Hillside helps residents find alternative homes

Published 4:00 am Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Hillside Mobile Home Park owners say they are working with residents to help secure alternative housing arrangements before the park closes to make way for a new retail development, but representatives of the Southern Poverty Law Center say more considerations are needed for the low-income tenants being displaced.

The mobile home park, located on U.S. 231, is located on property flagged for major retail development, including a new Publix grocery store and one of two new connector roads. The projects, which will include a $10 million private investment in the retail development and an estimated $8 million city investment in the new roads along with $1 million in tax incentives, were announced April 6.

Tim Coleman, one of the owners of Hillside Park LLC, said tenants were officially notified of plans to close the park via a letter on April 15.

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“We gave them 75 days notice, even though we were only required to give them 30 days notice, and we have offered financial incentives to the folks who were in good standing with us,” Coleman said. “And we’ve told them if they have concerns we can work with them on an individual basis.”

That approach hasn’t appeased all the residents, though. Representatives of the Southern Poverty Law Center published an open letter to Troy Mayor Jason Reeves in today’s Messenger citing “more than 100 working families with low incomes” who according to the advertisement “get 80 days to move out – and a paltry sum that’s not nearly enough to cover our expenses.” In the letter, the residents ask for “more time and support to find new homes.”

Samuel Brooke, SPLC Deputy Legal Director for Economic Justice, said Monday residents needed more time and financial considerations. “If you have everything lined up and ready to go, that sounds like a reasonable amount of time,” he said. “But what we have here are more than 100 low-income families who now have to look for affordable housing and it’s not that common in Troy. Not only are they going to have to move, but they’re going to have to pay deposits for utilities and many of these people just don’t have the money to do that.”

Brooke said the landlord had offered “a small pittance, $300 up to $1,200 for those who own their own trailers, but if you’re going to move a trailer, estimates will run north of $2,000.”

Brooke said SPLC is seeking a “win-win” for the residents and the city, Publix and the landlord. “”We aren’t asking for a specific amount of money right now,” he said. “But we are asking that these folks listen to the residents … and work at a solution that will make everybody happy. We’re not coming in and demanding a high-dollar ransom, but we want them to meet with the residents and work out what is fair.”

Reeves said on Monday the city is not involved in the lease issue. “The City of Troy is not and never has been a party to any lease agreement between Hillside Park LLC and any of their residents,” Reeves said. “Any issues with the lease agreements should be directed to Hillside and its management, who have assured me they will work within the law to accommodate any reasonable request.”

Coleman said the decision to clear the property was made by the owners. “We haven’t sold the property yet but we have a contract with the developer who will build the grocery store,” Coleman said. “I still own the property and I made the decision to clear it. “

In his letter, Coleman said his company notified residents of plans to clear the park by June 30. “We offered added incentives if they were gone by the end of this month, and as of Friday we have about 47 tenants left,” Coleman said. “And of those, about 15 are pretty far behind on their rent and could have been evicted by now.”

Along with those letters, residents received lists of alternative mobile home parks as well as information on available openings and contact information. Residents who own their mobile homes – about 28 or so – were offered additional incentives to assist with the cost of moving the home.

“We also gave them information from a park in Montgomery that was offering to pay 100 percent of the cost to move the home, as well as what we were paying,” Coleman said.

Coleman said tenants who leased their homes originally signed 90-day leases that reverted to month-to-month leases once the 90-day terms elapsed, and he said all residents were given proper notice.

“We’ve abided by the terms of the contract and I can rest easily at night knowing that,” Coleman said.

Moreover, Coleman said he has made an effort to ease the burden for residents. “I’ve met with them face-to-face, offered to buy their houses from them, given them my phone number and told them to call me … I completely understand and am sympathetic to how difficult it is for these low-income families to have to move …

“But the same passion we bring to operating our business we’ve brought to trying to help them with this.”

Coleman said his company purchased the park in Troy nearly three years ago. It is one of 30 mobile home parks the investors own across the Southeast and is the only park the group has sold.

Brooke said representatives of the SPLC would be on hand at today’s Troy City Council meeting, where two residents of the mobile home park are scheduled to talk.