GREENSBORO — Margaret Morales spends her days on her cell phone.
A nearby stack of telephone numbers on index cards, with names and tiny notes with them, offers hope and disappointment.
She is trying to get help in moving her mobile home — replanting her life, really — after being uprooted by the sale and closing of the Jamison Mobile Home Park where she has rented a lot for decades.
She needs to schedule contractors to move the mobile home and the connections, including HVAC, plumbing, and electrical.
And she’s fighting a June deadline for residents who had been paying $315 a month for lot rent, to move their homes.
Earlier in the week, she said Thursday, the manager of the mobile home park stopped to get pictures of the title of her mobile home and her signature on a stack of papers.
“I don’t know what I just signed,” Morales said. “She didn’t leave me a copy. But I think everything would go to her that was left there after June 19.”
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Other mobile homes have been slowly disappearing from among the lots around her, which at one time defined a community.
But her plight and the saga of the final days of the mobile home park on Hiatt Street continue to be anything but routine for the tenants and the sellers. At one point an attorney sent a demand letter to the city, the sellers and the buyers asking for almost $50,000 per family to leave voluntarily or she would appeal all the way to the N.C. Supreme Court, implying it would drag out a resolution.
The 3-acre parcel of land at 2522 Hiatt St., in the shadow of UNCG, is under contract for multi-family units. Last summer, when residents got the news from the owners at the time, Family Properties, the mostly Spanish-speaking working-class neighbors formed the Hiatt Street tenants’ group with 18 families and vowed to buy the land many of them had lived on between a few years and a few decades. They went as a group before the City Council for help. The park, which has space for nearly 30 homes, was not at capacity when the sale was announced.
The tension had been building since residents were given the July 2021 notice that initially gave them just a few months to leave, although North Carolina statutes require that tenants of mobile home parks that are being repurposed have at least six months to vacate the premises. The seller later amended the date.
As other deadlines to leave came and went, some of the tenants had been able to take out loans to move. Others had been renting units that belonged to the owner, so they just packed up and left. And others, like Morales, remain.
In the meantime, the water bills, which are included in the monthly lot rents, ballooned from several hundred to several thousand dollars, property manager Lynne Anderson wrote this year in a Feb. 28 letter to the remaining tenants. She raised the rent to $475 a month.
“December’s water bill was $2,630.31, January’s water bill was $1066.50, and February is $1,263,” Anderson wrote. “We have had the city check the meter and the water lines and we have no leaks.”
The bills usually averaged about $40 a unit and only 10 of the mobile homes remained in February, Anderson wrote.
Neighbors had gone before the City Council last year asking for help before Thanksgiving, before the deadline was pushed into the new year, and then eventually until after the end of the school year. Michelle Kennedy, who oversees neighborhood development, and Mayor Nancy Vaughan, began meeting with the residents.
It was a private sale between two parties, Vaughan said Friday of the closing of the mobile home park.
“But we understood the challenges that the Hiatt Street families faced in trying to move their mobile homes,” she said.
Some of the residents, who also asked the grassroots group Siembra NC for help, grew disillusioned when city officials told the families about large parcels of land the city owned where they could possibly keep their community together. But they had already been sold.
The city received the demand letter just as the City Council was planning to announce a “mass displacement fund” that would help residents such as these from becoming homeless.
“Obviously we were taken aback,” Vaughan said of the amount being requested and the fact that the city had been in active conversations with the neighbors.
The fund, suggested by Mayor Pro-Tem Yvonne Johnson, isn’t just for the Hiatt Street neighbors, but “mass displacements” of residents. However, the use is limited and the money does not go to the applicant upfront.
Morales, who lived on Hiatt Street for nearly three decades and is living off a disability check, has a place to go. So the money would help.
But she needs a lot of help, like many of the others.
Another mobile home park is holding a space for her home and Morales has already reached out to the city to tap into the new fund, although she says that while she borrowed $175 to buy a permit to place her mobile home in the new park, she doesn’t have money to do anything else. Already, she is on a payment plan with her utility company and fell behind on her monthly rent after being admitted to the hospital a few months ago.
June 19 deadline to leave
Morales knows nothing about that demand letter from the attorney, who she said did not represent her. She said she understands that the law allows the owners to do what they want with their property.
So she is taking steps to leave.
She went to St. Mary’s Catholic Church to apply for help. The church gave her a check for emergency assistance and also assigned one of its volunteers to help her get through the application process with the city for the new mass displacement fund aid. That process frustrated both of them because they said they got slow or no responses.
“I can’t give up,” Morales, thumbing through the index cards with potential sources of aid, said of finding help to move. “But I don’t have a lot of time.”
In the meantime, the Jamison sign has come down and dumpsters have been removed.
The property had been in the hands of various members of the Jamison family over three generations. One of the longtime owners, Shirley Todd Jamison, worked in the Guilford County Health Department and spent nearly four decades in Latin America as a nurse and missionary. She died in March 2017, which precipitated the sale. Anderson, the property manager, is her niece.
Living at the mobile home park was especially convenient because it offered good schools, public transportation and a location near downtown.
It is unclear what developer Owls Roost Properties is paying for the property, but the land has a tax value of about $350,000. It is couched between an apartment complex on one side and an abandoned building with broken windows on the other.
City inspectors assessed the stability of each of the remaining mobile home units and found they were stable enough to move elsewhere.
In January, an attorney for Owls Roost, who had been in discussions with the seller’s agent, the mayor and Kennedy, agreed to delay the closing until after the end of the current school year.
As part of those discussions with the city, those residents have been asked if they would be willing to sign something saying they understand they will receive this deadline extension if they promise to not stay past that date, Siembra executive director Kelly Morales said in an email in January.
“We understand that moving mobile homes is costly and complicated — we’ve already seen the costs pile up for residents like Randy and Jose who left the mobile home park before the end of the year,” Kelly Morales said in that email. “We believe that if the residents of Hiatt Street are going to be asked to sign anything, they should have a feasible Plan B first.”
Anderson, the park manager, could not be reached by telephone for comment. But in that Feb. 28 letter to tenants, Anderson said that she had not received any signed forms. As a result, she said the dumpsters on-site would be removed and that residents would need to request trash bins from the city of Greensboro.
It is unclear how many of the forms have now been signed and how many residents remain. Some of the units still on the land are empty.
The March 9 letter from Hillsborough attorney Jamie Paulen asked that all further communication go through her.
“The community is in solidarity for the purposes of this demand,” Paulen wrote.
She noted that she is a litigation attorney.
“I am confident that I can keep the residents housed in their trailers pending small claims actions and appeals through the end of 2022,” she wrote.
Using initials and lot numbers, she described clients such as the single mother with three daughters and no health care who works as a server just 6 miles from the mobile home park and paid more than $10,000 to buy what had been an abandoned mobile home from the park. She got help remodeling it and relies on her sister, who also lives in the mobile home park, for child care.
Another is the father and husband with three children who works as a painter and spent more than $10,000 on the mobile home and its upgrades to make it habitable, and the cancer survivor who has lived amongst friends for 14 years. Another is a carpenter unable to work because of treatment for colon cancer.
In the demand letter seeking aid for the tenants, Paulen noted the millions in emergency funding the city had received through the American Rescue Funds Program.
“The remaining Hiatt families are making a demand of $451,928 in order for the remaining families to relocate voluntarily by the end of June, 2022,” she wrote, saying the demands were based on calculations of the financial impact of the displacement. “Without the money, the families intend to remain on the property and fight eviction all the way to the North Carolina Supreme Court.”
Help for ‘mass displacements’
Paulen could not be reached for comment but Siembra NC’s Kelly Morales said that Paulen no longer represents residents at the mobile home park. She said other questions had to be run by the tenants. Siembra had also helped the group raise money.
Before announcing its fund, the city had already been looking at a way to handle mass displacements, especially for people of low income. It was an issue four years ago when a tornado ripped through East Greensboro.
Vaughan had been worried that with the language barriers, Hiatt Street neighbors might have been led to believe that the city was going to pick up all the moving costs.
“I think the city was pretty direct in what our role was in this,” Vaughan said.
Not all the details have apparently been released regarding the fund, which seems to be part of the holdup for people like Margaret Morales, the mobile home park tenant. City officials have said that there are no upfront payments but there would be reimbursements for specific costs, such as for the movers of mobile homes.
Residents can get up to $10,000 each in aid for being displaced. However, that won’t be enough to cover the costs for Morales. She said moving her mobile home will cost about $3,600 plus thousands more to set it up at its new location. And she’ll need another $6,000 for a new heat pump to replace the current one, which movers told her wouldn’t survive the transfer. On top of that, she’ll need to pay for a place to stay for the weeks or more it takes to get her home moved and set up.
Vaughan called Morales this past week and the two talked about resources and agreed to talk again.
“I want to stress that this was an unusual situation,” Vaughan said of the city’s involvement. “Their options were extremely limited.”
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Contact Nancy McLaughlin at 336-373-7049 and follow @nmclaughlinNR on Twitter.