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Co-Op Buys St. George Mobile Home Park, Though More Wastewater Work May Be In Store

Members of St. George Villa mobile home park co-op hold up a sign that says We Own It!
John Dillon
/
VPR
The St. George Villa mobile home park is now owned by a co-op, preserving a key piece of affordable housing - but the park may also need more repairs in the future.

Residents of a St. George mobile home park formed a cooperative and bought the property earlier this month, preserving an important piece of affordable housing.

The park has had a long history of wastewater problems that may need more repairs in the future, but the new owners say the risk is worth it for the benefits of securing affordable housing in the future.

On a rainy and blustery day last week, a few of the new owners of St. George Villa posed for a photo in front of a big banner that proudly declares: “We Own It.”

Residents formed a co-op to buy this 120-unit park, and another in nearby Hinesburg, from owners in Massachusetts for a total of $6.7 million. But the closing on the St. George property was delayed because of recurring problems with wastewater systems.

Co-op president Lori Ring and interim secretary Sandy Jarvis showed where the most recent work was done. It's a small piece of open ground where the former Massachusetts-based owner, Mark Kaufman, hooked up a leach field that had been taken out of service. A leach field filters and disperses the wastewater into the ground. 

“This is the leach field that they reenacted for the extra homes that were on another leach field across the road ... and then we reconnected into it, because it's still suitable,” Ring said.

Other work included installing a new septic tank and repairing a crushed sewer pipe. Kaufman also agreed to put $55,000 in escrow to cover future repairs, Ring said.

But she and Jarvis said they know they may face other problems down the road with the park’s wastewater infrastructure. Jarvis said everyone is a bit nervous about what they’re getting into.   

“We’ve done all the due diligence to get here. Now we have to put everything in action," she said. "So that’s the part that makes you nervous: Are we making the right decisions and recommendations going forward?"

 

"We've done all the due diligence to get here. Now we have to put everything in action. So that's the part that makes you nervous: Are we making the right decisions and recommendations going forward?" — Sandy Jarvis, interim co-op secretary

According to Ring, the St. George co-op is the fourth member-owned mobile home park to buy their property this year alone. It’s an option many mobile home park residents are turning to as parks go up for sale and the people who live there want to preserve their housing.

The park charges lots rents at $455 a month for people who own their units. Resident Sue Williams said St. George Villa, like other mobile home parks, is one of the few options for affordable housing in booming Chittenden County.

“Especially for me," Williams said. "I’m single, [and] I have Social Security to depend on."

Jarvis said the park is also attractive for people with young families who otherwise would struggle to find an apartment they can afford.

“I bought here because, you know, in 15, 17 years I’ll be retiring," she said. "My home will be paid off. I’ll just be paying the lot rent and my utilities. It’s affordable."

But there is still the question of how much work the park’s sewer and water systems will need in the future. Kim Greenwood, director of the environmental compliance division at the Vermont Department of Environmental Conservation, said St. George Villa has a thick file at the state covering several wastewater problems.

“The complaints have related to surfacing sewage, so basically failures of on-site wastewater systems of various lots in the park,” Greenwood said.

 

"The complaints [at St. George Villa] have related to surfacing sewage, so basically failures of on-site wastewater systems of various lots in the park." — Kim Greenwood, Department of Environmental Conservation

Greenwood said many mobile home parks face similar, although usually less severe, challenges because they’re often located in wetter areas that may not be suitable for leach fields.

“The mobile home parks that we interact with seem to have a lot of obstacles — and a lot of people are rooting for them, but still a lot of obstacles,” Greenwood said.

The residents at St. George Villa seem to be well aware of the obstacles, and they are preparing financially. Jarvis, the interim co-op secretary, said a portion of the lot rent will be set aside in a fund to pay for future repairs. She said at least now the owners can decide what to do and are in control of their own destiny.

“I’m not going to say it didn’t give me second thoughts,” Jarvis said. “But I thought moving forward was more in the interest of the homeowners, rather than sitting back and hoping that we get a decent landlord. And you can be part of the solution, being a member.”

The new owners say they’ll wait until the weather warms and the mud dries before holding a celebration to mark their change from renter to owner.

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