From mobile home park to Metropark? Euclid Beach residents speak out to save their homes
Residents of the Euclid Beach Mobile Home community in Cleveland’s North Collinwood neighborhood learned this week that their mobile home park will be turned into a public park next year.
“I bought this because I thought it would be a retirement spot and I love living here,” said Carol McClain, a resident of the mobile park of six years. “I don’t know how they can pretty much just say to us that they’re moving us out and we don’t have anything to say about it.”
The Western Reserve Land Conservancy, which purchased the 28.5-acre plot of land from a Texas-based developer for $5.8 million in 2021, told residents in a meeting attended by about 70 people on Monday that the mobile home park will cease to operate by September 2024. The property will become part of the Cleveland Metroparks.
“It’s serving a lot of people’s interest, but it’s certainly not serving the residents who live here,” said Michelle Y. Davis, who moved to the mobile home park five years ago.
The conservancy says it will provide fair market values for the homes along with assistance in finding places to go. The conservancy's senior vice president and director of thriving communities, Matt Zone, said the residents will have more details on their compensation packages in about three months. Zone said these packages will include the cost of moving.
“We recognize how disruptive this process is and are doing our best to manage the property and respond to the concerns of the community,” Zone said.
The Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless (NEOCH) is supporting the residents of the mobile home park. NEOCH’S Director of Organizing and Advocacy, Josiah Quarles, said residents should be able to collectively bargain to have a minimum floor set on the compensation packages to ensure enough money is paid out and to help keep residents from losing equity built in homes, especially the older ones.
“It should not be, let me pay this person what I can get away with paying this person,” Quarles said. “Many people, as was expressed today, have trailers from the 60s, but have put tens of thousands of dollars into them to make them really nice.”
Not only did residents show doubts that their homes would be properly appraised, some were concerned that finding housing between now and September 2024 for all of these residents was a bigger undertaking than the conservancy may realize.
“This is a process that takes a long time. People need to be prepared,” Davis said. “We need time to even figure out where we’re going.”
The conservancy has plans for helping residents find new homes
Conservancy senior V.P. Matt Zone said they will be partnering with several housing organizations to help resident find new places to live. According to Zone, Eden Housing is hiring a social worker to meet with residents, potentially help connect them with housing assistance programs and help determine what their needs will be in finding a new place to live. The social worker will fill an already existing position that recently became vacant.
“This year we will start connecting them to the necessary organizations and partners to help make this transition smooth. Nobody is going to be left out to navigate this on their own,” Zone said.
Some residents talked about how difficult it is to utilize and qualify for these housing assistance programs.
Since buying the property in 2021, the conservancy partnered with the City of Cleveland, Cleveland Neighborhood Progress, local community development corporations and a consulting firm to look into options for the future of the property.
The group put together several public meetings and a survey for people to provide input on potential plans for the park. They hosted some meetings exclusively for residents of the mobile home park to attend. Zone said the survey yielded more than 1000 responses.
Still, many residents felt neglected in the final decision and wished both sides could have found a compromise, such as removing vacant homes to keep homes in the park, while still expanding a public green space.
“We never had a chance to say how we would want to be involved in the planning and create a vision within the vision,” Davis said. “I just want to see that everybody is able to make an informed decision about their lives and their well-being in our community. We all deserve it.”
Last summer, some residents of the mobile home park created a union, the United Residents of Euclid Beach, to demand they be able to stay in their residences or be left appropriate compensation and planning time if they are forced to leave.
In a public meeting last week, the conservancy announced a recommendation to make the property part of the Cleveland Metroparks Euclid Creek Reservation. That rattled residents of the mobile home park, so much so that the United Residents of Euclid Beach held a press conference just before Monday’s meeting.
“This has the opportunity to leverage significant investment in the Collinwood neighborhood that hasn’t seen that level of investment since World War II,” Zone said. “This project will be the catalyst to change the trajectory of that neighborhood.”
Union members said they felt mislead about the conservancy’s intentions with the property, some said this was the conservancy’s plan all along.
“They were having all these meetings and telling us that they’re thinking of other options. They could have told us from the beginning that the plan was to move us out and create green space,” McClain said.
The Euclid Beach tenants union calls attention to the fight
Representatives from NEOCH and the Legal Aid Society of Cleveland, stood alongside the union on Monday. The Legal Aid Society represents the union and members of the mobile home community in the fight to keep their homes.
“If somebody showed up to your doorstep and said you had about a year and a half, but you’d have to go somewhere and you put your life savings into your home, which you couldn’t move, that’s a pretty dire situation,” said Legal Aid attorney Mike Russell.
There are about 140 residents of the mobile home park. Most own their homes and pay a fee for their lots.
Many of these mobile homes – sometimes called manufactured homes – are not actually mobile. They are grounded with concrete foundations and will be difficult or impossible to move elsewhere.
In Monday’s meeting, residents also showed concerns that the conservancy took away or diminished some services, such as maintenance and security staff, which residents said led to increased theft in the park.
Zone promised to bring in new security staff and take care of other upkeep concerns, but talked about the difficulty in doing so because more than two dozen residents have not paid lot fees since the conservancy bought the park. He said the conservancy has accumulated more than $100,000 in delinquencies but has refrained from evictions and lot fee increases for most of its tenure of ownership.
“The destabilizing factor of the original purchase and the understanding that the writing is on the wall here that they have a plan and it doesn’t include us is really a disincentive for people to pay,” Quarles said. “I think the greatest incentive for people to pay their rent is to know that they can keep paying their rent because they’re going to have a place to stay.”