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Octogenarian fights to save Applewood mobile home park

Aug 29, 2017 10:20AM ● Published by Jana Klopsch

A sign marks the Applewood mobile home park. (Shirlene Stoven/ Midvale)

Gallery: Applewood [2 Images] Click any image to expand.

By Ruth Hendricks | Ruth.H@mycityjournals.com

Shirlene Stoven feels she was meant to live in the Applewood Mobile Estates at this time in her life and that her experience qualifies her to do what other residents can’t. She is dedicated to fighting for the survival of her senior-living mobile home neighborhood.

Many of the seniors living at Applewood, located at 150 W. 7500 South, sold a big home, wanting a smaller place without the burden of maintaining a large lot. 

“It’s a quiet, safe community,” said Stoven. “I thought I’d died and gone to heaven when I found this place. I had a beautiful new home, and the cost was less than a small apartment.” 

One of the difficulties of living in a mobile home park is that residents lack full protections under state property-rights laws, because they don’t own the land beneath their dwellings. They aren’t covered by renters’ rights either, because they own their homes.

Mobile home tenants and some of their representatives fought to improve the law through the Utah State Legislature. This past year, HB236 was endorsed by an 8-1 vote by the House Business and Labor Committee and sent to the full House for consideration. The bill would have clarified some rights of tenants, including the right to sue park owners and collect attorney’s fees if they won. However, according to Stoven, the bill got lost in the rush at the end of the legislative session and was not passed.

Stoven’s fight for her community began back in 2014 when the land was bought by Ivory Homes, with a plan to build a three-story, 186-unit apartment complex. Stoven helped to gather 2,600 signatures on a petition to stop this action. She also helped form a homeowner’s association and has served as its president. 

The new owners raised the rent on the lot $70 the next December with another $70 jump the following June—a 44 percent increase in one year.

“Many Applewood residents are on fixed incomes,” Stoven said. This has been described as “financial eviction.”

Stoven said, “It can cost $10,000 to move a single-wide home and $20,000 to move a double-wide. And even if residents had the money to move the home, where would they move them to?” Also, some homes have improvements to the property which can’t be moved. Some residents would have to just walk away from their home and lose that investment and improvement. 

“Most people want to stay here until they die,” she said. 

Stoven approached the Midvale city council and mayor, asking for help in keeping residents in their homes. City planners and the council revised the transit oriented development (TOD) plan to decrease the allowed density of new buildings on the land, which meant Ivory Homes would not be able to build as many units as originally planned. Ivory Homes then put the land up for sale. Other developers now own the land. Stoven approached the new owners with a plan to have the residents buy the land, and they indicated their willingness to sell.

Stoven worked with a national non-profit group which helps mobile home residents. According to ROCusa, a resident-owned community (ROC) is a neighborhood of manufactured homes that is owned by a cooperative of homeowners who live there as opposed to an outside landlord. Members continue to own their homes individually and an equal share of the land beneath the entire neighborhood.

Under a ROC, the residents wouldn’t have to worry about eviction, extreme rate hikes, or future development. ROCusa will provide some of the money needed to buy the land.

Stoven’s effort has achieved $1 million from the Olene Walker Housing Fund, a loan fund which supports quality affordable housing options for low-income and moderate-income persons. Mayor JoAnn Seghini wrote a letter to support Applewood’s application for this fund. American Express offered $25,000 and Stoven has started a GoFundMe account to gather additional donations. The GoFundMe account can be found at gf.me/u/3QCY2.

The total acquisition cost for the land is $5 million. The group still has a goal to raise about $1 million more in the next few months. 

“My goal is to alert people of our situation and help fund the effort,” said Stoven. “I also want to let other communities know that this can happen to them. There are too many high-powered developers making a bundle by buying little communities and getting away with it.”

“I’m very tenacious when I’m right,” Stoven added. “So many here are homebound or can’t do what I’m doing. I feel very responsible to fight for them. I’ll be 81 in September. I’m grateful that I can do this. My experience and my occupation has given me the knowledge.”

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