What's at stake?
Residents at the Trails' End mobile home park are hoping Fresno officials will use their clout to oppose the sale to Harmony Communities, who has a history of raising rents and strict rules.
Dozens of Trails End residents gathered with hopes that city leaders would oppose the sale of the Fresno mobile home park to Harmony Communities — a corporate mobile home park property owner with a history of strict rules and high rent increases.
However, residents were told by Mayor Jerry Dyer that ultimately that decision will be left up to the court.
“The judge in this case does not respond to the city of Fresno, we are not the ones that give direction to the judge, we don’t give input into the legal proceedings,” Dyer said. “And the reason we did that at the very onset was to take politics out of the process.”
The city could, however, still submit an opposition to the sale because they are a party in the lawsuit in which they requested the California Receivership Group be appointed to fix health and safety violations at the park.
“The city is absolutely in a unique position to influence the court,” said California Rural Legal Assistance lawyer Mariah Thompson, who represents about a dozen households at the park.
During Thursday’s City Council meeting, Thompson also said, “This (sale) is happening because of the case that you brought against the slumlords that were running this park …. The court will decide, but your recommendation on your own lawsuit for the residents will be hugely influential.”
Despite a closed session meeting regarding the lawsuit and Thompson emailing City Council members and Dyer’s office about residents’ opposition to the sale, Assistant City Attorney Christina Roberson told residents Friday she had not received documents about their opposition.
Roberson did not say whether the City Attorney’s office would file in support or opposition of the sale.
As soon as Thompson was made aware that neither the City Council nor the mayor’s office had notified the city attorney’s office of the documents she sent to the city regarding residents’ opposition to the sale, she said she emailed Roberson directly.
Residents are afraid they’ll be displaced
During the community meeting, Dyer, Roberson and Councilmember Garry Bredefeld fielded questions and comments from residents – many of whom were frustrated and scared that they would soon be displaced.
Many residents have already received seven-day notices from the California Receivership Group for violations ranging from outdoor washers and dryers to “unsightly” decor in trees. Several residents told The Bee they fear the restrictions will worsen if Harmony Communities takes over.
Randy Gonzales, who rents his trailer from a landlord who also lives in the park, said his landlord refused to fix any of the violations cited in the notice – which are related to a leaking water heater. Gonzales said he’s worried that as a result of his landlord’s refusal to comply, he will be forced to leave the only home he can afford.
“I went from being hopeful to being treated like a criminal,” Gonzales said. “I can’t help that I don’t have a place to go, it’s a lot of money to get into an apartment … and we are good hardworking people.”
Another resident, Patricia Shawn, who’s owned her home for 24 years, said she is “petrified” of the sale.
“I want them (Dyer and Bredefeld) to make good on the promise they made, standing right here, when all this first started,” Shawn said before the meeting. “They promised to help us, but Harmony isn’t going to help us.”
Heidi Phipps, another renter at the mobile home park, also shared the concerns of her neighbors. She has two forms of cancer and a daughter with special needs, so when she received a notice for violations, she was unable to meet the deadline. Unlike many other residents, however, she said she felt the city was doing all they could.
“If they sell it, it’s going to be all bad for all of us,” Phipps said. “I feel like the city should have more say … that way they can step up and say ‘Hey this is what they want, listen to the residents,listen to the complaints.’ But I know they are trying their best.”
Around 30 Trails End residents also showed up to the Fresno City Council meeting March 24 and a handful pleaded with council members during public comment to oppose the sale of the park.
“I’m disabled, many of us are disabled, there are widows, there are single mothers, and there are working poor who live at our trailer park,” resident Leslie Wright said during public comment. “My income won’t qualify when these people (Harmony Communities) take over.”
Mayor says city has been helping
Though several residents verbally disagreed, Dyer said the city had stuck to its promise of helping the mobile home park residents by bringing in a receiver and working to clean up the mobile home park.
“I did say when we came out, Councilmember Bredefeld and I came out and said, ‘We are going to help you folks,’” Dyer said. “In my estimations, we have and at no cost to anyone other than the city of Fresno.”
The mayor and assistant city attorney also informed residents of programs such as the Eviction Protection Program.
However, Thompson said residents wanted more direct support, not simply information about what programs are available. A hearing for residents filing in opposition to the sale will be held March 29 and a hearing on the decision of whether or not the park will be sold will take place March 30.
“This situation started as a tragedy and it seems like it may end in a tragedy, and the worst part about it is, it doesn’t have to,” Thompson said.