A Change in Ownership: Canaan, Enfield Mobile Home Parks Now Cooperatives

By Tim Camerato

Valley News Staff Writer

Published: 07-10-2017 12:09 AM

Canaan — Two mobile home parks in the Mascoma valley are now owned and operated by residents who recently formed cooperatives to purchase the properties.

The former Daniels Acres Mobile Home Park in Enfield and former Pleasant Valley Mobile Home Park in Canaan were purchased by homeowners on June 28 in a move residents say allows them more control over what happens in the parks.

Pleasant Valley, which contains 29 units near Mascoma Valley Regional High School, was purchased for $815,000 from the South Burlington, Vt.-based Neville property management company. It is now called the Mascoma Valley Cooperative.

Meanwhile, Daniels Acres residents formed the Lakeside Cooperative to purchase the land under 51 units off Route 4. They paid $1.77 million for the property, which was also owned by Neville.

“I think it’s the best thing for us. I really do,” Lennie Beliveau, president of the Mascoma Valley Cooperative, said on Sunday.

Beliveau has lived in the Canaan park for 31 years. In that time, he’s seen several property owners come and go, making empty promises to residents.

“I’ve heard landlords tell us they’re going to do this, they’re going to do that to improve the place. All I’ve seen is an increase in rent,” Beliveau said. “None of the things that they talked about doing, about putting in lights, about putting in a park for the kids to play in; none of that came about.”

So, when the property went up for sale this spring, residents jumped on the opportunity to buy it. With the help of the New Hampshire Community Loan Fund, the sale was finalized within weeks and homeowners are already looking to the future.

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Beliveau said community members are planning to meet on Tuesday to create a plan for improvements at the park. Although he wasn’t sure on a timeline, Beliveau said replacing the park’s sign, improving its well house and cleaning up a few empty lots could be the first steps.

“There’s so much that we want to do with this place. It’s endless what you can do with the right amount of money and the right amount of people,” he said.

Keeping rent affordable and allowing homeowners more control are two primary goals for the New Hampshire Community Loan Fund, which has been helping form cooperatives since 1984. The fund facilitated the sales in Canaan and Enfield and offered training to both cooperatives.

“We want their lots not to change at all,” said Tara Reardon, director of the fund’s resident-owned communities program.

She said forming cooperatives should also coincide with continued market rate sales at the parks, adding that the fund doesn’t want to price future homeowners out of the market.

Once officials at the community loan fund learned the two communities were for sale, they reached out to residents and offered to help establish cooperatives, Reardon said.

The fund offered a fixed-rate loan and also sent engineers to determine whether residents would be capable of managing improvements in the future.

“In this case, it all worked out for these communities really well,” she said, adding that the fund will continue to offer support and training. “We’re pretty excited for these communities.”

John Wilking, the founder of Neville, said he purchased the two parks in 2000 and felt “like it was just time to move on.” The sale would free up business opportunities closer to Burlington, so Wilking called the Community Loan Fund and offered to sell.

“We have sold another park to residents in the past and we think they’re the obvious best buyer you could ever find, if someone’s there to help you through it,” he said.

The fund not only offers property managers a fair rate for their property, but also helps the homeowners navigate the purchase process, he said.

“If they have control of their own future, they’re capable of improving what they want on their own (while) controlling their own rent level,” Wilking said.

The thought of someone purchasing Daniels Acres and increasing rents initially worried Roland Shattuck, president of the new Lakeside Cooperative. With the Community Loan Fund’s help, a few neighbors began meeting to discuss ownership, and their efforts steamrolled into widespread community support, he said.

“As we learned things, we had to pass it onto the other 45 members,” Shattuck said, adding the effort to rally the community took many eight- and 10-hour work days.

Homeowners are also continuing to sign up for membership status in the cooperative, he said.

“It was an experience that none of us were really qualified to do but more than willing to try,” Shattuck said.

Doug Collins, who has lived at Lakeside for four years, said he was initially skeptical of forming a cooperative. But after some thought, he liked the idea of ownership and the proposed benefits.

“If you own something, you’re going to be more careful about how it’s maintained,” he said on Sunday. “If you’re going to live here, invest in it (and) make it yours.”

Although residents are still warming up to the Mascoma Valley Cooperative, they’ve already witnessed one benefit of the new ownership structure, said David Lebrun, a 10-year resident of the park.

When lightning hit the park’s well house a week ago, the community’s operations manager was on the scene quickly and had water up and running to homes in a matter of hours.

“If somebody else owned (the community), I’m not sure we would have gotten the same response,” he said.

Tim Camerato can be reached at tcamerato@vnews.com or 603-727-3223.