In Virginia, there are no resident-owned manufactured home communities. But this has not prevented residents across Virginia from working together to have their voices heard. In this session, you will hear from individuals working directly within communities to educate and organize residents. From best practices in outreach and organizing, this session will provide a snapshot of initiatives here in Virginia and in other states.
Phil Storey, Staff Attorney, Housing Advocacy, Virginia Poverty Law Center
Phil Storey is a legal aid lawyer and the Director of the Eviction Legal Helpline, a project of the Virginia Poverty Law Center providing free legal advice to tenants throughout the state facing potential eviction. He has spent more than a decade assisting residents of manufactured home communities in Virginia. Those efforts have included helping form the first residents’ associations in manufactured home parks in Virginia, defending residents’ rights in federal and state court, and helping organize political advocacy efforts.
Vanessa Hatch, Community Services & Housing Compliance Manager, Augusta Communities
Vanessa Hatch has over thirty years of public sector, non-profit, education and experience in housing, community service, project management and public outreach. She works with stakeholders to access community needs, develop resident services programming, build relationships with partnering organizations, identify new sources of funding, and monitor compliance and regulatory requirements.
Mayra Torres, Housing Organizer, Living Cully
Mayra Torres has been a Cully resident for over 15 years and has always enjoyed working with her community. In January 2019 she was offered the Housing Organizer position in Living Cully and she started working in February. Through this time she has connected with people from the 5 mobile home parks in Cully. She has helped with the creation of a Resident Association in one of the parks and since March she has been working with staff and volunteers with food accessibility. For the past 5 months she has been leading a team that meets every Friday to make 150-180 food boxes at a local pantry and distributes them the same day by bikes, porch drop offs and driveway pick up. They not only give food but they also print flyers with information about other activities or resources that are within her organization or community and place them in the box so their food box recipients can continue to get connected to services and/or information during these difficult times.
Joe Ciszek, formerly of Virginia Poverty Law Center
Joe Ciszek is an attorney with a legal aid background who volunteers his time to support the residents of manufactured home communities in Virginia. Joe recently spent two years with the Virginia Poverty Law Center working to stabilize and enhance Virginia manufactured home communities. During that time, Joe worked to empower residents by performing door-to-door legal aid services and providing know-your-rights materials to residents. Joe also gathered statistical information on residents and their housing needs in collaboration with Chesterfield County to better enhance government services in those communities.
Agustin Bravo, Mobile Towne Residents Association
In the Richmond region, we have seen that there are pockets of undocumented immigrants within MH communities. How can organizations and local governments build trust with these communities to better address living conditions?
There will always be hesitancy with individuals who are undocumented, but that is one of the reasons Joe’s organization focused on working with groups (resident association). Having an organization (shield) that can help folks have one layer of distance from an outside agency. Allowing these interventions to start with those who are comfortable first then to the ones who are more hesitant, helps undocumented residents feel protected from potential retaliation from managers.
MHCCV’s current strategic plan calls for it to draft an “emergency action plan” to guide residents and allies in the event of imminent park closures and other crises. What strategies should MHCCV include in this plan? (examples: partnerships with allied organizations, lobbying to elected officials, etc.)
Phil Storey: Partly, the way the coalition was formed due to a crisis (an aggressive code enforcement in the city of Richmond, which was designed to shut down MHPs). The physical structure of MHPs are very tenuous. Virginia has some protections and opportunities for residents and allies to come together to keep a park from being transferred to an owner that will be non responsive to them.
Can you all speak to the power that residents have within their communities?
I feel that at times residents feel like they do not have power when they are up against difficult park owners.
Can you speak to the resources that are required to engage with the community? Or how to find resources to support community organizing and power? (Ex: funding time to build trust, resources for flyers, translators, paying community volunteers, etc. There’s so much!)
If you have an ally that cares they can reach out to other organizations to help out. Reach out and see how you can get your park’s needs met.
To Agustin Bravo: Is childcare a major concern for these meetings? Your approach with the kids is fantastic! And, what times of day typically work best for these meetings?
Know your community. We hold our meetings on the weekends because it’s more flexible. Normally we do not hold meetings later than 7pm because we want to be respectful of the lawyers and residents time.
To Mayra Torres: Do you think your food provision program as a model that other mobile home/MH communities could enact successfully? If so, what are some of the challenges other communities could expect in trying to set up a project like this?
This is something that can be replicated. Connecting with pantries, finding volunteers, and having staff to run the program. It’s about a 30hr per week job, it is a lot of time but it is worth it. Mayra hopes her current program not only last through COVID but also a few months after.
To Augustin Bravo: is there green space in Mobile Towne such as an area for recreation. If so are there any positive moves to bring in equipment for the children?
Yes, they have a little park but it is empty. He wants the park manager to have something for the children and agreed that the association will help out with maintenance.