STAFF PHOTO BY ASHLEY SAARI—
STAFF PHOTO BY ASHLEY SAARI—
In 2006, Anne Marie Caissie was looking for a new place to live, on a single income. Her options to become a homeowner were severely limited, nearing non-existent.
“I was looking around, and there just wasn’t much I could afford,” said Caissie.
She found herself looking into Forest Park Estates, a cooperative mobile home park in Jaffrey. She had never lived in a mobile home community before, and knew little about them. But as she learned more about how the Jaffrey community was run, the more she became intrigued.
“I didn’t know anything about it – nothing at all. And that’s what we find with most people,” Caissie said.
Jaffrey’s Forest Park operates as a Resident Owned Community, or ROC. In many mobile home parks, the land is owned by a single person or entity. The residents rent the land, but own their home. In a ROC, the residents of the community collectively own the land. They still pay rent to the association board, which goes to paying off the community’s property tax, collective debt and things such as roadwork, utility upgrades, tree-trimming or general maintenance, but it results in rent prices that more stable and attributed to need, not profit or market value.
Forest Park was once a 55-and-older community, but in the mid-2000s, when it made the transition to a ROC, it became open to all ages, and now has a mix of retirees, single people and families, said Jo-Ann Gerde, the park’s operation manager.
Gerde purchased her home in Forest Park after being laid off as a technical writer while living in Gardner, Mass. She had a set budget when looking to downsize her home, and said a manufactured home was what was affordable for her.
“Now, I’m watching this place grow, and everything getting better and better every year. I’m quite happy here,” Gerde said.
Like many ROCs in the state, Forest Park made the transition from a privately owned park to resident-owned using a loan and assistance from New Hampshire Community Loan Fund, which has a program specifically for assisting communities make that transition.
The Community Loan Funds ROC program has been around for nearly 40 years, after first being formed to save a community in Meredith that was for sale.
Tara Reardon, vice president of Community Loan Fund’s Resident Owned Communities in New Hampshire, said ROCs are an increasingly common model in the state. There are about 145 resident-owned communities in New Hampshire, which represents about a third of manufactured housing parks in the state. Housing in these parks represents a significant amount of available housing in the region. Reardon said there are about 40 lots available in local parks throughout the Monadnock region, including four empty lots in Forest Park. Manufactured housing represents about 7 percent of the state’s housing stock, according to Reardon.
“Those are 40 affordable housing opportunities in a time of real housing crisis,” Reardon said. “The cost of owning a manufactured house is less than renting a two-bedroom apartment – if you can find a two bedroom apartment to rent.”
Residents owning the park comes with significant benefits, Reardon said. While in most models, in a manufactured home park the resident owns the house and rents the land, when the residents don’t own the land, it can become an insecure form of housing. By law, if the owner of the land wishes to sell the land or close the park, home owners are given an 18-month notice.
For some residents, physically moving their home to a new location, while possible, is not financially feasible. Reardon said she has seen residents have to walk away from homes they have lived in for years and put significant capital into when parks closed.
“When residents buy the land themselves, they’ve secured their house in perpetuity. It makes this really affordable housing stable and secure.”
New Hampshire Community Loan Fund Director of Community Relations Michele Talwani said in a market with skyrocketing housing costs, manufactured homes are a viable option for those seeking affordable living, but for many, there is a mental hurdle that must be overcome.
“When people talk about affordable housing these days, they’re talking about rental housing. This is home-ownership and this is wealth-building. They’re not paying someone else’s mortgage; they’re paying their own,” Talwani said.
But the words “mobile home park” and “trailer park” come with certain preconceived notions — some of which aren’t accurate to modern parks.
“Those words come with a stigma,” Talwani said.
“It’s a myth that these homes aren’t forever homes. Properly maintained, they are built to last,” Reardon said. “And it’s a myth that these homes lose value. Manufactured housing rises and falls with any other real estate.”
At the end of September, New Hampshire Community Loan Fund and the Southwest Regional Planning Commission took local stakeholders on a tour of two ROCs in the Monadnock region, including Forest Park, to show what a modern resident-owned community looks like.
“We’re trying to break down that stigma and highlight the positive nature of these neighborhoods, and the wealth-building this type of ownership can have,” Talwani said.
“‘Trailer park’ has a very negative connotation,” agreed Caissie. “That’s something we’ve been striving to overcome every single day. It’s frustrating, that there’s this outside perception.”
Some of the more-modern homes in Forest Park have sold for up to $175,000, Caissie said, and last year, the park upgraded its water and sewer system in a multi-million-dollar project.
Some of the recent improvements have resulted in older homes investing in upgrades, Gerde said.
“This is one of the things we hoped would happen,” Gerde said.
Owning and maintaining a manufactured home does come with caveats, said Caissie. The home does not have a permanent foundation, for example, and in the winter, pipes need to be insulated to prevent freezing. And while some homes in Forest Park are more affordable than renting, when approving a new resident, it is recommended they can afford living expenses of about $2,000 a month, which includes rent, mortgage, home insurance, utilities and living necessities.
Forest Park requires a one-time $500 buy-in to make a new homeowner a member of the cooperative that collectively owns the land, which is returned if they ever move out of the park. Monthly rent on the land is $385.
When Caissie purchased her home in Forest Park, she was looking for a place she could afford on her own, but she was also drawn to the community itself. Since she has lived there, she said, and particularly in the last few years, some of the most-common new purchasers who move in are single women.
“I think one of the attractive things about it is you have the security of a neighborhood,” Caissie said.
Ashley Saari can be reached at 603-924-7172, Ext. 244, or firstname.lastname@example.org. She’s on Twitter @AshleySaariMLT.
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STAFF PHOTO BY ASHLEY SAARI—