A Place to Call Their Own : Residents Save Mobile Home Park in Lomita by Buying Part of It From Developer
Two years ago, the residents of the Grandview Mobile Home Park were facing near-disaster.
The Lomita park that many of them had called home for decades had been sold to a developer who proposed to evict them and build homes on the site.
Helen Reed, 75, who had recently moved from the desert town of Hemet to be near her daughter in Harbor City, recalls that she was devastated by the news. “They never told anybody the place was up for sale.”
The residents decided to band together and fight the plan. Today, with the help of a $225,000 loan from the developer, they are proud owners of half the 4.4-acre site they once leased.
Grandview’s residents are believed to be the first in the South Bay area to accomplish what a number of mobile home park residents parks across the state have done: buying the land on which their homes sit.
Residents such as Helen Toloczko, 78, are ecstatic to be collective owners of the neatly landscaped park on Pennsylvania Avenue near Lomita Boulevard.
“Oh, man, how do you explain it,” said Toloczko. “I didn’t want to live anyplace else. I’m happy now. I’m contented. What a relief to know the rest of my days I won’t have to worry about a rent raise every year. This is ours, and that means something.”
The road to ownership began with bad news on April Fool’s Day, 1987. Grandview’s residents received a notice that the property had been sold to a Lomita developer, Knickerbocker & Associates, which planned to build 75 patio homes at the site.
When Knickerbocker bought the site in January, 1987, the developer’s plan was to close down the entire site, said director of development John Elmajian.
“We thought for sure we were evicted,” said Dave Montz, who at that time had lived in Grandview for a year. Some of the other residents had lived at the park for 30 years or more. Most were senior citizens, some suffering from poor health, and many had family members in the area.
“I have so many good friends here,” said 30-year resident Emma Beck, 86. “I didn’t want to leave.”
Jim Dewey, 52, then a six-year Grandview resident, was dividing his time between his home in Santa Barbara and a job in Los Angeles. Dewey said he knocked on every door in the park to find out what the residents wanted to do.
“I asked the people if they wanted to fight it or if they wanted to take it laying down,” Dewey said.
Maze of Obstacles
The decision was to fight, but the battle involved navigating a maze of sophisticated legal, financial and governmental obstacles.
Led by Dewey and his wife, Sharon, the residents formed an association and began attending City Council and Planning Commission meetings to voice opposition to the development.
In May, 1987, the residents’ association won the first round, when the Lomita City Council unanimously rejected the Knickerbocker relocation impact report, criticizing it as inadequate.
The report suggested offering residents about $2,500 to move their homes to a park on a list submitted by the developer, Dewey said. Many of the parks were more than 50 miles from Lomita, he said, and most were in the desert area.
The city gave the developer six months to submit a new report. During that period, some residents accepted the relocation offer. Other residents began meeting with the developer to discuss ways to resolve the issue.
Dewey, meanwhile, researched the residents’ options and discovered the Mobile Home Park Assistance Program (MPAP), a state program through which $4.5 million is available for loans to help mobile home park residents buy the lots on which their homes sit. Money for the program comes from a $5 fee charged annually to mobile home park residents, state officials said.
Armed with that knowledge, the residents approached the developer and the two sides finally agreed to a compromise.
“We agreed if he sold us the property at a price we could afford, we in turn would do everything we could to change the zoning and get the project approved,” Dewey said.
Both the residents and the developer had doubts whether the group could pull it off.
“Initially, we didn’t think it could be done because it’s tough to get a group of 40 people together, to get the information together, to put together a down payment,” Knickerbocker’s Elmajian, said.
Resident Glenn Peck said he was “for it 199%, but I didn’t think we could do it.”
The residents formed a nonprofit corporation, which operates separately from the residents association. Dewey made four trips to Sacramento and, working with state officials and eventually a private lawyer, worked out a financing plan.
To remain at the park, each resident had to buy a $41,500 share in the corporation, Dewey said. Thirteen residents bought their shares outright, and the rest put down one-tenth, or about $4,000.
The corporation’s aim was to keep housing costs to about 30% to 40% of total income for residents, most of whom are on fixed incomes, Dewey said. The corporation met that goal, and many residents say their monthly expenses are lower now than before they bought the park.
Through the MPAP program, which is administered by the state Department of Housing and Community Development, the Grandview corporation received a loan of $498,000 toward the $1.66 million needed to complete the purchase, said Julie Stewart, a department spokeswoman.
Stewart said the breakdown for the remainder of the funding was $622,000 in private financing, $315,000 in resident equity and a $225,000 loan from the developer. Dewey said the loan was used to help low-income residents make their $4,000 down payments.
Jerry Gibbs, the residents’ attorney who has also helped residents of other parks buy their lots, said about 40 parks were converted to resident ownership in California in 1988.
“Who better to buy the park than the people who live in it?” Gibbs asked.
Dewey said all mobile home park residents should investigate the possibility of buying their parks and recommended forming a residents association as a first step. Dewey also recommended membership in the Golden State Mobile Home League, which offers assistance and information on loan programs to mobile home park residents.
“Grandview doesn’t have to be the only park like this,” Dewey said. “Our message to our neighbors in trailer parks is they can do it too. There’s all kinds of laws to make it possible for people to buy their trailer parks.”
The Grandview residents closed escrow on March 31, becoming owners of 2.2 acres of the site. The developer is building 37 three-bedroom townhomes, ranging in price from $265,000 to $335,000, on the remaining 2.2 acres, Elmajian said.
The two-year effort to buy the park has helped to galvanize the small Grandview community. Residents who once barely knew each other said they now get together regularly for block parties and barbecues. Medical records and family contacts are being recorded on Dewey’s computer in case of emergencies.
Last year, one elderly resident was discovered dead in her trailer, two days after she died.That incident spurred the group to initiate a “buddy system,” so that neighbors keep tabs on one another. Despite succeeding in their efforts to buy the park, some residents say the near-eviction two years ago and other developments have caused serious disruption in their lives.
Joyce Bracking, 59, lived on the portion of the site where the townhomes are being built and was forced to relocate to the other side of the park. Because none of the spaces available was large enough to accommodate her home, Bracking said, she sold it at a loss of about $4,000 and bought a new one.
Nonetheless, she is pleased with the outcome.
“We’re happy here,” said Bracking, looking around her two-bedroom home. “This is independence.”