By Cory Dawson
The owner of two local mobile home parks has rejected an offer by residents to buy the properties, but there is still a possibility the residents will be able to strike a deal and take ownership of their land.
Residents of Sunset Lake Villa Estates in Hinesburg and St. George Villa learned last summer that the parks’ new owner was planning to sell the properties. The parks had been owned and managed for decades by Mortimer Kaufman. Following Kaufman’s death last summer, his son, Mark Kaufman, said he was not in a position to manage the parks.
There are 56 homes in the Hinesburg park, and 120 in the St. George park.
Residents, many of whom have been living in one of the two Villas for decades, started organizing immediately to purchase the properties, forming cooperatives to manage the sale process, and one day, they hoped, the parks.
Using financing from housing organizations like the Cooperative Development Institute and Resident Owned Communities, the residents came up with $6 million to offer to Kaufman late last year.
Kaufman turned down the offer last month, but some hope for the residents remains. Kaufman said Wednesday he has been negotiating with private buyers, but the residents’ offer could still work out.
“There’s nothing definite yet, it could work out with the private buyer and a sale could occur; it could not work out, and the tenants could possibly still buy the communities,” Kaufman said. He declined to identify the private buyers.
Financing rules prohibit residents from offering more than the appraised value of the properties, which has hampered them in negotiations with the seller.
Kaufman said the gap between the residents’ offer and offers from private buyers is significant.
“It’s in excess of [$1 million],” he said. “Transactions of this size, real estate, they take an awful long time to work out.”
Lisa Hodgkins, who is treasurer of the St. George cooperative, said both cooperatives in Hinesburg and St. George would stay active, though they’ll be meeting monthly instead of weekly.
Anxiety is rampant, residents say. Rumors have tended to spread quickly in the tight-knit communities, where word-of-mouth is the main source of information for some.
“It’s like being in high school,” said Sandra Jarvis, 54, a resident of the St. George park and secretary of the park’s cooperative. When park residents were given notice last year that the park was for sale many worried that they would be forced to move, or that prices would rise.
While most of the parks’ residents own their own homes, they rent the land. Rent increased this year to $400 per lot.
State law does not allow sudden park closures. Even so, residents say they face other issues, such as aging septic systems and potholes. They had hoped that by forming a cooperative, rather than being at the mercy of a management corporation, they would have oversight over the management of the parks, and handling day-to-day issues.
Other mobile home communities in Vermont have had success in forming cooperatives and purchasing the land their homes are on, said Jonathan Bond, director of the mobile home program at the Champlain Valley Office of Economic Opportunity.
Bond has been working with the Hinesburg and St. George communities, and said the residents have been active from the very beginning.
“I have never seen more people come to the first meeting about their park sale,” Bond said.
Only a handful of Vermont’s 241 mobile home parks are owned by cooperatives.
Residents of Weston’s Mobile Home Park in Berlin formed a co-op and successfully purchased their park late last year, Bond said. And Windy Hollow, a mobile home community in Castleton, closed on their co-op sale at the end of February. The sales are complicated and can take a long time to work out, Bond said.
“We’ve been working with Windy Hollow since 2015,” Bond said.
Weston’s Mobile Home Park was nearly destroyed by Tropical Storm Irene. The damage to existing homes was so extensive that the lots were razed. All of the homes are now new. Residents received some state aid at the time, but residents largely had to look after themselves, Bond said.