Friday, September 14, 2007


I know I've been here before but its back to the trailer parks and how the people who live in them get the shaft. I'd also add that in the case here (as in many others) the residents are also "senior citizens."

As you read the story keep in mind the simple fact that a lot of mobile home dwellers can’t afford $200,000 homes, which is about what the median price of homes are in the Tampa Bay area. Many have financial, medical, or personal reasons they are living in a trailer park and not in homes.

The truth is we should not have to talk about reasons anyway. People should be able to live in whatever type of dwelling they want without answering questions about their choices.

Anyway, back to the story at hand - the saga of Golden Lantern Mobile Homes Park in Pinellas Park, Florida (Tampa-St. Petersburg metro area).

(Note: the information to follow comes from a variety of media sources in the local area)

The issue of rezoning and redevelopment of the 22 acres at 7960 Park Blvd. occupied by Golden Lantern Mobile Home Park has been ongoing for more than two years.

The county board approved a land use amendment and rezoning of the property from residential urban to residential medium and residential and office and retail on April 4, 2006. The board also approved a development agreement allowing construction of 225 rental apartments, which would include between 133 and 183 affordable housing units, 108 market-rate townhouses and up to 17,500 square feet of neighborhood commercial retail space.

The agreement with the developer allowed a 50 percent increase in density in exchange for affordable housing units. Approval of the land use change and increased density also required approval of the Florida Department of Community Affairs.

On June 7, 2007, the Florida Department of Community Affairs (DCA) informed the county that it did not plan to approve the amended land use for the property. According to staff notes, the main reason was the increased densities. The county entered into a series of negotiations with the state to find a way to get the deal approved.

Staff said that alternatives proposed by the state to approve the land use change included providing reduced evacuation times and shelter space for residents of the proposed development.

After careful study, staff determined that it wasn’t economically feasible to comply with DCA’s requirements. DCA advised the county that it needed to rescind the ordinance and remove it from the books.

“No one wants to make a motion that is going to impact these people,” Commissioner Bob Stewart said.

The commissioners’ unanimous vote to rescind the ordinance on Tuesday night dashed any hopes the remaining 38 residents had to collect a promised $18,000 settlement with the developer.

“You’re asking us to leave with only $1,375,” Tucker said. “That’s less than first and last months rent.” "You were elected to fight for people like me who cannot fight for themselves," Tucker added.

Residents of Golden Lantern fought the change for almost two years. They begged county commissioners to leave things as they were, saying the park was their home and they’d have no place to go if it was closed down.

The owner of the park, meanwhile, has allowed to place to become a place you aren't supposed to find in the USA.

The gas has been cut off, they said, which means those who do not have electric stoves are unable to cook. Drains have been filled with concrete. The sewer is stopped up. Metal is dangling from partly dismantled mobile homes. Asbestos is exposed. Palm trees are being ripped out.

In addition, Linda Arcario, one of the leaders of the tenants association, says that garbage is not being picked up. Besides rubble from the structure razings, piles of trash – in and out of containers – line the streets.

Last week a chain-link fence was erected around the nearly 20 acres the comprise the park. The fence closed off all entries into the park except one.

Tampa attorney Joe Magri, who represents more than 80 current and former residents of the park, said it's not just the fence. Everything going on at the Golden Lantern is making life miserable for his clients.

His clients have told him that the water is cut off almost every day, and that they have been told to boil their water before drinking it. The owner admits this is true but claims the tenants are sabotaging the water lines. Anyway, he says the remaining tenants have stayed because they believe they are entitled to compensation that they are not owed. If they are miserable, he said, they have the option of leaving.

Nice guy.

Cliff Smith, assistant director of the Pinellas County Health and Human Services department, said his agency has been out to the Golden Lantern twice in the past two weeks.

He conceded that living conditions are rough.

"I wouldn't want to be there," Smith said.

About 32 trailers remain occupied by people who cannot afford to move, those living on limited income or are ill.

At least one resident suffers from terminal cancer.

Josephine Peters, who has seen the facility go from a well maintained senior citizen community to a mobile home park ghetto, said remaining residents are just plain angry.

“Where are we to go? What are we to do?” she asked. “I’ll tell you what we’re going to do. We’re going to fight for what is ours.”

"These people have lived in crud for two years," Tammy Tucker said. The homeowners, she said, are being asked to leave "with nothing, absolutely nothing to start over."

So yet another group of Americans, who have worked all their lives, played by the rules, instead of being able to live their "golden years" in peace are being jacked around by some guy who wants to make a little more moola and by local and state governments that can seem to figure out how to get their act together and can't seem to find a way to help out some of the people for whom they always like to always say they work.

If only this group of Americans were large campaign donors.

Just one more little story that goes largely untold outside of the area where it is happening.

Just one more day in a country called the United States of America.

The following comes from the site Tampa Bay Newspapers.

Golden Lantern residents gearing up for a confrontation

PINELLAS PARK – The remaining residents of the Golden Lantern Mobile Home Park are gearing up for a confrontation with the property’s owner who wants to raze the remaining units and clear the land.

Latonia Adams, president of the Golden Lantern Homeowner’s Association, said the land cannot at this time be used for anything other than a mobile home park. She hopes that the owners who purchased the property for $4.9 million will allow the residents to remain and that improvements are made to the facility.

Lot rents, she said, are between $335 and $350-a-month, a fee that most residents would be willing to continue paying if the property was improved and re-created into a 55-and-over community.

“There still is an opportunity to turn the Golden Lantern into a viable and profitable mobile home park,” Adams said.

Linda Arcario, association vice president, meanwhile, said residents are fed up over how they are being treated and with having to live under what she termed as “dangerous and deplorable conditions.”

Just over 30 mobile homes still are occupied and remain parked amid the rubble of abandoned trailers in various stages of demolition. Arcario also alleges that residents are under a “boil water” order and that water is routinely turned off almost daily.

Arcario and other residents say also that garbage is not being picked up. Besides rubble from the structure razings, piles of trash – in and out of containers – line the streets.

One of two entrances to the park is blocked by a chain link gate. Arcario said children who live in the park are forced to either go around the gate or walk to the Park Boulevard entrance.

Arcario, who is disabled due to back injuries and other medical issues, said she lives on social security. She purchased her 1970s-model trailer in August 1997 and paid it off when she was able to work.

“I thought I’d be here forever,” Arcario said. “This is my home, I have no mortgage on it, and I don’t want to leave it behind.”

Some residents said they will chain themselves to the fence to stop the park’s closure and to draw attention to how they are forced to live.

Developer Kevin Voss originally offered only association members approximately $18,000 each to leave the property. Non-members squawked and Voss then offered both members and non-members alike a $15,000 package. No agreement could be reached and the figure was reduced to $5,000 and finally to $3,000.

The problem is that the mobile homes are of 1970s vintage when construction laws were more lenient. Many contain asbestos, fiberglass and other dangerous components that now are being removed by workers wearing safety suits and face masks.

Residents are angry, however, that while workers use safety precautions those left at the park are forced to breathe unstable air generated from the building materials.

Arcario said residents meet regularly with association attorney Joseph Magri of Tampa. The association is expected to be in court within the month over the fence and gates that were installed about two weeks ago. Other proceedings regarding damages and other legal issues have not yet been scheduled.

Some residents still make mortgage payments on the very homes they may have to abandon. They will still be liable for those mortgages, even if they are forced to move.

“We are not trailer trash and we need to be treated with respect and get fair value for our homes,” Arcario said.

Retired mechanic Joseph Huckno, 69, has lived in the park since 1997. He recently underwent major surgery and lives on social security.

“This used to be a nice place,” he said. “It was a senior citizen community and was well maintained.”

Huckno and Deeann Horton live in a trailer home with a second story loft. She works in food service for the Pinellas County school system.

“Some people don’t know what they will do,” Huckno said. “One woman down the street is returning to Pennsylvania to live with her family.”

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