What's at stake?
What began as a fire that killed a resident two years ago, has turned into a struggle for many residents to stay in their homes with new owners enforcing rules about habitability and raising rents.
Residents of La Hacienda Mobile Estates in northeast Fresno, formerly known as Trails End Mobile Home Park, all received notice on Friday from Harmony Communities, that the park is set to close in 12 months, ending their tenancies.
The news came via letter, dated April 14 and signed by Erika Roman on behalf of La Hacienda Mobile Estates, LLC. Residents were further advised that within the next year, they are required to quit and “remove or sell the mobilehome and deliver up possession” to Harmony’s agent.
“We have come to the sad realization that the structural issues facing La Hacienda have created a situation in which it makes the most sense to close the park,” wrote Sherrie Johnston, Harmony’s chief operating officer, in an April 17 email to Fresnoland.
“While unfortunate, sometimes land uses become obsolete and must be repositioned for the betterment of the entire community.”
Harmony’s plan for the park, according to Johnston, includes “listing this property right away and . . . seeking out either a developer partner or an outright sale to someone with the vision to re-concept this land in a way that is more compatible with the surrounding community.”
“I’m devastated and angry,” said 67-year-old Leslie Wright, who has lived in the park for 23 years. “I honestly doubt we will be able to save the homes, where we have lived, some for 30 plus years, many on a fixed income and will not qualify to rent anywhere.”
Still, according to the notice, as long residents or their mobile homes remain in the park, they are required to “pay rent, utility charges, and reasonable incidental service charges” as well as observe the rules and regulations of the park.
David Willis, 78, who has lived in the park for 24 years, called the park closure notice “confounding.”
“Thought the continuation of the park was the plan,” Willis stated in a text to Fresnoland. “Now, clearly, that is not Harmony’s plan.”
Most residents who spoke to Fresnoland expressed shock. Some, who do not want to be identified for fear of reprisal, questioned whether the closing is related to the recent flurry of eviction notices that residents received recently or if this is just another ploy by Harmony Communities to push lower-income tenants out of their homes.
“Something big is going on, and it must involve a ton of money,” Willis added. “Purchase of the park was $1.7 million. The land is commercial and probably worth three times that price in the marketplace today, possibly more.”
Maria Magana, who has lived in the park for 17 years with her four children, said she is heartbroken. “It’s so sad that our lives changed so drastically in months and days.”
Another resident said she was thankful for the 12 months before the park closes permanently. “We must find somewhere to go or move the trailers.”
“I think you’re just trying to scare us.”
Residents say their lives have been in turmoil for more than two years, since a fire at the park killed a resident and destroyed several homes, and worsened by Harmony’s continuous drip of eviction notices.
New Harmony rules went into effect on April 1. Residents had expressed fear about what that would mean in the ongoing eviction fears.
“We have had the dread of eviction hovering over our heads from the moment Harmony came with their armed guards and told us they were here to help,” Wright said. “That was the first lie of many.”
On Wednesday, more than 10 La Hacienda park residents, all of whom held their eviction notices, gathered near the entrance of the park to discuss how to keep their homes.
More than 15 families have received eviction notices in the last two weeks. While some eviction notices required residents to respond within five days, others had seven days. At least eight families received notices to leave the park in January.
“We don’t know what’s going on. We’re all kind of in the dark about the notices,” Patricia “Trissie” Shawn, who has lived in the park since 1997 and leads United for Change, the residents’ association.
“I think you’re just trying to scare us more. I think that’s what they like doing. They’re like intimidating us.”
Shawn said Harmony’s reasons for the evictions are unreasonable. “Some of them [residents] were told their applications were incomplete because they didn’t answer the question on their stocks and bonds. We are poor. We don’t have stocks and bonds,” she said.
David Willis is one of the seven-day recipients, along with his niece, Kim Sands, 54.
“I’m getting evicted because they don’t want anything to do with me,” Willis said. “They’re gonna find the smallest thing to get rid of me.”
He said Harmony told him he had an incomplete tenancy application but refused to give him the option of completing it.
Sands’ case is different. She lives in a trailer formerly owned by Willis, her uncle, who had transferred ownership to her name. She said she had provided all the paperwork to Harmony’s manager who lives at the park.
Still, all notices from Harmony still bear her uncle’s name. Meanwhile, all correspondence to unit 26, which Willis now owns and had provided documentation for, are addressed to the former owner.
“This is deliberate,” Willis said. “It’s a legal trick they’re pulling on us.”
“On Friday,” Sands said, “I got an invoice to pay my rent, which was $1,650 (the rent had accumulated because Harmony refused her payments since October 2022, she says). The very next day, I got a letter that denied my application for tenancy.”
Willis said there’s a cynical motive in what Harmony was trying to do. “What they’re doing is basically disqualifying people from being able to live there. Then they can get new tenants and charge more than 595 a month.”
‘We’re not done fighting.’
Until news of the park closure came, some residents were planning to travel to Sacramento on Thursday to tell lawmakers about their ordeal, seek protection from Harmony Communities, the owners of the park, and show support for SB 567 – Homelessness Prevention Act – a bill that would limit at-fault evictions and limit allowable rent increases.
According to Shawn, La Hacienda mobile park residents will be joined by hundreds of other concerned tenants, homeowners, small landlords and faith leaders from around the Central Valley as well as advocacy groups like Faith in the Valley.
The group will meet with Assemblymember Joaquin Arambula and state Senator Anna Caballero.
“We’re not done fighting,” Wright added. “And I thank God for the help we’ve gotten from some amazing people.”
How did we get here?
- April 2021: A deadly fire killed a resident and hospitalized two others.
- May 2021: Fresno City Councilmember Garry Bredefeld and Mayor Jerry Dyer co-sponsored an ordinance to have the city take control of enforcement at local mobile home parks.
- June 2021: A second fire broke out the night of June 10, destroying three mobile homes and damaging another. The city of Fresno then received state approval to assume responsibility for enforcing health and safety codes at local mobile home parks.
- November 2021: The Fresno County Superior Court appointed the California Receivership Group as the receiver of Trails End.
- May 2022: Judge Kristi Culver-Kapetan approved the sale of Trails End Mobile Home Park to Harmony Communities for $1.7 million, despite months of protests from residents and advocates.
- October 2022: 26 tenants received 60-day notices on Oct. 6 telling them that their lease will be terminated, unless they follow new rules set by Harmony Communities, the new owners of the park.
- January 2023: Harmony Communities begins to serve eviction notices for residents who they say do not meet the rules of the park, or for missed rent.
- April 2023: Harmony Communities new rules take effect, and many more eviction notices are sent to residents.
- April 14, 2023: All residents receive notice that the park is closing. They are all instructed to sell or move their trailers from the park within a year from the date of the notice.