrambling,” said Bill Frazier, a board member of the Pine Tree Village co-op. But residents were determined to get it done, he said. “We decided we had to find an alternative to Equity Lifestyle.”
By February, the residents were ready to present their offer to Piper. “They came in the day before I was scheduled to close with Equity,” Piper said. “That stopped everything.”
Frazier said park residents were assisted in their effort by ROC (Resident Owned Communities) USA Network, a national nonprofit organization established in 2008 that works to help mobile home owners buy their parks.
Community Development Institute, a Massachusetts-based technical assistance provider working with ROC USA, helped the two parks establish their cooperatives, work up budget projections, and hire a management company.
ROC USA’s financial arm arranged the financing, putting together 30-year mortgage packages for the two cooperatives. The interest rates are 6 percent for Pine Tree Village’s mortgage and 6.2 percent for Cranberry Village, according to ROC USA president Paul Bradley, who said those were the best available for the cooperatives. Lenders are looking for borrowers with equity, down payments, and business experience, he said. In the future, the cooperatives may be able to lock in lower rates.
“Ten years from now, if they refinance, they will have generated some equity and have some experience in park management,” Bradley said.
Under the new arrangement, homeowners in the two parks buy a share in their respective co-op. The one-time cost is $100, and payment can be spread over several months. Each household has one vote on matters affecting the community. Members elect a board of directors to handle day-to-day issues.
The monthly payments from the homeowners will continue, but instead of covering rent, the money pays the mortgage and park-related expenses. Rents won’t be going up, and there’s a chance they could be lowered, if there’s a surplus in the parks’ respective budgets at year-end, Frazier said.
Andrew Danforth, housing program manager for Community Development Institute, said only about 800 of the 50,000 mobile home parks in the country are resident-owned. But the arrangement is becoming more popular, with park residents forming cooperatives and purchasing as a group, rather than trying to do so with individual mortgages.
“We’ve done five co-ops for manufactured homes in Massachusetts and three in Vermont in just the last year and a half,” Danforth said.
Larry Erickson, a Pine Tree Village resident who worked on the deal, said the process has been nerve-racking. “We knew we had to get it done by a certain time,” Erickson said. “For my part, there’s a huge sense of relief we pulled this off.”
The Carver deal remained a cliff-hanger right up until last Friday’s closing.
“The owner made a last-minute demand to keep an office at Cranberry Village,” Frazier said. “It stuck in our throats, but we had to do it or start all over again.”
Frazier said park residents are elated. “We can control our own destiny,” he said. “Park owners are in it for the profit. We’re in it to improve our homes and neighborhoods.”
According to Tessier, residents are already more upbeat, proud of their newly secured ownership. “People have become friendlier, helping each other and volunteering for things,” he said. “I think it will keep snowballing and have a tremendous outcome. It’s like a big family.”
Cranberry Village resident Angelo Manfra played a critical role in the purchase process. In his travels as a limo driver, he had heard about Community Development Institute. “When I found out the parks were for sale, I contacted Andy Danforth, and he came here and spoke to a half-dozen families,” Manfra said. “After that first meeting, it was like a snowball rolling downhill.”
He is optimistic about the purchase. “It’s a good thing for people here now and a good thing for people who come in the future,” he said.