Across the country, investors are buying communities of manufactured homes. Some Vermonters are resisting this trend.

Skip Horner tours Breezy Acres Cooperative Mobile Home Park in Colchester on July 20. Photo by Glenn Russell/VTDigger

Across the country, private equity firms and REITs are buying manufactured home communities from local owners and charging residents more to stay there.

But in Vermont, with great help from the state — through education about their rights and funding of millions from two government agencies — residents are standing up against the trend.

Joe Ciccherelli, director of housing for the Institute for Cooperative Development, an organization that helps manufactured housing complexes, also known as mobile home parks, transform into cooperatives. “They raise rents a lot.”

Since 2011, the Cooperative Development Institute has helped nearly 1,300 Vermont homeowners purchase their 16 manufactured home communities. Before 2011, Jeremiah Ward, a collaborative development specialist at the institute, said that four other manufactured home gardens had teamed up: Williston Woods and three communities in Brattleboro that formed the Tri-Park Co-op.

Over the past decade, nearly a quarter of manufactured home gardens in the country have been purchased by investors, said George McCarthy, president of the Lincoln Institute for Land Policy.

“Everyone looks at these as cash cows,” McCarthy said.

Investors buy the land while the residents, as a rule, own the houses but must rent the land. But across the United States, the 3 million manufactured homeowners who live in parks also own the land.

When investors buy communities, they also start charging residents for utilities the park owners were covering, Cicerelli said, such as garbage collection, water, and sewage.

“I think these private equity firms are getting a lot of money right now, and housing is giving them a great return because they have park residents who live in what were formerly mobile homes,” Cicerelli said. “They live in these really immobile manufactured homes, and they are a captive audience.”

Under Vermont’s Opportunity Purchase Act, residents of a manufactured home community get the first opportunity to purchase their community or purchase a nonprofit on their behalf. The park owner must give notice to the residents of an offer to purchase the property. Residents, in turn, have 45 days to notify the owner that they intend to match the offer, and another 120 days to submit their offer. The owner is not obligated to accept the residents’ offer, but must negotiate in good faith.

“Vermont values ​​manufactured housing as one solution to the affordable housing crisis,” Cicerelli said. “So when a garden is offered for sale, the state steps in and they hold a meeting with the residents. They teach them what their options are.”

Vermont Commerce and Community Development lists 67 nonprofit, resident-owned parks throughout the state.

The Institute for Cooperative Development recently helped two Colchester communities, Breezy Acres and Hillcrest, avoid selling to investors and transform themselves into cooperatives.

Mobile homes at Breezy Acres Cooperative. Photo by Glenn Russell/VTDigger

Breezy Acres residents closed a deal to purchase 38-acre park and 190 homes at the intersection of Route 2 and Creek Road from longtime local owners Mark and Philip Brault in February.

The residents, who owned their homes but rented the land, paid the Braultt brothers $11 million for Breezy Acres, which amounted to about $57,800 per site, significantly more than the $39,000 per site offered in the four previous sales to the Vermont communities. This was an indication of the growing desire in manufactured home communities as investments, Cicerelli said.

While residents bought the property for $11 million, they took out a loan of $11.9 million to cover closing costs and the cost of starting reserves and opening bank accounts. Cicirelli said the Institute for Cooperative Development worked with residents of Breezy Acres to identify needed repairs and upgrades for their community. The cost of repair and replacement was accounted for in the Community Purchase Fund.

Skip Horner, secretary of the new co-op that now owns Breezy Acres, said the sale provides security for the park’s residents.

“I’ll probably be here for the rest of my life because we own it and no one special can come and pick us up,” Horner said. “This could have happened.”

On a recent tour of the community’s eight streets, Horner said the co-op charges $489 per month in rent per lot. He explained that the co-op had to increase the rent from the $460 that Braults was charging to cover community purchases and improvements being made.

“You still deserve it,” Horner said.

“The infrastructure isn’t great, but we’re starting to get there,” he added. “We just fixed the roads for $4,000.”

Breezy Acres Co-op in Colchester. Photo by Glenn Russell/VTDigger

The community has been around since 1963. Horner has lived there for 21 years, but says “many people” have lived there longer. Over the years, immigrants have joined the community. Nine Vietnamese families and one Myanmar family now live there, according to Horner.

At Breezy Acres, residents were able to purchase their own community thanks to a 3.2% bond for $10.1 million issued by the Vermont Housing Authority, Ward said.

Ward said the Vermont Housing Preservation Board awarded another $1.1 million.

Maura Collins, executive director of the Vermont Housing Finance Agency, said the agency did not fund Breezy Acres but said it stepped in to help communities cooperate by taking on the bulk of the loan to communities when they buy themselves.

“He’s been really successful in getting really low-cost loan dollars to these communities,” Collins said.

Community development grants have also been used to help communities collaborate, according to Housing and Community Development Commissioner Josh Hanford.

At Breezy Acres, the owners seem to take great pride in the small tweaks they’ve made, including the flower gardens and decks. Horner is proud of the little grass he made in front of his house by putting up some boards that trap the water flowing down the hill when it rains.

“I have bumblebees coming here,” he said.

Indicates morning glories.

“It’s good to know your house will be here for the rest of your life,” he said.

Skip Horner is posting a notice to residents of Breezy Acres Cooperative on July 20. Photo by Glenn Russell/VTDigger

Did you know that VTDigger is a non-profit organization?

Our journalism is made possible by the donations of members. If you appreciate what we do, please contribute and help keep this vital resource accessible to all.

Categorized under:

people and places

Tags: Agency for Commerce and Community Development, Breezy Acres, George McCarthy, Joe Cicirelli, Fabricated Home Gardens, Fabricated Homes, Mobile Home Garden, Mobile Home Gardens, Mobile Homes, Skip Horner, Vermont Agency for Trade and Community Development, Vermont Housing Conservation Council

Fred Theiss

About Fred

Fred Thys covers business and economics for VTDigger. He is originally from Bethesda, Maryland and graduated from Williams College with a degree in political science. Received the Edward R. Morrow Award from the Radio, Television and Digital News Association for investigative and corporate reporting. Farid has worked for The Journal of Commerce, ABC News, CBS News, CNN, NBC News, and WBUR, and has written for Le Matin, The Dallas Morning News, and The American Homefront Project.