Residents buy their mobile home park for $12 million, beat out company bid

Over 100 units could be eligible to be added Wareham affordable housing stock in future
Aug 3, 2022

As a few dozen residents found their seats in the open garage at the end of Prince Drive on Monday night, an older man approached the crowd, standing at the head of tables bought earlier in the day for this meeting.

“Well,” he said, holding out his arms and grinning at the crowd. “Would you look at all the owners!”

The residents, now also co-owners of a $12 million piece of land in West Wareham, applauded. The man, fellow resident and co-owner Bob Costa, serves as vice president of the Royal Crest Residents Association.

He, along with more than 200 neighbors in the manufactured home park on Cranberry Highway, now own Royal Crest for good, after a multi-million-dollar deal was signed last week.

In an underdog tale that’s taken months to reach its conclusion, the residents who live at the Royal Crest mobile home park purchased their neighborhood for a whopping $12 million, beating out an unsolicited offer from Arizona-based company Legacy Communities.

The 55+ neighborhood, located at 2340 Cranberry Highway, houses more than 200 people and is now a “resident-owned community.” That means instead of the residents owning their homes and leasing the land underneath from a bigger corporation, they now own both.

Residents were concerned that Legacy Communities, which made an offer in February, would increase their rent. In the Royal Crest neighborhood, about 90% of residents live at or below 80% of the area median income, according to a press release detailing last week’s purchase.

Rent in Royal Crest has been around $400, and it will rise to about $620 in future months, board members told residents on Monday.

A representative from Cooperative Development Institute, which helped Royal Crest residents through the process, said although residents might face a higher rent upfront, they’ll have more control over their neighborhood in the future than if they were leasing land from a large company.

Plus, companies often raise rents on residents, CDI Market Development & Acquisitions Specialist Nora Gosselin said, sometimes just in a gradual way where residents aren’t outpriced until months after the acquisition.

Board members shared information about rental assistance with residents on Monday.

Legacy Communities typically raises rent by at least 6% each year, according to Resident Owned Communities USA, a non-profit that helps residents, like those of Royal Crest, purchase their own communities before big companies step in.

Of the five mobile home properties Legacy owns in Massachusetts, three are in Wareham: Red Wing Estates, Great Hill Estates and Mogan’s Mobile Home Park.

The mood during Monday night’s meeting wasn’t all fun and games — the board had serious matters to attend to, like planning the removal of dangerous trees and reviewing the budget to see if there were funds available to fix some fallen fencing in the park.

But rays of victory poked through the tedium, as when board members asked for volunteers to plan a “We Own It” celebration at the end of August.

For residents, there are many reasons to celebrate. When faced with their land being purchased by a large company, which one resident described as a “slumlord” who raises rents, they banded together. With help from ROC USA Capital and the state, they secured $12 million in funding.

On July 28, board members signed the paperwork to make it official: The residents had bought their neighborhood.

“It was a great feeling,” board secretary Carol Carver said after the meeting, adding that it was a little scary listening to the high dollar figures read off during the purchase. “That’s why we want to celebrate.”

Costa and board president Kevin Dodge gave much of the credit to ROC USA and the Cooperative Development Institute, both of which helped Royal Crest residents make it to the finish line.

“We had a lot of things we had to do,” Costa said. “It just didn’t happen overnight.”

Since March, the residents’ association board has met weekly.

Funds for the purchase came from a variety of sources — including, in a reported first in state history, affordable housing trust funds from the Massachusetts Department of Housing and Community Development.

The department confirmed Monday that housing units could be eligible in the future to be included in the town’s affordable housing stock, called the Subsidized Housing Inventory.

“In this case, units will be added to the Subsidized Housing Inventory when they turn over and are sold through an approved affirmative fair housing marketing and resident selection plan,” the department said in a statement.

That means that the 144 mobile homes were not immediately added to Wareham’s affordable housing stock last week, but when individual units are sold through an approved process in the future, they can be.

In the meantime, homeowners have the opportunity to become members of the residents’ association and participate in the decision-making of their community. Many residents exercised their rights by attending Monday night’s meeting and asking board members about how rent payments will be accepted and when they could expect future maintenance work to be done.

During the meeting, Gosselin asked residents to RSVP if they were interested in taking a bus down to Woods Hole on Wednesday for a film screening.

The documentary, “A Decent Home,” tells the story of class inequities through the lens of mobile home park residents. The documentary looks into investors nationwide who purchase swathes of real-estate at the expense of park residents who pay to rent the land their homes are on.