Mobile home residents will have to move from city-owned land
URBANA — With 10 months to get out, families in nine mobile homes off of Glover Avenue are fearing the worst after the city bought the land they live on and their landlord said they have to move.
Residents at the Barnes mobile home park say they have heard little about what they are supposed to do or where they should go. Many of them don't have the thousands of dollars they would need to move their mobile homes, and they are hoping the city will come up with relocation assistance to help them move before they are forced out.
"It's just like they're exterminating us like roaches," said Limor Stroud, who has lived in Barnes for 18 years.
Mayor Laurel Prussing said on Thursday that those discussions will happen soon. The city bought the land in December, and in April, residents were told they had a year to move.
The thin strip of land that constitutes the mobile home park sits immediately north of the city's public works garage on Glover Avenue. Public Works Director Bill Gray said the land and the park were inherited by relatives when its previous owner died. Those inheritors were looking to sell the land, and the city was interested.
With city council approval, officials agreed in December to buy the land for $113,000. But the deal is contingent on it being a cleared site — the city won't close on the sale until all the homes are removed.
After being told they'll have to leave, residents say they are not sure what they'll do. Most of the residents own their mobile homes outright, but it can cost thousands of dollars to move them.
"This is unreal," said Cindy Green, who has lived in the park with her fiancee for four years. "We just don't have that kind of money."
Residents started coming to city council meetings last month to plead their case. Prussing said city officials plan to deal with the situation.
"We're just in the process of looking at all the options and we're going to talk to every resident of the Barnes mobile home park," Prussing said. "I don't know if we're going to end up figuring out some way they can stay."
Allowing residents to stay might be possible because the city does not have any immediate plans for the property. It might be included in some kind of future expansion of city facilities, but right now, the city does not have the money to build anyway.
At a recent meeting, city council members tossed around the idea of acting as the landlord for a while until the city or the residents saved up enough money to move everyone out.
"We'll figure out what the options are and then discuss the pros and cons of each," Prussing said. "But we're certainly going to involve the residents in the discussion."
Doris and Steven Newsome say it seems to be happening very fast and that they have heard little about what their future might look like. They don't have the money to move, either, and they hope the city can find some room in its budget to help them out.
"Nine families are going to be homeless ... out of the blue," Doris Newsome said.
And for Stroud, this isn't her first time in this situation. She said it's reminiscent of when she was forced out of the Lincoln Mobile Home Park in 1996, when that property closed to make way for new student apartments. The city handed out some relocation assistance for residents of 90 homes there, but Stroud said she just wants to find a permanent home.
"This is the second time around for me," she said. "I can't keep moving around with my health."
Gray said he was just coming on as public works director when the city was working through the closure of the Lincoln Mobile Home Park in the 1990s — and that's why the officials took steps to avoid a repeat.
"Knowing what that was about, I wanted nothing to do with that," Gray told the city council. "So it was clear in our discussions that if we were to move forward with this purchase, the representatives of the (trust that owns the property) would need to relocate, move, what have you, the folks that live there."
Those representatives said it would take a fair amount of money to do that — and that's why city officials paid more than market value for the land, Gray said.
"That was compassion side, if you will, in our negotiations," Gray said. "We had no intention to get heavily involved in the moving. It was, to be clear, to have a cleared site. That was our intent. We didn't want to get involved with moving nine or 10 families."
At least a few of the park's residents are aware that the city paid more for the land, but they're skeptical about whether it will help.
"I don't think we're going to see a dime of it," Stroud said.
Alderwoman Diane Marlin, D-Ward 7, said she did not feel the city council was given a clear explanation of what was happening when presented with the sale contract late last year.
"The bigger question is why didn't we know about this situation and what can we do to prevent us being kind of left in the dark about this in the future," Marlin said. "I don't think we did get a complete picture when we voted on this. I think the people on the land is as important as the land."
The Champaign-Urbana Tenant Union has gotten involved. Esther Patt, its executive director, said the residents at Barnes are going to have trouble finding a place to move to. Some of the mobile homes are too old to be accepted into other parks, she said.
Most of the residents are over the age of 55 and retired on fixed incomes. Several make less than $15,000 per year, and for a lot of them, their mobile homes are their major financial asset.
"There are two households that have school age children, and wherever they have to move to, they would like to stay in the Urbana school district," Patt said.
Stroud said she would have a hard time finding a new place.
"I have been looking," she said. "Nothing seems to really suit me. Everything is small."