Residents of Rustic Pines Estates, an age-restricted over-55 manufactured home community located off of Plain Street in North Attleboro, have taken a giant leap forward in securing their own destiny by purchasing their park to own and run it themselves.
The purchase was facilitated by ROC USA Capital, which also provided funding for the $1,350,000 purchase, and by Cooperative Development Institute (CDI), which will provide ongoing training and coaching for the life of their mortgage.
The transition from outside ownership to resident-owned co-op took only a few months and the new resident-owners say they have more security and more control over their future. Day-to-day operations are run by an elected Board of Directors but the entire membership gets together to make major decisions. They approve their own budget and they set their own rent based on operational needs. ROC USA Capital secured a loan for them that covered not only the full purchase price, but replacement of a faulty water meter that was resulting in higher costs.
The Rustic Pines journey began last fall when residents received a letter from the Adolph Monson Trust, owner of the park, informing them that it was going to be sold. As required by Massachusetts state law, the residents were offered the right of first refusal.
“In the beginning,” says Board member Nan Morse, “we had no thoughts of purchasing the park ourselves” because the cost for each individual resident would be prohibitive. The alternative, however, was a scary one. For the most part, residents liked their owners and their property manager, Rose Marie Knickles, who also lives on-site and acted on behalf of the trust. If sold to an outsider, a third party, the community would be at the mercy of new owners who might not treat them well and would most likely start raising the rent significantly. “But we had no choice,” Morse said, “so everyone resigned themselves to a new owner.”
It was Knickles who took the first step toward providing the residents with a solution. She had heard of the cooperative model of resident ownership so she contacted CDI’s Andrew Danforth, who heads up the manufactured home community conversion program and he took it from there. The purchase process was guided by Danforth and CDI’s George Maskiell. Coaching and training was provided by Colleen Preston, who will continue on as the community’s Technical Assistant.
Knickles says she knew there might be a large rent hike should an outsider buy the community. Of the family trust, she says, “We wanted to make a living, not a killing” and she worried about the future of the community. In order to make the mortgage payments on the new loan, residents will be absorbing an initial rent increase but any further increases down the road will be determined by co-op members themselves. The new lot rent is $388 per month, compared to a statewide average of $420 for manufactured home communities. For over-55 communities, $500 per month is becoming the norm.
Rustic Pines, with 40 homes, is the second community in North Attleboro, and the 23rd in New England, to be converted to resident ownership by ROC USA and CDI. Residents of Wamsutta Mobile Home Village, an 84-unit co-op located on Washington Street, purchased their property in 2011.
Financing for the project came from ROC USA Capital. ROC USA Capital is a wholly-owned subsidiary of ROC USA and a U.S. Department of Treasury-certified Community Development Financial Institution.
Cooperative ownership of mobile home parks as a way of preserving affordable communities is a priority for several national non-profit organizations that in 2008 formed ROC USA to make resident-owned communities viable nationwide. ROC USA is sponsored by the Ford Foundation, NeighborWorks®America, NCB Capital Impact, the Corporation for Enterprise Development, and the New Hampshire Community Loan Fund. The Community Loan Fund, a non-profit community development financial institution in New Hampshire, leveraged its experience with 114 resident-owned communities in that state to launch ROC USA with national partners in 2008.
ROC USA is a non-profit organization with a national network of eight organizations such as CDI and a national financing source for resident-owned communities. “We solve the two basic barriers to resident ownership – access to expert technical assistance and financing to help homeowners become buyers when their community is for sale,” said Paul Bradley, ROC USA’s founding president.
ROC USA Network has helped nearly 90 communities preserve more than 5,000 homes in 14 states since its launch in May 2008. www.rocusa.org
The Cooperative Development Institute, formed in 1994, is the USDA-designated Northeast Center for Cooperative Business Development. CDI provides training and technical assistance to new and existing cooperatives in all business sectors, from agriculture and housing to employee ownership, throughout New England and New York. CDI has helped 24 communities gain resident ownership since launching the New England Resident Owned Communities (NEROC) program in 2009. www.cdi.coop