Same American story, this time in Wisconsin

Same American story, this time in Wisconsin October 2, 2012

Chris Rickert of the Wisconsin State Journal reports on the “unpleasant” history of the Hickory Lane Mobile Home park in Monona.

The five-acre site is set to become home to luxury apartments where residents will benefit from $2.15 million in city-funded improvements such as underground parking and boat slips on the Yahara River.

The story of what it used to be, Rickert says, is “worth remembering”:

Back in 2005, the mobile home park’s owners, Mansel and Dottie Johns, decided to get out of the mobile home park business and sell their property to developer Kevin Metcalfe, who had plans for 84 condos on the site.

A 2007 photo from the Wisconsin State Journal shows homes in the former Monona neighborhood. That neighborhood, those homes, and the families who lived in them, are all gone now.

Residents of the park — which had 42 lots and had been around more than 40 years — had a deadline for vacating the premises extended multiple times as Monona officials, the Johnses and Metcalfe worked on a deal for the $17.9 million project that included a request from Metcalfe for some $2.7 million in tax incremental financing.

Significantly, it also included Metcalfe paying up to $5,000 to each household to cover moving expenses.

But the deal fell through in early 2007 as residents were moving out, according to Monona city administrator Pat Marsh, and they ended up getting bubkes.

News coverage of the park’s final exodus was predictably depressing: Hickory Lane residents without the means to rent apartments were faced with living in their cars, at a campground or in a homeless shelter.

The Wisconsin Manufactured Home Owners Association is tracking legislation Rickert says would “provide residents with more notification of park closings and give them a way to buy their parks when they’re slated for closing.” The bill could make a big difference for the 4 percent of Wisconsin households living in such homes, but it wouldn’t matter much at all to the other 96 percent, so it’s probably not going anywhere.

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  • The Ridger

    Johnny Fever once said God must hate trailer parks. God’s not the only one.

  • hidden_urchin

    Let’s hear it for the American Dream! You can have a place to live only as long as a developer doesn’t want the land.

    See also, eminent domain.

  • Trailer parks are to home ownership what fast food is to nutritional eating. Inexpensive, easy to come by, satisfying on a superficial level, but with terrible long-term effects.

  • zigzagged

    But while the “terrible long-term effects” from a nutritional standpoint of fast food can be mitigated by moderation, the “terrible long-term effects” of mobile home residency results from a discriminatory law code that could change, if people in power cared, combined with people who are willing to destroy others’ lives for their own wallets. Well, also tornadoes.

  • carovee

    I know that trailer park!  As a kid we passed it on the way to visit relatives.  I always thought it was nice to see ordinary people living (more or less) on the lake.  Where I lived, only very wealthy people had lake view homes.  How sad to see that the city of Monona can’t find a way to value such places beyond the boost to their property tax rolls. 

  • the “terrible long-term effects” of mobile home residency results from a discriminatory law code that could change,

    Not really. Or at least not exactly. I made the fast food analogy because the life cycle of a trailer park is, like the low-cost, low-nutrition content of a burger, quite intentional and deliberate by the designers.

    Trailer parks are built and designed to be a mid-term housing option; they are quite literally created with the goal of selling the land out from under the tenants in 10-20 years when the sprawl has made the property more valuable. That’s the business model: buy cheap land, put very little money into it, charge low space rent to cover taxes/loan interest/holding costs, and then wait for the land to become valuable enough to sell. 

    Now, I think things like the owner-owned trailer parks, where the residents work together to collectively own the land, can be a great alternative. But in order to solve problems, we have to honestly address the issue. And the issue here is that these trailer parks were purchased and created and operated along a specific arc that ends with the owner selling or closing the trailer park for more lucrative development.