The eviction deadline for the residents of more than 30 trailers in Missoula’s Skyview Trailer Park is coming up on Monday, but dozens of people are still facing homelessness and haven’t figured out an option six months after the park's owner gave them notice that it was being cleared out for development.
Lena Faulconbridge works full time managing the laundry room at a local motel. She had to sell her trailer for what she owes on it because she couldn’t pay for cosmetic upgrades to make it look nice enough to move to another trailer park. So, she’s planning on living on a friend’s couch for a week, but after that she’s got no idea where she’s going to live with her longtime companion, her dog Gracie.
“I keep hitting brick walls,” she said. “I found one tiny little apartment, but somebody else got it. At least I got to go see that one. Most of the time I don’t even get called to go see them.”
Steven Butera couldn’t find anywhere in Missoula that he could afford and no trailer courts would accept his older trailer, so he and his three kids were moving on Thursday to their new place in Stevensville. He’ll have to commute the hour total round trip to work five days a week.
“The last thing I need at this moment in my life is to not have a place to live with me and my kids,” he said. “Right now they can still live with me. The minute I don’t have a place to live, that’s gone.”
Back in October, the property owner James Loran gave the residents a six-month eviction notice because he wants to build an assisted living center, condominiums for senior housing and possibly affordable townhomes.
Trailer courts are slowly disappearing in Missoula. In 2014, the residents of 21 trailers at Hansen's Trailer Park in central Missoula were evicted to make way for a new apartment building, and many longtime residents were forced to cobble together new arrangements.
Because almost all of the trailers at 1600 Cooley St. are several decades old, they aren’t new enough to move to other trailer courts.
“There’s going to be so many displaced families,” said resident Bryndal Moore. “It’s unfortunate.”
Moore and Keenan Quan looked all over for a new place to live in Missoula, but finally decided the only place they could afford to live was in Lolo.
“It’s ridiculous,” Quan said. “I have to spend more money in gas. We’ve been looking pretty much in the general Missoula area since we got the eviction letter, just trying to figure out where we can go. We quickly realized we weren’t going to be able to get a house in Missoula. It was pretty obvious. It was either move to another trailer park, or move to Bonner, East Missoula or Lolo.”
Missoula housing prices have risen nearly 30 percent since 2010 and hit a record median sales price of $268,250 last year.
“It was insane looking at the prices,” Quan said. “I build cars so I need a shop. You’re going to be in the $300,000 to $350,000 zone in Missoula for that.”
The last few months have been stressful on the couple.
“We ended up buying … but if we hadn’t been able to do that, we didn’t have a plan B,” Quan said. “We just closed last Thursday. So we were like, 'Man, if we don’t get this, what are we doing? What are we doing?'”
Quan had a man hired on Thursday to tow their trailer out to Lolo. They’re lucky because their trailer actually has an axle; some others in the court don’t.
Butera said he doesn’t have great credit and can’t afford a huge deposit. So he found a cheap place a half-hour down the Bitterroot Valley in Stevensville.
“Every trailer park I called either gave me an immediate no, or one lady told me that the remodeling I would have to do to this trailer to make it fit, she says is the cost of a new trailer,” he explained. “I got a credit score of a 435 and I don’t have a co-signer. So they either wanted a double deposit or a co-signer. But with three kids and one paycheck, I can’t. I saved up $1,500 to move. The North Missoula Community Development Corp. helped me big time, but I just couldn’t find a place in the end.”
Hermina Harold with the NMCDC started a fundraising campaign that raised about $2,700 to help defray the costs associated with eviction for Skyview residents, and dozens of different Missoula residents donated.
Butera said he sympathizes with the owner of the property, who said many residents never paid rent and the dumpsters were constantly getting filled by nonresidents.
“I understand where the landowner’s coming from,” he said. “I mean, 30 years you put up with this bullcrap.”
Faulconbridge spent a large portion of her income over the past few months on application fees as she searched for a new place.
“You pay one application, then you have to pay the fee again,” she said. “You get nothing back on that. You don’t have a home, you don’t have anything. I have spent a lot of money looking for a place and that does me no good because that’s just money down the toilet.”