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Tenants' co-op a success

Residents of Moorhead's Greenwood Communities Mobile Home Park are at a crossroads. A settlement from a lawsuit brought by the attorney general's office gives tenants the option of buying the 100-home park. In Cannon Falls, Minn., Sunrise Villa M...

Residents of Moorhead's Greenwood Communities Mobile Home Park are at a crossroads.

A settlement from a lawsuit brought by the attorney general's office gives tenants the option of buying the 100-home park.

In Cannon Falls, Minn., Sunrise Villa Manufactured Home Park became the state's first tenant-owned park last fall, and residents have seen improvements already.

"You can tell just by walking through the park that people are taking pride in where they live," said resident Debbi Howden.

Greenwood resident AnnMarie Sepeda supports the idea because it would let residents work together to fix up the park.


"We don't want to be embarrassed to say we live in Greenwood," Sepeda said. "We want to hold our heads up high."

Northcountry Cooperative De-velopment Fund, a Minneapolis-based group that helps tenants of mobile home parks organize cooperatives, is acting as the agent for Greenwood residents to buy the park from owner Jack Hoffner.

If the park becomes a tenant-owned cooperative, Greenwood would operate similarly to the park in Cannon Falls, which also worked with Northcountry, said Kevin Walker, manager of the group's housing program.

In the 47-home park in Cannon Falls, more than 75 percent of residents own shares in the cooperative.

Each household initially paid $500 to join the cooperative, Walker said. Residents could use existing security deposits toward that amount or make monthly payments with no interest.

Instead of lot rent, members of the cooperative pay monthly carrying charges, which cover utilities, maintenance, debt service and other expenses.

The goal is to keep the monthly charge similar to what residents previously paid in rent, Walker said.

Residents who do not join the cooperative continue paying lot rent. In Cannon Falls, the monthly rate for members and nonmembers is $300, said Howden.


The members of the cooperative elect a board of directors to oversee park operations. All members get to vote on major issues, said Howden, a former president of the board.

An independent property management company hired by the park manages the finances, enforces rules and oversees contractors, Walker said.

As homes in the park are sold, new residents must become members of the cooperative, he said.

Since the Cannon Falls park became tenant-owned in September, residents have replaced unsafe playground equipment, purchased new mailboxes and improved roads, Howden said.

Sunrise Villa residents have also started taking better care of their property, she said.

Dan Grunenwald, 61, who's lived in Sunrise Villa since 1968, said now he doesn't have to worry about a park owner deciding to develop the court for a different use.

"When you wake up in the morning, you know you have a place where you can be living," Grunenwald said.

Eliminating the risk of displacement is a big selling point of joining a cooperative, Walker said.


These are other advantages Walker cites:

- Members have a direct voice in how the park is governed, maintained, operated and managed.

- The park will operate at cost because an independent owner will no longer be collecting a profit. Any surpluses can go to park improvements or back in the pockets of members.

- Property values tend to increase because the park is better maintained.

Howden and Grunenwald said they haven't discovered any downsides of running the park cooperatively.

"It is so worth the hard work at the beginning," Howden said.

Northcountry is in the early stages of determining whether Greenwood would be a good park to turn into a cooperative, Walker said.

The group will meet with Greenwood residents to answer questions and determine how many are interested in the idea, he said.


In November, Northcountry officials met with 32 Greenwood residents, and 28 said they'd be interested in buying the park.

Northcountry also needs to inspect Greenwood to make sure it's a viable investment, Walker said.

The court settlement with Hoffner gives Northcountry six months to finalize a deal.

"There are no guarantees at any stage in this process," Walker said.

One issue complicating things is a potential $23 million city project to build an underpass near Greenwood. If the project is approved, 20 mobile homes would have to be moved.

Northcountry officials are aware of the potential construction project, Walker said, and that challenge doesn't necessarily eliminate Greenwood as a candidate for a cooperative.

"We have a long distance to run to put it together, but we're hopeful that we can," Walker said.

Sepeda, who's lived in Greenwood with her family for about a year, now owns her mobile home because of the settlement with Hoffner.


The state filed a consumer protection lawsuit against Hoffner, claiming he engaged in abusive business practices.

Per the settlement, Sepeda and other residents received letters Friday informing them they no longer owe Hoffner money for their homes.

If tenants took over ownership of the park as well, they could make Greenwood a better place to live, Sepeda said.

"We won't feel like we're just renting and not having any say so whatsoever," she said.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Amy Dalrymple at (701) 241-5590

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