When it was time for the final vote, Victoria Staunches made a pitch to her neighbors: They needed to vote yes to buy their neighborhood, the Fox Hill Lane Mobile Home Park in Franconia, New Hampshire.
Staunches knew how precarious life could be in a mobile home park. She and her family had lost their home 12 years earlier when their park was sold to a new owner who wanted to develop the land for retail.
So when Staunches heard that the Fox Hill park was up for sale, she got involved. A park resident had already contacted the New Hampshire Community Loan Fund, a CDFI that helps mobile park residents own their communities. After a series of meetings, the residents voted yes to form a cooperative and buy their park.
“I said (to the residents), ‘In order to ensure that you still have your home and this land, we need to vote to own this,’” Staunches says. “It was a good feeling to know that I wasn’t going to have to pick up and move again.”
The Fox Hill Cooperative is one of 139 mobile parks that the Community Loan Fund has supported in becoming resident-owned cooperatives. That’s roughly one-third of all mobile parks in the state. Mobile parks are an affordable housing option for low-income residents, with home prices averaging $81,000, according to the Manufactured Homes Institute.
However, their affordability has been at risk. Private groups, especially equity firms, have been buying parks around the country, sometimes increasing rents so high that residents are trapped in a decision: abandon their homes or continue paying bills they can’t afford.
What helps make New Hampshire a success story for resident-owned communities is a law that requires owners give 60 days notice before they sell, so the residents can make an offer. The owner must consider the residents’ offer in good faith. Several other states have similar laws, but New Hampshire’s is one of the strongest.
Since the Community Loan Fund started this work in 1984, none of the 139 cooperatives have defaulted on their loans or reverted back to private ownership, says Zachery Palmer, a housing cooperative specialist at ROC-NH, which is part of the Community Loan Fund. Their work has been so successful, the group helped launch a venture to support resident-owned communities nationwide through ROC USA.
“You’re helping to preserve affordable housing and keep it in the hands of people who are in the community,” Palmer says. “It’s a way to keep affordable housing affordable and empower people who have typically been overlooked.”
The Community Loan Fund provides gap financing and ongoing technical support to the Fox Hill Cooperative, and connected them with a bank to finance the purchase of the park.
Victoria Staunches stands in front of the entrance to the Fox Hill Cooperative.
(Photo courtesy of Victoria Staunches)
Staunches, who was voted by her community to be the operations manager, volunteers with three other board members to oversee maintenance, enforce community bylaws, and fill empty lots so that the community has maximum revenue.
It can be challenging for smaller communities like Fox Hill, with 34 lots, to get enough engagement from residents to run the park, as compared to larger communities with 400 lots. But this hasn’t stopped them from taking on big projects.
The Community Loan Fund helped the park secure a USDA grant to replace a water line. This will involve ripping up the road, replacing affected septic systems and electrical panels and eliminating flooding areas.
“It’s a measure of how effective they are at working together that they were able to get this off the ground this quickly,” says Richard Weisberg, ROC-NH housing cooperative specialist and real estate broker, who is Fox Hill’s ongoing technical advisor.
While it’s a lot of work, Staunches says she would do it all over again to keep her home in Franconia, the laid-back, ski town that borders the White Mountain National Forest. Her son, daughter-in-law, and granddaughter live across the road, as does her best friend. The park sits under old pines next to a cemetery, and it’s so quiet at nights sitting on her front porch that she can hear a pin drop. Most importantly, she can stay as long as she wants to.
This story is part of our series, CDFI Futures, which explores the community development finance industry through the lenses of equity, public policy and inclusive community development. The series is generously supported by Partners for the Common Good. Sign up for PCG’s CapNexus newsletter at capnexus.org.
Kate is a Seattle-based writer who has written about education, climate change, foster care and food justice. Her bylines have appeared in YES! Magazine, The Atlantic, The 74 and a handful of Pacific Northwest community newspapers.