MOBILE HOME PARK RESIDENTS MAKE HISTORY AND SECURE THEIR FUTURE by Roxanne Escobales

09/07/06

What happens to residents in mobile homes once their parks get sold to property developers and they get kicked out? Well, a group of retirees from two mobile home parks in Pinellas County did not want to find out. So last Friday they made history by buying their parks and a third one to boot. As WMNF’s Roxanne Escobales reports from Largo, it’s a modern-day David-and-Goliath story.

When the residents of Four Seasons and Pointe West mobile home parks got a certified letter in their mailboxes this past May, they felt shocked. The owner of the parks, which sit adjacent to each other in Largo, had received an offer on the land. And he was going to sell.

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Dan Gregorio, the president of the Four Seasons homeowners’ association had seen the signs five years ago.

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So every year for the past five years, the residents of Four Seasons made an offer on their park, but it was never taken up. Now they had 45 days to match the current offer. But this situation was unusual. The owner, Howard Gottlieb of Illinois, owned three mobile home parks – the two in Largo and Club Wildwood in Hudson, Pasco County. And Gottlieb was selling all three as a bundle. The going rate? 56.7 million dollars.

The homeowners associations of Four Seasons and Pointe West banded together to raise money. But the residents at Club Wildwood decided to stay out of negotiations.

The two parks decided to proceed on their and they had a month and a half to raise the one million-dollar down payment and make an offer.

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Since the early 90s, Pinellas County attorney Lucie Warren has been handling mobile home park conversions, when residents band together to buy the land their coaches sit on. She represented the two parks during the sale.

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Warren attributes the speed within which Gregorio and his Pointe West counterpart, Walt Townsley, were able to mobilize residents to a very modern technological advancement: Email.

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A total of 300 residents out of 676 at the two parks bought shares at 50 thousand dollars apiece. The other retirees couldn’t afford it.

Walt Townsley, president of the Pointe West homeowners association.

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This is not the first time Townsley faced losing his mobile home.

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But even under threat of being sold out, some residents like Bob Bell were not convinced that buying the property was the way to go.

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But despite his initial misgivings, Bell ended up playing a big role in the deal. He is the vice president of the Pointe West homeowners association and chairman of the acquisition committee.

The two adjacent mobile home parks sit on prime land – one with an entrance on Ulmerton road by Largo Mall and the other opening onto Seminole Boulevard. Both back onto Lake Seminole.

Dan Gregorio of the Four Seasons says the trend of mobile home parks being sold to developers has turned senior citizens into a throwaway society. He says local officials care more about broadening their tax base then about people’s lives.

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The two parks have each formed their own co-operatives which own the land. Shares can be sold or passed on to relatives after death, but any prospective shareholder must be approved by the co-operatives. That ensures a property developer from snatching up shares and buying the land. A limited liability company was set up for Club Wildwood, and the two co-operatives will decide what to do with the property within the next 18 months. They hope the Wildwood residents will do what they did and buy the park for themselves.

Lawyer Lucie Warren says it is worth the effort.

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For WMNF News in Largo, I’m Roxanne Escobales.

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