Trail[er park] of tears
Just a couple of blocks from the mansions lining Locust Avenue, a ceramic frog in front of Becky Ragland’s trailer bears the message, “Home, sweet home.” In this tiny flowerbed, Ragland has planted bulbs for the first time in the five years she’s lived in Phillips Trailer Court on Coleman Street. But by June, Ragland, her frog, and her Rottweiler puppy are going to have to find a new home.
Ragland realized that the days of her $165-a-month lot rent were numbered for her and the other occupants of the park’s 16 trailers when, in January, she almost backed into a surveyor, who said he was examining the property for the new owner.
In early February, the official word came that the property had been sold, along with a 120-day notice to vacate the premises. The new owners, according to the notice Ragland received, are Stan and Judy Tatum and Janet and Jonathan Frank.
Vacating a trailer— and we’re not talking the industry preferred term “mobile home” here— is not as easy as moving out of an apartment. All of the singlewide trailers at Phillips Court are too old to be accepted into other trailer parks. And Ragland says that disposing of them costs between $1000 and $1500.
“I don’t have an extra $1000 to do this,” says Ragland, whose 1976 trailer is the park’s newest. “If I did, I wouldn’t be living here.”
The Locust Grove Neighborhood Association has taken up the cause of the evicted tenants, even though trailer parks don’t normally enhance property values. The association wrote Tatum, owner of Land Planning and Design Associates, requesting a three-month extension and assistance in trailer disposal.
“The supply of affordable housing is slim in Charlottesville,” says LGNA board member John Potter. “Most of the residents don’t have cars, and they’re going to have to look out of town for housing.”
(Interestingly, this isn’t the first time the LGNA has tangled with Tatum’s plans. It also opposed his 1999 plan to swap 18 acres he owned behind Riverview Cemetery for three acres in Pen Park where he planned to build more than a dozen single family houses.)
Plans for the 1 1/2-acre parcel have been variously reported as townhouses or offices. Tatum did not return The Hook’s phone calls, and the City’s planning department says no development plan has been submitted.
Ragland claims she doesn’t have any problem with the fact that the property has been sold. Her problem is with the length of time she was given to move out. “One hundred twenty days is not long enough to find something,” she says.
Susan Carter, who owns a trailer in the park, but does not live there, offers a different perspective. She advertised her trailer for sale as soon as she heard the park had been sold and has a buyer. “We lost thousands on it,” she says, but the new buyer will pay her $2000 and have the trailer moved.
“My opinion is, I think you could give people an extension of a year, and some still wouldn’t have done anything about it,” she says.
Carter’s daughter, a preschool teacher, who had been living in her mother’s trailer, has found an apartment for $560. “She’ll probably have to work part time in the evening,” says Carter. “She had been paying $160 a month.”
Ragland, who is unemployed, is luckier than many of the other residents. She has a friend who’s offered her land in Ivy to park her trailer. She’ll have to pay $2500 to have the trailer moved and set up to county code. And then she’s got to drill a well and put in septic and electricity.
She and many of the other residents have stopped paying their lot rents because, they rationalize, that’s money they could put down on a new place. Most of the nonpaying tenants did not accept certified eviction letters sent out by Tatum’s attorneys telling them to be out by May 31.
It’s no secret that finding affordable housing can be a problem in Charlottesville. “You can’t find it,” complains Ragland, who went with a friend to look at a Wilton Farms two-bedroom apartment for $650 a month. “Can you imagine paying another $500 a month?” asks Ragland. (Actually, most people can’t imagine paying rent of only $165 a month.) And noting that there are only two other trailer parks in the city, she says, “Charlottesville does not want trailer parks.”
Mayor Blake Caravati disputes that claim. “Trailers should be an alternative for housing,” he says. However, he points out that trailer parks are bad for local governments because of the low taxes they generate and their quick depreciation, while residents often require educational and other municipal services.
Trailer parks may not be the most desirable addresses, but for the 40 or so residents of Phillips Trailer Court, it is home, sweet home.
“We don’t have a lot of money,” says Ragland, “ but we do have our own homes.”