On a recent spring afternoon, a Christmas tree lies atop a pile of scrap wood inside the dilapidated Third Street trailer park adjacent to the Good Food Store in Missoula. A broken toilet rests near mangled fencing. Not far from the refuse sits 60-year-old Ken Nettleton, who learned last week that, after living here for eight years, he’s being evicted.
“I’ve been so damned worried about getting booted out of here,” Nettleton says.
On April 11, Missoula Property Management, on behalf of the parcel’s new owner, Fishmore Associates, notified roughly 44 Third Street trailer park residents that they’d have to move within 180 days. The announcement leaves Nettleton and many of his mostly low-income neighbors unsure where they will go.
“All of a sudden, we’re being displaced,” says Mike Horstman, who’s also lived here for eight years. “Nobody has any money.”
Horstman and Nettleton both own their trailers. They’ve also invested a significant amount of cash renovating them. In Horstman’s case, he built a garage onto his mobile home. Nettleton constructed a living-room addition for his two-bedroom trailer. He fears the addition will make moving the unit impossible.
While Nettleton grapples with the problem of whether he’ll be able to transport his home at all, he’s also been searching for a new space in Missoula that can accommodate his trailer. The prospect is especially daunting in light of Nettleton’s financial situation. Nettleton says he has heart problems and lives on $720 a month from Social Security. He currently pays $350 rent, plus $48 for water and trash. His research shows that a new rental space would cost significantly more than that. And then there’s a security deposit.
“There’s no way to come up with that kind of money,” he says.
The parcel’s new owners intend to build apartments on the site, says Michael Priske, who along with partners Albert Osellame and Lucas Osellame comprise Fishmore Associates. “That’s the plan,” Priske says, “if we can get everything through the city.”
Priske says he feels badly about the evictions. He notes the property is in need of a significant amount of work, including sewer repairs that would likely have required the trailers be moved anyway. He adds the partners aim to improve the area by building as many as 40 units of affordable housing.
“I always try to do stuff that’s going to enhance, or make Missoula a better place to live,” Priske says.
Apartments will mark a significant change for the site, which William Clark owned for 30 years. At 73, Clark’s failing health prompted him to move to an assisted living facility, says his nephew, Timothy Seward. Clark’s waning energy also motivated him to sell the property.
“I know it’s definitely hard on Bill,” says Seward, who owns a restaurant in Columbia Falls. “But it has to be done, he understands that.”
The property is being sold as two parcels. The rear half, where Nettleton lives, was purchased by Fishmore. Residents there must be out by October. Clark still owns the front half, which abuts Third Street. Seward says a chain store is eyeing the front parcel for a possible new location. “AutoZone is the one we’re dealing with,” Seward says.
To make way for development on the front parcel, the Clark estate evicted roughly 44 additional residents from 22 trailers in February.
Nettleton says his neighbors were not prepared to move as winter temperatures plummeted. One mobile home owner couldn’t haul his trailer away because it had sunk into the ground, which, Nettleton says, was frozen solid. He adds that many of the park’s former residents didn’t know where they were going to live next.
“They said, ‘We got nowhere else to go,’” Nettleton recalls. “A lot of ’em had to throw their food, their groceries, everything out.”
Seward acknowledges the evictions were tough for his family to stomach. He says Clark had many opportunities to sell the land over the years, but didn’t because he felt responsible for the residents.
“Bill, he’s a true liberal,” Seward says. “He really cares about these people.”
That sentiment provides little solace to Nettleton, who’s especially worried about becoming homeless in light of his legal challenges. Nettleton’s on parole and fears that without a home address to report to the state, he’ll be sent back to prison. That reality leaves him feeling pressured to find a new place quickly.
“I have been out every day looking,” he says.