Skyview Trailer Park 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.

Another trailer park closing. Another step away from housing affordability. That’s what I see when I read about Skyview Trailer Park closing and 34 residents facing displacement (Missoulian, Oct. 26).

The story of a trailer park closing to be redeveloped is not new. What is new is the current state of our housing market, and the challenges the residents being displaced are likely to face as they seek different housing.

Every day I get to work with residents of manufactured home communities, just like the residents at Skyview. Families with young children, elderly people on Social Security or disability, and single working-class people. Through our resident-owned community (ROC) program at NeighborWorks Montana, we help residents purchase the land on which their homes sit, and that they have previously rented. Many of these residents have lived in their homes in their communities for over 20 years.

When I knock on their doors to tell them their community is for sale and they have the opportunity to buy it themselves, the looks of fear and confusion come first, and then the questions. “How does this work?” “How can I, with poor credit and no savings, buy this place? It’s worth over $1 million!” And then over time comes the relief, understanding the opportunity and working toward a new future. By forming a cooperative and buying the land with their neighbors, residents become owners, and secure their homes and their futures. Once they take ownership they control their lot rent, implement infrastructure improvements, and invest in their homes. They also become leaders, and engage in their communities and with their neighbors in new ways.

Homeword, an affordable housing partner, recently held an event called “Enlightened Bite.” Their Executive Director Andrea Davis sat with Bryce Ward, an economist from the University of Montana Bureau of Business and Economic Research, to have a public chat about the economics of housing affordability. Much of this story is becoming well known to those who work in affordable housing and everyone who lives in Missoula. Homeownership rates continue to decline, cost burdens continue to rise, social supports for housing continue to be at risk.

The glimmer of hope I found in this conversation was that we have some control over what our community becomes. The economy isn’t just some unidentifiable force in which we have no say. Markets are informed by us — the people who create them through how we spend our dollars and our innovation and creativity driving new opportunities.

There is one future reality in which we end up with a bi-modal economy with two primary populations, one being wealthy people who don’t rely on W-2 income and the other being low-wage workers who presumably have to live on the outskirts of town and commute. This is not the future I work for. I work for a future where kids growing up in Missoula now will have the opportunity to stay here and thrive here, without relying on a large inheritance, or a patchwork of low-wage jobs.

There are two resident-owned communities in Missoula, owned and run by the residents who live there. The previous owners received a market price at sale, the residents gained long-term control and affordability, and our community gained engaged and skilled resident leaders. As a community development financial institution, this is a win-win-win that the organization I work for, NeighborWorks Montana, seeks to achieve. Where can we leverage existing resources and identify market opportunities for people and communities who have the potential to thrive, but lack access to opportunity?

Kaia Peterson is assistant director for NeighborWorks Montana.

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