On a hot summer afternoon, Álvaro and Rebecca Hernández tend to their abundant garden.
Tomatoes, peppers and cucumbers fill the plots around Hernandez’s home in Bermuda Estates, a manufactured housing community in Chesterfield County. Like Hernandez’s garden, the neighborhood is also flourishing thanks to long-awaited investment and a new nonprofit property that is committed to working with residents to revive the park.
“I feel happy and proud to be able to give a house to my family, and to be given the opportunity to live here, and to feel the support of the people who come to offer us housing without being afraid to say that they are going to evict us. I either increase the rent every year,” Álvaro Hernández said in an interview.
Hernandez, who has lived in the community for 12 years, said it wasn’t always like this.
Bermuda Estates is located just off a busy section of US Route 1 in Chester. A single road runs through the center of the park, and on either side there are about 50 homes. Latin families live in most of them. Most, like the Hernándezes, own their homes but pay rent to a landlord for the land on which they sit.
Compared with the traditional houses built with sticksMobile homes can offer an affordable opportunity to own a home in a region and state where they are increasingly rare. But the opportunity to build equity comes with the agreement that means your investment is subject to potential rent increases and the owner’s maintenance of the surrounding property.
For years, Bermuda Estates was plagued by poor infrastructure, old homes in need of critical repairs, and a park owner who did not properly maintain the property.
Chesterfield County administrators knew conditions at the park were poor and in some cases unsafe, but they also knew residents were not to blame, said Dan Cohen, Chesterfield’s community improvement director.
“The county was always in a difficult position about what to do with (Bermuda Estates), because on the one hand, they knew they would like to fix the units,” Cohen said. “On the other hand, they wanted to make sure people weren’t displaced.”
Chesterfield’s code enforcement arm repeatedly aforementioned the park’s former owner for violations, in what Cohen described as a concerted effort to pressure them into selling the property. In the end it worked.
But then came another challenge: What if the next owner didn’t fix things either?
As the county’s lobbying campaign came to a head, investment firms across the country were acquiring mobile home parks at a rapid pace. Something like Six-0-Five Village Mobile Home Park in Louisa Countysaw rents rise dramatically after being bought by an investment firm linked to a hedge fund.
It’s unclear how many mobile home parks in Virginia have been affected by this trend, but an analysis of CoStar sales data by the Virginia Manufactured Home Community Coalition found that 84% of the state’s parks that were sold in the last five years were purchased by out-of-state buyers.
Fortunately, Cohen said, Project:HOMES he was interested in Bermuda Estates and could close a deal. The Central Virginia nonprofit is known for its affordable housing development, weatherization and home repair programs. He closed on the property for $1.95 million in September 2020.
After purchasing Bermuda Estates
His team began meeting with residents and assessing their most pressing needs. The first order of business was building trust, said Madeline Petrie, director of mission advancement for Project:HOMES.
“Not only did we want to provide high-quality housing, but we also wanted to undergo a thorough community engagement process, so we could fully understand the needs of community members and provide services and resources that meet those needs,” Petrie said.
The nonprofit made a promise: It would make repairs without displacing families from their homes and without raising rents. To do that, raised 4.2 million dollarsincluding $800,000 from Chesterfield County, according to Petrie.
Project:HOMES repaved the community’s only road and added a turnaround at the end, eliminating the need for children to take the school bus on busy U.S. Route 1. It also addressed much-needed sewage repairs.
A house-by-house assessment of major repairs has been conducted, said Zack Miller, the nonprofit’s director of housing innovation. He is overseeing the renovation of existing housing in the park.
In addition to fixing up existing homes, Miller has led the design and construction of a custom manufactured home, complete with a conditioned crawl space, HardiePlank siding and a front porch.
We have also created the path for other organizations and other localities to move forward using the type of partnership and collaboration that we have seen in Bermuda Estates, using it as a model, as a model that others can replicate.
State Senator Ghazala Hashmi
Unit by unit, Project:HOMES will replace the park’s existing structures with custom-built structures. By the end of the year, six new units will arrive at the park.
“Since we took over the park, the first thing we wanted to do is bring some better replacement units to the park for those who want and need them,” Miller said.
Residents can purchase one of the new homes for between $25,000 and $35,000, about a quarter of what it would normally cost to buy and install a new unit, Miller said. The nonprofit was able to effectively subsidize the sales price to residents, who are the only ones eligible to purchase the new units, through its fundraising efforts.
Even with the improvements, rent for the park lot remains unchanged: Petrie said residents pay $483 per month.
Democratic state Sen. Ghazala Hashmi, whose district includes parts of Chesterfield County, said community revitalization should be duplicated in other parks to preserve what is the only unsubsidized form of deeply affordable housing.
She proposed a new state law earlier this year, that would have incentivized mobile home park owners to sell to a nonprofit by providing them with a tax credit. A Senate committee took no action on the measure, although lawmakers are expected to weigh it again during the next session.
“I think what we’ve done here in Chesterfield County has provided a very important example,” Hashmi said. “We have also created the path for other organizations and other localities to move forward using the type of partnership and collaboration that we have seen in Bermuda Estates, using it as a model, as a model that others can replicate.”
In addition to the housing and infrastructure improvements, Project:HOMES built a new community center, which houses the nonprofit’s management and maintenance staff. The center hosts events, such as a weekly class for English learners, and will soon have a new playground for children who live in the park.
The park administration also hired a full-time Spanish-speaking community liaison and established a resident leadership council, which Álvaro Hernández joined.
“(Project:HOMES) has done a lot of work,” he said. “We are very happy about that. “They are not only interested in coming and collecting rent.”
He beams with pride when he talks about his community.
“I have that great privilege of feeling that my house is a home, because my family is here,” said Hernández. “We are Family.”
This story was produced with the support of the Financial Hardship Reporting Project.