Loss of Community in the Name of "Progress"

During the 2018 I’M HOME conference and the annual meeting of the National Manufactured Home Owners Association, we heard many stories from folks living in manufactured home parks where fellow residents banded together to form communities. Much like freedom itself, the status of community is not given, it is earned. It is a perishable commodity that can be lost if residents fail to honor and nurture it.

What does it mean to live in a “community”? It means you cherish a commitment to a lifestyle characterized by neighbors and friends—not amenities. Residents willingly give their time and energy to events and activities. People look out for each other and an injustice done to one in the community is answered by all. This is generally characterized by a strong, fully-supported homeowners association that willingly represents the community against all threats. It is this lifestyle that leaders at Federation of Manufactured Home Owners of Florida (FMO), where I work, seek to protect.

Many of the manufactured home parks that arose in the 80s and 90s still exist today. They have formed tight-knit communities that offer companionship and comfort in retirement. This sense of community has been a key asset to protect parks from extinction. When owners try to profit excessively to the determinant of the community, successful opposition has been launched by residents joining together against a common threat.

In the past, we were most concerned with parks whose owners were selling the land for a different use, thereby closing the community. A phenomenon we are seeing from major park owners across the country effectively does that without the sale of the land. No regulation prohibits it and many simply hail it as good business practice. The only group standing in its way is the community.

There is demand for parks providing high-end amenities and a resort environment, and owners are investing large sums in clubhouses and infrastructure to elevate the status of their parks. Since only one new park has been approved for construction in Florida in the last 15 years, investors seeing this opportunity purchase properties already in operation. This is a bargain for those who want a more luxurious lifestyle and can afford the rent increases needed to pay for it. The costs in even the most lavish parks are far below what would be paid in traditional communities offering this lifestyle.  

But that excludes those who are simply trying to get by and can’t afford nor require such facilities. These are the very people who foster community values found in affordable housing above amenities—and they are seen as impeding progress. Community input to the management of the park all but disappears. What was once a community of residents turns into a high-end, extended-stay hotel populated by fellow guests. Activities and events continue but are often characterized by few volunteers and a very small group in control. Park elders are admonished for their archaic approach and pushed aside. In some parks, folks are actually paid for replacing community volunteers who kept event costs down.

The divisiveness effectively shuts down the homeowners association through large turnover until it is populated by board members embracing “progress”. In effect, the community is closed. Although wealthier residents often privately express concerns about this, they often “do not want to get involved”.

There are no quick solutions or easy answers to this problem. But for those of us to whom “community” is important, this trend must be addressed.

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