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102717-mis-nws-skyview-evictions

Mechailiah Hickman stands next to her home on Thursday in Skyview Trailer Park, where residents of about 34 trailer homes received eviction notices this week telling them to leave by April 30. Hickman and other residents said they have no idea where they'll go, with trailers too old to move and affordable housing out of reach for them.

The occupants of roughly 34 trailer homes at the Skyview Trailer Park in Missoula’s Westside neighborhood were sent six-month eviction notices this week, telling them they need to clear everything out.

James Loran, who owns the land at 1600 Cooley St., said he’s probably going to build an assisted living center, condominiums for senior housing and possibly townhomes for affordable housing on the site.

Many residents expressed anguish and fear on Thursday because they don’t have anywhere else to go.

“This is literally the only place in Missoula where we can live,” said Mechailiah Hickman, who shares a trailer with her husband, 1-year-old child and oftentimes her sister. “We can’t go anywhere else.”

Hickman said they’ve lived there two years, and because the trailer was built in the 1960s it can’t be moved. Even if it could, there aren’t available lots at other trailer parks, or those parks have regulations prohibiting older trailers.

She and her husband both have jobs, and she said they make too much money to qualify for affordable housing. However, because of medical bills and other debts, they can’t afford rents at apartment buildings or other trailer parks in town.

“I have no idea what we’re going to do,” she said. “And I guess we’re going to have to move in winter.”

Loran sent out the letters on Oct. 23 asking all residents to be out by April 30. 

“We’re dealing with people at the lowest economic level, and I understand that,” he said. “I understand some of these people may be out on the streets. I feel for them, but at the same time I have to protect my own interests. I can’t go to the poorhouse. I have to do what’s best for me, too.”

Loran estimates he’s owed nearly $50,000 in back rent that he’s probably never going to see from tenants who haven’t paid. Rents for the lots are about $300 per month, and he pays sewer, water and garbage.

“One-third of the people that live there don’t pay lot rent on a steady basis,” he said. “Some of them, I send what they owe, and it goes on for two years. I’m 75 years old and I don’t want to put up with this anymore. I’ve been dealing with this problem for 30 years. I’m just a very frustrated landlord.”

Other residents of the trailer park, who didn’t want to be identified, said they also had no idea where they were going to live. One woman said she had been living there for 14 years. Another man said he and his partner had just finished remodeling, but since the trailer is too old to be moved they’ll have to “watch it get bulldozed.”

Loran’s letter informed residents they should call the Missoula Housing Authority about a rental voucher program. Lori Davidson, the executive director of the MHA, did not return a call seeking comment Thursday.

In 2016, there were 1,654 people on the waiting list for Section 8 housing vouchers that subsidize rent in Missoula.

Hickman said she hasn’t seen much management at the site since she’s lived there.

“We try to keep the place up the best we can, but we can’t keep up with everything,” she said. When a trailer burned on Christmas last year, she said, she and other residents cleaned up much of the mess.

Loren said he’s personally taken care of maintenance at the site as best he can over the years.

“I do it constantly and the minute I get it hauled to the dump, people come with U-Hauls and dump old mattresses there,” he said. “Everybody on that side of town uses my dumpsters for their garbage. I don’t want to go on with this. It’s a living nightmare.”

For people like Hickman, though, the nightmare of uprooting and trying to find a place to live is just beginning.

“We have nowhere to go,” she said.

According to the Missoula Organization of Realtors, in 2015, approximately 47 percent of Missoula renters spent more than 30 percent of their income on housing, which puts them in the “cost burdened” category of being likely to have a hard time meeting other financial obligations.

The percentage of Missoulans living in poverty (with an income of $25,520 or less for a three-person household) remains around 16 percent, and the median income of Missoula’s renters is $28,765 per year.

The average rent for a one-bedroom apartment in a multiplex in Missoula was $625 per month in 2016, which equals $7,500 per year, not including utilities.

Missoula’s trailer courts that have a lot of “grandfathered-in trailers” — those built in the 1950s, '60s and '70s — are slowly disappearing. In 2014, Hansen’s Trailer Park on Third Street in Missoula, home to nearly 40 separate trailers, was razed to make way for mostly market-rate apartments.

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