What's at stake?
A Fresno judge approved the sale of the Trails' End mobile home park to Harmony Communities, raising questions about whether residents will be displaced due to evictions and rising rents.
A Fresno County Superior Court judge approved the sale of Trails End Mobile Home Park to Harmony Communities for $1.7 million, despite months of protests from residents and another potential buyer.
Following Judge Kristi Culver-Kapetan’s announcement, several residents and supporters, who waited in the packed courtroom Tuesday afternoon, broke into tears, and people began singing and chanting.
“Honestly, I’m heartbroken. I’m crushed. I’m devastated. I’m exhausted,” said Trails End resident Daysy Gomez, with tears in her eyes.
“There were options on the table that the tenants were fighting for. We’ve been fighting for this for a month,” Gomez said. “What else can a community do to stand up for themselves, if a judge is not even listening? Because I felt like she stopped listening.”
Culver-Kapetan ultimately approved a deal that the court-appointed receiver, the California Receivership Group, had set up with Harmony Communities and sought approval for.
“I’m thrilled that (Culver-Kapetan) was able to make a decision today, and I think it’s a good one for the Fresno community,” said Mark Adams, the CEO of the California Receivership Group. Many residents disagree, however.
Dozens of Trails End residents have shown their opposition to the sale through protests, court declarations, public comments at City Hall and media interviews. They cite their personal experiences with Harmony Communities’ work contractors in March as well as the company’s well known history of rent increases and strict regulations, as documented in the Fresno Bee, New York Times and other media outlets across California and Colorado.
Gomez also said that she is now concerned that Harmony Communities, which has been working as a contractor at the park for several months, will target her and her family because she has been a vocal opponent of the sale.
“They know my name. They know what I drive in, and where I live,” Gomez said. “They know my daughter, and I feel like I’m going to be a big target for them.”
Another resident, Heidi Phipps, was visibly upset and said she is concerned that Harmony Communities will “take everything” from her family, but that the “fight is not over yet.”
“They snaked us,” Phipps said. “They’re devils.”
Central Rural Legal Assistance attorney Mariah Thompson, who represents Trails End United for Change and several individual Trails End residents, told community members immediately following the hearing that “It’s certainly not over.”
“Irrespective of who owns this park, every single resident in this park is protected by many different laws,” Thompson said. “I know that CRLA is not going anywhere.”
Judge says there were no other offers
Before announcing her decision, Culver-Kapetan said no “viable proposals,” other than Harmony Communities’, had been submitted to the court, prior to the May 2 deadline.
Trails End United for Change had brought forth the idea of purchasing the park as a cooperative in April and in May requested that the park be sold to the nonprofit Caritas Corporation; however, both plans required additional time or documents.
John Wooly, the chief investment officer of Caritas Corp., said the nonprofit was interested in purchasing the park and could potentially do so within 90 days. However, they had not received necessary financial documents from the Trails End owners and would not be able to make a precise offer prior to receiving those documents.
Adams said he would have “entertained” the offer had Caritas made one; however, as noted by Caritas, a final offer had not been made at this time.
“One of the things that was challenging for me with Caritas is, where were they three months ago?” Adams said. “The frustration is for them to come in at the very last minute without an offer.”
During the trial, Culver-Kapetan asked Christina Roberson, assistant city attorney, if the city wanted to weigh in on the decision, since the city had brought a lawsuit against the current owners of the mobile home park.
Roberson confirmed that city officials had met with Resident Owned Communities USA, Harmony Communities and Caritas, regarding Trails End; however, the city’s position was to leave the decision up to the court. Roberson did not elaborate on why the city did not take a position in their own lawsuit.
Thompson said Trails End United for Change had requested that the city of Fresno purchase the park and then sell it to Caritas to allow for the corporation to have more time; however, the city decided not to take action on the sale in any way.
“One of the reasons that we were unable to put our proposal forward sooner was because the city was going to be deliberating to make a determination on what they were going to do,” Thompson said. “After the last closed session, where residents pleaded for assistance, (the city) didn’t even have the respect for my clients to send us an email telling us that they weren’t going to take a position.”
According to Adams, Harmony Communities will be completed with bringing the park into health and safety compliance within the next four weeks or so. After that, the receiver will likely “get out of the picture” within one to two months, and Harmony Communities will take over as owners.
While Adams said that the receivers do not plan on filing any evictions in the time they have left at Trails End. However, once Harmony Communities officially takes ownership and begins charging rent, they may file for evictions as they deem necessary.
Residents gathered for a community meeting at the mobile home park in the evening following the trial. Thompson told residents that she and her clients will analyze their next steps but there are still many protections in place for residents at the mobile home park.
“As far as we consider it, it is far from over,” Thomspon told residents. “So we will continue and carry on.”