Advocates trying to help residents in troubled Ephraim trailer park
EPHRAIM — With the help of a non-profit organization that advocates for people who live in land-lease communities, a local humanitarian effort is taking shape to save the homes of families who live at the mobile home court at 200 North and 200 West in Ephraim.
The mobile home court had been found rife with public health, safety and ordinance violations. Ephraim’s leadership say they have decided to take a stand over the poor living conditions after the mobile home court owner, David Strate of Ephraim, refused to comply with the city’s requirements to bring it up to code.
The Ephraim City Council say they gave Strate an opportunity to submit a mitigation plan that would address the issues at the park. At a meeting of the Ephraim City Council on Nov. 2, the council voted unanimously to reject the mitigation plan Strate submitted, citing 45 instances where Strate’s response to the issues at hand was “will address later” or some variation.
Ephraim City could either continue to ignore blatant public safety issues that have persisted for years or tell the 17 families that live in the court that they are being evicted.
Ephraim City sent a letter to Strate and the occupants of the court telling them “the city has exhaustively attempted to find a resolution with Mr. Strate to protect your health and safety,” but no resolution could be reached. The letter said that utilities would be shut off to the entire property on Jan. 31 and that all occupants of the court must be moved out by then.
After the utilities are shut off and the residents effectively evicted, the city plans to fence the mobile home court on all sides to keep people out. At that point, the city would put a lien on the property to recoup the costs to turn off utilities safely (which requires hiring a contractor) and install the fencing.
When word of the decision got out, occupants of the mobile home court were in a panic. One such occupant, Maria Guadalupe Ortiz, was one of the few of the occupants that owned the title to her mobile home on Strate’s property. Ortiz works at the Park Place apartments in Ephraim, and when her boss, Park Place manager Amy Hansen, heard of Ortiz’s plight, she decided she wanted to help somehow.
“I feel bad and scared,” Ortiz told Hansen. “It is painful to think about, and I am depressed because I don’t know what will happen and I may lose my home. I will have to move all of my stuff, and I have lived there for years. So many memories I will be leaving behind.”
Hansen said she went to the mobile home court to talk with Ortiz about a strategy to remedy the situation.
“When I got there,” Hansen said, “all the families were packed into Maria’s trailer with all their children, wanting some hope in this situation. Originally, my number one goal was getting Maria more time, but when I saw the families together with their children, my goal changed to helping them all get through this. I don’t care what it takes to fix this; I’ll do anything I have to do.”
The large majority of the mobile homes in the court are owned by Latino households, and Hansen said she knew if she was going to help everyone she was going to need someone to help bridge some language barriers. She called her friend Lianne Hurst, who works as a para-educator and Spanish-speaking liaison at Ephraim Elementary School.
Together, Hansen and Hurst began talking to all the families and giving them advice on what to do in the face of their crisis.
“One family left, and I know there are others considering it,” Hurst said. “We told them, keep paying your rent and following the rules while we appeal to the city.”
Hansen and Hurst got in contact with the non-profit Utah Coalition of Manufactured Home Owners, Inc., who had successfully helped another failing mobile home court in South Salt Lake. Through cooperation with the Salt Lake Housing Authority, the coalition was eventually able to have that mobile home court purchased by a resident-owned cooperative.
Connie Hill, chair of the coalition, came down to visit with Ephraim City leaders on Friday. Hill and a few other coalition members wanted to look into the situation and see if the coalition might be able to help Hansen and Hurst find a solution to the issue at hand—saving the homes of 17 families.
“We came down because we were greatly concerned by some of the practices of the property owner,” Hill said.
Hill, Hansen and Hurst proposed to the city the possibility of finding a non-profit humanitarian organization that could fund the purchase of the park from Strate and then fix it up.
According to Hill, Ephraim City leaders told the group that the city would be open to working with an alternate property owner to get the court up to code and safe for the residents in a cooperative community effort.
“They asked if we were closing the door on the trailer park, and we said, ‘No, we’re closing the door on Dave Strate.’ We’re not against trailer parks,” Ephraim City Mayor Ralph Squire said.
Squire told them there was potential in their proposal and if they wanted to acquire the property and rehabilitate it, the city would be all for it.
Hill said, “if a non-profit can be found, the city is willing to work with us. They are not willing to work with the current owner. So if he is willing to sell and we can find a non-profit to fund the repairs and come in with a plan to make things right, the city is on board to help.”
According to Hurst, the mobile home court residents themselves are willing to contribute to saving the park, both with work and what money they can afford.
Hurst said, “The families have almost all said they are willing to take some financial burden if we can work out a cooperative situation to save the park and bring its living standards up to where they need to be.”
Hill said that even though the coalition has begun the process of trying to find a 501(c)3 non-profit that would be willing to help preserve the court, there are still some hurdles ahead, mainly convincing Strate to sell and the monumental job of actually bringing the park up to code.
The infrastructure and utility repairs alone would cost an estimated $200,000-$250,000, according to Hill — and that does not include the cost to purchase the property if the owner will sell.
A meeting of the Ephraim City Council was held yesterday, but the results of the meeting were unavailable when the paper went to print. According to Hurst, Strate sent letters out to the residents of his mobile home court to come out in support of him. Hansen, Hurst and the coalition also asked the residents to come; not to support Strate, but to make their voices heard.
“When the public commentary begins, it will be evident that the families are not there to support Strate and the current state of things,” Hurst said. “When the talking starts, they [Ephraim City leadership] will get to see how these people really feel.”
The Messenger visited the court on Tuesday and spoke with Maria Reyes, the wife of one of the few other court residents besides Ortiz who own the title to their mobile home.
“I am sad this happening at Christmas,” Reyes said. “We have nowhere else to go and no plans. We are going to the meeting, like everyone else, to ask the city ‘what do you expect us to do now?'”
When asked for a comment on the situation, Strate told the Messenger, “I am committed to doing what I can for my friends at the trailer park. I have never ignored their needs. I have not ignored the city and their request to do what they have asked me to do at the trailer park. I invite all to come to the council meeting to get the story that has not been told.”
Next week’s issue of the Messenger will have coverage of Wednesday’s Ephraim City public meeting, which Hansen, Hurst and Hill say will be attended by all the residents of the mobile home court, who are all “just looking for answers.”