by David J. Thompson
The recent holidays were the best ever at the Polly Ann Park in Dover Point, New Hampshire. Likely, they were the best ever for the mobile home park’s residents since the park opened 61 years ago in 1955. On December 16th, just days before Christmas, the mortgage was signed and the residents became the proud new owners of Polly Ann Park.
At holiday time last year–December 2015–the 79 families living in the park were renters of their spaces. For them, the holidays went on as they had for the families who had lived there a long time, some even decades. Little did any of them know then what would happen by 2016’s end.
In February 2016, a letter arrived in every resident’s mailbox from Frank and Ann Torr, the park’s owners. The Torrs wanted to sell the park, but more importantly, they wanted the residents to be its buyers. Although the New Hampshire law requires residents be given the first opportunity to buy, in this case, the owners purposefully wanted the long time residents to become the owners.
By April, the residents of the park had organized themselves into the Dover Point Cooperative and elected a board. They had engaged the staff and support of the New Hampshire Community Loan Fund’s ROC-NH™ (Resident Owned Communities – New Hampshire) team to guide them through the process of buying the park.
“We can’t thank Frank and Ann Torr enough for coming to us about buying the park,” said Steve Sheehan, park resident and the first president of the cooperative’s charter board. The Torrs had actually approached Community Loan Fund about making the sale to the residents before they even told the residents. When park owners make that type of decision, it allows for a smooth transaction.
When asked about the journey to resident ownership, Steve Sheehan replied, “When we started this process, my wife and I told everyone we would have a cookout when we had a signed purchase and sales agreement! The agreement was signed in August (2016) and we had that cookout in front of the garage that we are converting to our meeting hall.”
“When we finished signing the closing documents (December 16, 2016), we all had a great sense of accomplishment. This was a nine month process with a lot of ups and downs. Knowing that our future is secure is a great feeling. Once we renovate the garage into our meeting hall, we are going to have another celebration for the community.”
For the members of the Dover Point Cooperative, 2017 started off with a real bang. For the approximately 200 residents, life will change. When an owner of a mobile home now also owns the land underneath them their economic status changes dramatically. Community Loan Fund is set up to help the resident owners with a wider range of programs to help them both effectively save and borrow.
In most states in America, the act of residents buying the mobile home park where they live is hardly ever thought of by either the park owners or the residents and is almost impossible to achieve. Yet in New Hampshire, residents buying their park has become a pattern. The newly created Dover Point Cooperative is now the 121st mobile home park in New Hampshire to convert from private ownership to a member-owned cooperative. During 2016, with the help of Community Loan Fund, residents of six mobile home parks in New Hampshire purchased their parks. As a result, 351 families in New Hampshire who had been long term renters of their space became co-owners of their park in 2016.
By the best professional estimate possible from Community Loan Fund ROC-NH, there are 558 mobile home parks in New Hampshire. In those parks there are 25,968 mobile and manufactured homes. With 121 of them being resident owned parks, 22% of all the parks in New Hampshire are now cooperatively owned. With 6,800 mobile home owners being in those 121 resident owned parks, 26% of all mobile homes in New Hampshire are now in resident-owned parks. New Hampshire has by far the highest percentage of resident- owned parks of any state in America.
It was not always this easy. In 1984, the 14 members of the Meredith Center Cooperative patched together the funds to be the first residents in New Hampshire to buy their mobile home park. The origins of the New Hampshire Community Loan Fund were tied into that first loan. Today, the role of the Community Loan Fund and ROC-NH™ is to give the residents of New Hampshire the tools and resources necessary to buy their mobile home park if it comes up for sale.
The story of how Community Loan Fund, mobile home park residents and the state worked together to create a legal structure, institutional support and financing is well worth telling, but at another time. Suffice it to say for now that the laws (lobbied for by Community Loan Fund and mobile home owners) in New Hampshire are the strongest of any state in providing a process for residents to buy their park when they come up for sale.
Without everything that the Community Loan Fund has put into place, Dover Point Cooperative could never have happened. The Dover Point Cooperatives of this world are fortunate.
As Steve Sheehan, president of the co-op told me recently, “I know I can speak for everyone on the Board in saying we couldn’t thank ROC and the Community Loan Fund enough for all their work and guidance throughout this process. We couldn’t have done this without them!”
And in the spirit of the season just past, and as Tiny Tim in Dickens’ story, “A Christmas Carol,” said, “God bless us everyone.” For without a lot of groups and people working together for the common good, this holiday story could not have been told.
A Very Happy New Year to the 200 residents of the Dover Point Cooperative.
David J. Thompson is President of the Twin Pines Cooperative Foundation which helps to fund residents buying their parks as co-ops. Twin Pines Cooperative Foundation is a long-term investor in the New Hampshire Community Loan Fund. Since 2009, TPCF’s dollars invested in Community Loan Fund have helped the renters at 29 parks (serving over 1,900 families) to form co-ops to purchase their parks. To learn more visit: /www.communityloanfund.org/ and www.community.coop.
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