Uncertainty stresses trailer residents
EPHRAIM—There was one overriding question among the 13 adults, all Hispanic, who gathered in a contractor’s storage garage outside Ephraim Saturday night to discuss the predicament of the DJ Trailer Court.
“Where are we going to go?” multiple residents asked out loud.
Living in the DJ trailer court is not necessarily a choice, said Brenda Almanza, the adult daughter of a couple who have lived in the court for 17 years.
“They’re there because that’s what they can afford. If they could move, they would,” she said.
In late November, the 17 households in the park received a letter from the Ephraim City telling them the city had tried to convince David Strate, the owner of the trailer court, to make improvements to protect residents’ health and safety.
Since Strate hadn’t made the repairs, the letter said, utilities would be shut off, and all residents would be required to vacate by Jan. 31.
After trailer court residents and supporters packed a city council meeting on Wednesday, Dec. 7, and after Strate had spent nearly an hour at the meeting make the case he had not understood what the city was requiring, the city council extended its original deadlines. (See accompanying story.)
Maria Palmerin Orozco, a second-generation Hispanic woman who owns a mobile home in the park, who works as a dental assistant, and who helped translate for a Messenger reporter during the meeting, said all of the Hispanic families in the park have friends and family in Sanpete County.
If required to vacate, they “won’t be on the street,” she said. If they have no other choice, they could stay with friends or family for a time.
“But we want our own homes,” Irma Almanza, Brenda’s mother, said.
Irma appeared to be one of the most frightened people at the meeting. Her eyes welled with tears as she explained her husband, Raul, is on dialysis. He drives to Provo twice a week for treatments.
Raul needs to quit working, but he can’t because he’s dependent on his insurance at Norbest, she said. Even so, “his whole paycheck goes to medical bills.”
Her check from Norbest pays for housing, utilities and other necessities.
Yet their daughter, Brenda, who was born in Mexico but grew up in the DJ court in Ephraim, is doing well. She graduated early from Manti High School and went to Snow College at Richfield for three semesters. She now has a legal social security card.
She doesn’t live at home anymore, and with a new baby, has limited ability to help her parents.
No one at the meeting disputed the city’s contention that water, sewer and electrical systems at the park are in poor condition. Nearly all the units at the park are pre-1976 and consequently do not meet current federal, state and local standards for manufactured housing.
But, one resident said, many families have remodeled the interiors of their homes. He recently put $7,000 into his. “It’s old, but if you go inside, it’s very livable,” he said.
Lianne Hirst, a paraeducator at Ephraim Elementary School who acts as the school’s liaison with Hispanic families and who served two LDS missions in Latin America, has been acting as an informal advocate for the families. She was at the meeting Saturday night.
Based on questions and a show of hands, she said that of 17 households currently in the park, 14 are Hispanic and three Anglo. Family members in 12 of the 14 Hispanic households work at Norbest. Virtually all of the Hispanic families are undocumented.
The residents who turned out for the meeting Saturday at 6 p.m. were a small sample of the people affected, Hirst said, because “a lot of them are still at work.”
Stress is coming at the families from two directions, Hirst noted. Several residents have been told that because they don’t have legal social security cards, their jobs at the turkey plant could end Dec. 31.
Orozco said the same thing has happened before. “They give them a date, and when the date comes, they give them a later date,” she said.
Nonetheless, the families face uncertainty.
“They’re getting the same thing (from the city) that they’re getting at the plant,” Hirst said. “Maybe we can work something out; maybe we can’t.”
“The timing is awful,” she added.
“If Dave doesn’t fix the court and the city kicks (the residents) out, they just want until May or June so they can get everything out,” Orozco said.
Much of the meeting centered on Strate, what he has and hasn’t done, and whether residents might be able to help fix up the trailer park.
Orozco took issue with Strate’s contention at the city council meeting that he hadn’t understood what an inspection report prepared by Sunrise Engineering, the city’s contracted building inspection and code enforcement firm, was asking him to do.
“Here I am, with no construction background, and I understand,” she said.
She said residents were willing to clean up trash at the park, remove non-working vehicles, and even remove wooden porches and rooms illegally added onto trailers.
“We can offer to help…We can ask David what we need to do,” one resident said.
But one woman said some time back her husband offered to haul away junk from the trailer court. She said Strate’s response was, “Is this going to cost me? Because if it’s going to cost me, don’t do it.”
“David could do it (make repairs). He has the money,” one resident said.
“Let’s give him the week that the city has given him,” Orozco said. “If he doesn’t do anything, we’re going to start doing things.”
Such as? Orozco said she would get a lawyer to represent her. Other residents said they would start to move.
Several residents at the meeting claimed that although the city generates a separate utility bill for each unit, all the bills go to Strate. The city confirmed that all utilities at the trailer court are in Strate’s name.
The residents said Strate marks up the bills and then collects more for utilities than the residents actually owe. Ephraim officials said such a practice could be a criminal offense.
“He has a right to the rent,” one woman said, but not to overcharge for utilities.
The Messenger reporter asked the group, “So you’re telling me he’s marking up utility bills.”
“He is,” Orozco said emphatically.
On the positive side, residents said when they don’t have enough for rent, Strate gives them extensions. They fear other landlords would not be as lenient.
One question the residents asked repeatedly was who would compensate residents for loss of their trailers and for relocation costs.
“If the city is the one kicking us out, the city should pay us for our house,” one resident said.
When asked if $10,000 per family would be enough to cover losses and pay relocation expenses, people at the meeting looked around at each other, and nearly all nodded “yes.”
Residents were also asked if they would support a plan, now being discussed, under which a nonprofit organization would purchase the park property from Strate (if he was willing to sell), redevelop it, reposition existing units in a reconfigured park, and then turn ownership over to an association of residents. Possibly, everyone would need to move out while work was underway.
Once again, nearly everyone nodded “yes.”
“They would accept that,” Orozco said. “They just want more time.”