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Sweet Victory! Oaxacan Community Goes From Renters to Owners of Fresno Mobile Home Park
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By Edward Smith
Published 2 months ago on
March 9, 2024

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Tenants of a southwest Fresno mobile home park organized to purchase the property they had previously rented.

The purchase comes after five years of litigation.

The cooperative is the first of its kind in Fresno, an expert says, and a model for other mobile home parks.


Juanita Perez never thought she would be sitting on the board overseeing a property housing more than 200 people. Even when the owners of Shady Lakes Manufactured Housing Community offered to sell to their residents, she didn’t know how the tenants could pull it off.

But now the purchase and transformation of the park into a cooperative has brought a sense of calm to 50 southwest Fresno families after five years of drastically increased rents and threats of eviction.

“It feels good, I’m not going to lie, I think the more that I see the reports coming out the more I realize how much of a big deal it is,” said Perez, 37, director of operations for the cooperative, which changed the park’s name to La Comunidad Nuevo Lago — or The New Lake Community.

Feb. 29 marked the first time in Fresno that a mobile home park’s residents took ownership of the property through a cooperative, said attorney Mariah Thompson with California Rural Legal Assistance. The purchase marks only one of a handful in California.

“Those residents really have control of their own future and their own park, you know? And, of course, they own their own home, so they have a strong interest in, you know, helping guide the future of that park,” Thompson said.

Rent Increases Pushed Residents to the Edge

Stockton-based Harmony Communities purchased Shady Lakes in April 2018. Shortly after taking over, the company increased rents by $130 on spaces, an increase of 32%, according to Thompson, who represented a group of tenants at the park.

The residents of Shady Lakes — just south of Malaga — mostly come from one village in Oaxaca, Mexico, called San Miguel Cuevas. Many residents only speak Spanish or Mixteco — an indigenous language of southern Mexico.

Most of the families are farmworkers said Jesus Sierra Lopez, president of the board that oversees the park.

“Harmony was consistently raising our rents and it was too much for the community,” Lopez said in Spanish. “A majority of our community is farmworkers.”

Property managers often visited the park, taking pictures and giving residents 60-day notices to fix issues at their properties.

By 2019, the tenant organization sued Harmony for what the organization called “predatory and inequitable actions.”

Harmony’s Offer to Sell to Residents

A few years into the lawsuit, Harmony approached the residents about buying the park.

Perez said the option seemed “too good to be true.” But when they looked into how much rents would have to go up to pay off the loan, residents had to stop and think if they could afford it, even if it meant owning the property.

“If people can’t afford to live here, they can’t afford to live here, even if it’s community-owned,” Perez said. “That was another challenge and a setback.”

Thompson got the UC Irvine law clinic involved. With the help of the Community & Economic Development Clinic, attorneys secured a loan for the tenants with the state of California at an interest rate they could afford. Community Development Financial Institution ROC USA provided a bridge loan.

“We would meet with them and the students like every week and talk about ‘OK, we’re going to need this, this is what this is, this is what the articles of incorporation are, this is why we need it,’ ” Perez said.

A Migrant’s Story: Working the Fields, Living in a Van

Perez’s family was one of the first from her village to arrive at the park. Her dad first came to California and then brought over his wife and three siblings before Perez was born in Fresno.

They moved from home to home, following work, going as far as Oregon.

When they returned to Fresno it took a while before they could find somewhere they could afford. One day, her father came back and told them he had found a home — a mobile home at Shady Lakes.

“It was beautiful … the previous owner I think had kids because they had a little playset and there was green grass and flowers,” Perez said.

Securing a mobile home meant no longer living out of their van.

“We had permanent housing and it was ours,” Perez said. “And we’ve been there ever since.”

It was the same story for many of the other families, Perez said. Now, nearly the entire village of San Miguel Cuevas lives at La Comunidad Nuevo Lago.

Residents want to transform this horse ranch adjacent to La Comunidad Nueva Lago into an event center. (GV Wire/Edward Smith)

Co-ops a New Structure, But an Important One: Thompson

Thompson said that for mobile home parks, the cooperative structure is really important. Mobile homes are unique in that residents often own their trailers, but not the land beneath them.

“We’re seeing more and more tenants seeking this kind of structure because, as I mentioned, it’s one of the few ways to get these parks out of the private, speculative real estate market so that the parks are no longer owned by investors whose primary goal is profit,” Thompson said.

Residents pay rent on the land, usually much lower than typical rents at an apartment. The catch, though, is that the investment is highly illiquid. Though called “mobile homes,” the mobile part can be misleading. Moving a mobile home to another park, provided a space can be found, can cost north of $10,000.

Many investors have seen the potential of investing in mobile home parks. In response, states such as California gave cities authority to limit rent increases.

But park owners can use other methods to evict tenants and raise rents, Thompson said. In the case of co-ops, all tenants have the opportunity to join. They then elect a board that makes decisions on rent or improvements.

Thompson estimated there are about 300 cooperatives nationwide. But this is the first she knows of that is owned by and managed by predominantly Spanish speakers.

“These farmworkers are primarily Spanish-speaking and Mixteco-speaking farm workers, so it’s truly historic,” Thompson said.

More Work and Decisions Are Ahead

The cooperative purchased the park for $7 million, Perez said. But it requires an estimated $3 million in improvements. The park needs its water system fixed, the streets repaved, and the lights repaired.

Some permanent homes on the park need roofs repaired as well, Perez said.

Next to the park, they also acquired a horse ranch that residents want to convert into an event space. Income from renting out that space could help repay their loan.

They also still need to meet with representatives from ROC USA and begin discussions with community members about what to do first. But that will wait until they celebrate the landmark purchase with a party.

After such a long process, Perez said it comes as a relief.

“Now that it’s done, it feels like, ‘Oh it’s done, now what’s next?'” Perez said.

GV Wire’s Esperanza Ramirez provided translation through an audio recording.

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Edward Smith,
Multimedia Journalist
Edward Smith began reporting for GV Wire in May 2023. His reporting career began at Fresno City College, graduating with an associate degree in journalism. After leaving school he spent the next six years with The Business Journal, doing research for the publication as well as covering the restaurant industry. Soon after, he took on real estate and agriculture beats, winning multiple awards at the local, state and national level. You can contact Edward at 559-440-8372 or at Edward.Smith@gvwire.com.

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