Residents of the Euclid Beach mobile home community in Cleveland’s North Collinwood neighborhood learned this week that their mobile home park will be converted to a public park next year.
“I bought this because I thought it would be a place to retire and I love living here,” said Carol McClain, who has lived at Mobile Park for six years. “I don’t know how they can pretty much just tell us they’re undressing us and we have nothing to say about it.”
The Western Reserve Land Conservancy, which bought the 28.5-acre property from a Texas-based developer for $5.8 million in 2021, told residents Monday at a meeting attended by about 70 people , that the RV park will cease operations by September 2024. The property will become part of the Cleveland Metroparks.
“It serves the interests of many people, but it certainly doesn’t serve the residents who live here,” said Michelle Y. Davis, who moved to the RV park five years ago.
The Conservancy says it will provide fair market values for the homes along with assistance in finding places to go. Matt Zone, the conservancy’s senior vice president and director for thriving communities, said residents would hear more details about their compensation packages in about three months. Zone said those packages include moving expenses.
“We recognize how disruptive this process is and are doing our best to manage the property and address community concerns,” Zone said.
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Mike Russell of the Legal Aid Society of Cleveland, Josiah Quarles of NEOCH, and Michelle Y. Davis, a resident of the Euclid Beach Mobile Home Community.
The Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless (NEOCH) is supporting RV park residents. Josiah Quarles, director of organizing and advocacy at NEOCH, said residents should be able to negotiate collectively to set a minimum floor on the compensation packages to ensure enough money is paid out and to prevent residents from being overwhelmed , especially the older ones, are losing equity ones.
“It shouldn’t be, let me pay that person what I can get away with paying that person,” Quarles said. “A lot of people, it was voiced today, have pendants from the ’60s but put tens of thousands of dollars into them to make them really beautiful.”
Not only did residents express doubts that their homes would be adequately valued, but some were concerned that finding housing for all of those residents by September 2024 was a bigger undertaking than the Conservancy could accept.
“It’s a process that takes a long time. People have to be prepared,” Davis said. “We need time to even figure out where we’re going.”
The conservancy plans to help residents find new homes
Conservancy Senior VP Matt Zone said they will be working with several housing organizations to help residents find new places to live. According to Zone, Eden Housing is hiring a social worker to meet with residents, potentially helping them connect with housing assistance programs and determine what needs they will have when finding a new place to live. The social worker will fill an existing position that has recently become vacant.
“This year we will begin connecting them with the necessary organizations and partners to make this transition smooth. No one is left out to do this alone,” said Zone.
Some residents spoke about how difficult it is to use and qualify for these housing assistance programs.
Since purchasing the property in 2021, the Conservancy has partnered with the City of Cleveland, Cleveland Neighborhood Progress, local community development firms, and a consulting firm to explore options for the property’s future.
The group organized several public meetings and a poll for people to provide input on possible plans for the park. They hosted some meetings exclusively for the residents of the RV park. Zone said the survey returned more than 1,000 responses.
Still, many local residents felt neglected in the final decision and wished both sides had found a compromise, such as removing vacant houses in order to preserve houses in the park while expanding a public green space.
“We never had an opportunity to say how we wanted to be involved in the planning and create a vision within the vision,” Davis said. “I just want to see everyone being able to make an informed choice about their life and well-being in our community. We all deserve it.”
Last summer, some mobile home park residents formed a union, the United Residents of Euclid Beach, to demand that they be allowed to stay in their homes or be given proper compensation and planning time if they are forced to leave.
At a public meeting last week, the Conservancy announced a recommendation to place the property on the Cleveland Metroparks Euclid Creek Reservation. This unsettled residents of the trailer park so much that the United Residents of Euclid Beach held a press conference just before Monday’s meeting.
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United Euclid Beach residents spoke out ahead of meeting with the Western Reserve Land Conservancy this week.
“This presents an opportunity to mobilize significant investment into the Collinwood neighborhood, which hasn’t seen as much investment since World War II,” Zone said. “This project will be the catalyst to change the trajectory of this neighborhood.”
Union members said they felt misled about the Conservancy’s intentions with the property, with some saying it had been the Conservancy’s plan all along.
“They’ve had all these meetings and told us they were considering other options. They could have told us from the start that the plan was to strip us and make green space,” McClain said.
The Euclid Beach tenants’ union is drawing attention to the fight
Representatives from NEOCH and the Legal Aid Society of Cleveland stood next to the union on Monday. The Legal Aid Society represents the union and members of the RV community in the fight to save their homes.
“If someone shows up on your doorstep and says you’ve got about a year and a half but you have to go somewhere and put your life savings in your house that you can’t move, that’s a pretty bad situation. ‘ said Legal Assistance Attorney Mike Russell.
There are about 140 residents of the RV park. Most own their homes and pay a fee for their land.
Many of these mobile homes – sometimes called prefabs – are not truly mobile. They are grounded with concrete foundations and are difficult or impossible to move to another location.
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The Western Reserve Land Conservancy purchased this property in 2021.
At Monday’s meeting, residents also expressed concern that the conservancy was taking away or reducing some services, such as maintenance and security personnel, which residents said was leading to increased theft at the park.
Zone promised to hire new security personnel and handle other upkeep matters, but spoke of the difficulty of doing so since more than two dozen residents have not paid property fees since the conservancy bought the park. He said the conservancy has accumulated more than $100,000 in arrears but has refrained from evictions and property fee increases for most of its tenure.
“The destabilizing factor of the initial purchase and understanding that it has writing on the wall here that they have a plan and they don’t lock us in is really a deterrent for people to pay up,” Quarles said. “I think the biggest incentive for people to pay their rent is knowing they can keep paying their rent because they’re going to have a place to live.”