Residents of Trails End Mobile Home Park opposed to the sale of the park to a Stockton-based company with a history of steep rent hikes have found an operator more to their liking.
And, at last week’s Fresno City Council meeting, park resident Patricia Shawn and others spoke favorably about Caritas, which is based in Irvine and has been in business since 1996.
However, Harmony Communities, a Stockton-based firm remains first in line to buy the park, which is in receivership because of unsafe conditions discovered after a fatal fire last year.
At the meeting, California Rural Legal Assistance attorney Mariah Thompson, who represents many of the residents, addressed the city council during public comment.
“In the last two weeks, residents and the representatives have found two very viable plans. We were very surprised. We thought we had one, but now we have two,” said Thompson. “One is a resident-owned community, and one is a nonprofit called Caritas that currently operates two parks already in town.”
Thompson hopes that the city will purchase the park and hold it until residents decide how they want to move forward.
Trails End Residents Support Sale of Park to Caritas
Park resident Patricia Shawn pleaded with councilmembers to give the residents more time to get their affairs in order.
“It’s crazy to see that we have this great opportunity in front of us, with this non-profit organization, Caritas,” said Shawn. “I would really like to have them be our owners, please allow that to happen. Please give us the time we need, just a few months. ”
The Rev. Tim Kutzmark of the Unitarian Universalist Church of Fresno also spoke in favor of Caritas buying the park, which is near Blackstone and Sierra avenues in Fresno.
“Harmony has an undeniable history of predatory landlord behavior that drives up rent and housing prices and causes eviction,” said Kutzmark.
Trails End Mobile Home Park Neglected by Former Owners
Trails End was in bad shape after a series of blazes brought to light the park’s unsafe conditions. One of the fires resulted in the death of 56-year-old Ronald Richardson in April 2021.
The park was then placed in the hands of the California Receivership Group, which was charged with overseeing the clean-up of the property and preparing it for sale to Harmony Communities.
Since then, residents of Trails End have had to make major changes to their units.
For the past few weeks, cleaning crews hired by the court-appointed receiver, Mark Adams, have taken down structures, including rooms and ports that were illegally built without permits.
However, several residents have complained that the rules now being enforced are too strict. Some examples include being told to take down windchimes and not having unleashed dogs inside closed-off enclosures.
Who Is Caritas?
Caritas says it’s a nonprofit that aims to unite people with a purpose by preserving affordable communities.
“Caritas’ only mission is to provide affordable housing to low and very low-income residents,” said John Woolley, the company’s chief investment officer. “That’s why we’re in existence. We’re not going to exist to do anything else.”
“We hope that you will help us, help the residents in this park to ensure that they would not be dealing with displacement due to unreasonable rent increases and rules, and help us turn this community into a thriving affordable community like we have done in so many other parks,” said Casey McKee, the nonprofit’s financial analyst, at last Thursday’s council meeting.
According to McKee, Caritas owns and operates 32 mobile home communities in California and Oregon. Two are in the southeast Fresno council district represented by Luis Chavez.
The Franciscan and Town & Country are located next to each other and have been in operation for more than 30 years said Guillermo Magana, the property manager for both parks.
Magana lives in the park along with his staff handling day-to-day operations. These include property upkeep and repairs, managing three swimming pools, and overseeing their clubhouse, gym, and outdoor playground.
“It’s very comfortable here and we don’t have too many issues going on in here,” said Magana. “All the residents that live here are pretty much farmworkers, so they all have their work duties from Monday to Friday and it’s very calm.”
Caritas Offers Several Community Programs
Magana says the owners are involved in the parks, often hosting holiday and community events throughout the year.
Just a few weeks ago, the parks held an Easter egg hunt for the kids. During the summer, kids can sign up for a reading program and receive free books. During fall and winter, the parks have a Halloween event, a Thanksgiving dinner, and a Toys for Tots Christmas party.
Additionally, Magana says, the company offers a scholarship program of up to $1,500 for residents ages 17 to 25 and a rental assistance program for anyone who falls upon hard times and can’t pay rent.
“So we’ve helped out for two, three months upfront, and we cover the costs for them,” said Magana. “Same thing for maintenance on their homes if they need to repair something and it’s not on their budget and they can’t afford it.”
Several years ago, Mattie Bowen who has been a resident of the park for 14 years, says her rent was covered by the company for a few months while she recovered from hip replacement surgery.
“They are so attentive to our problems, and you know if something’s wrong they come and fix it right away,” said Bowen. “Anybody would be grateful to have people like we do running this place.”
Caritas Has a Positive Track Record
A mobile home community in Santa Monica faced problems similar to those at Trails End. The city purchased the park and later transferred it to Caritas noting that the company had significant experience and a solid approach to management.
Santa Monica officials vetted several companies before choosing Caritas.
“Caritas’ community programs encourage and empower residents to take an active role in collaborating with management to develop social and educational programs that serve the needs of residents,” stated a city council report. “Caritas offers a program designed to educate and encourage mobile home renters to become homeowners.
City Council Could Have Last Say
Ultimately, whether Caritas can become the owner of the park is up in the air.
“We can’t do anything until the court, or the sellers are willing to meet with us,” said company executive Woolley.
Woolley says they have not yet looked at the park’s financials, inspected the park, or met with the residents.
Ultimately, the park’s fate rests with the city council, which could approve a sale to Harmony Communities, to a tenant co-op, or work out an arrangement with Caritas.
However, park residents would have to quickly raise $1.7 million to buy the park.