Recent news of evictions at Missoula's Third Street mobile home community are leaving other area trailer park residents feeling insecure that they, too, could go homeless.
In response to such worries, residents of the Garden City's River Acres say they have one solution to the problem: purchasing the land under their trailers themselves. "A year from now, I think you'll find that this court is one of the nicest ones in town," says Ron Ehman, a 65-year-old Navy veteran who's lived on the property for 26 years and is serving as president of River Acres' newly created five-member governing board.
In February, 31 River Acres homeowners paid roughly $25,000 each to cover the property's $795,000 price tag and collectively purchase the park. The sale marks the emergence of an increasing trend facilitated by community nonprofits, including NeighborWorks Montana and the New Hampshire-based Resident Owned Communities USA, which seeks to combat the effects of spiking property values on mobile home communities.
"They're really at risk of losing their housing and not having an affordable option available to them," says Kaia Peterson, from NeighborWorks.
Prior to closing on River Acres, residents worried they could be priced out of houses many have lived in for decades. That occurred in February when the owner of Missoula's Third Street mobile home court evicted roughly 44 tenants to make room for a planned commercial development.
The River Acres deal marks the second of its kind in Missoula. In December, Buena Vista Mobile Home Court residents purchased their property. Deals are financed and facilitated by NeighborWorks and ROC. River Acres residents will pay on average $320 month to cover the mortgage, which has a 5.8-percent interest rate. Revenue goes directly back into the court's bank account to cover expenses and improvements. NeighborWorks and ROC also teach property owners how to form a corporation and govern the cooperative communities.
Ehman says when NeighborWorks Montana first pitched the deal, he and other River Acres residents were suspicious. Despite facing a few hiccups, most of his neighbors are relieved to no longer fear evictions. "Most of them are happy," he says.