When Residents Take Ownership, A Mobile Home Community Thrives

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If you had strolled one Saturday afternoon through the Park Plaza neighborhood in Fridley, Minn., you might have thought you were at just another block party. The residents were milling around a picnic buffet on folding tables on the street in front of their houses and the American flag. Kids were tossing beanbags and shouting. Neighbors were delivering Jell-O and marshmallow salad, and a pot of pork, cilantro and beans.

But this was not an ordinary picnic. Residents were celebrating the fifth anniversary of a major achievement that could inspire similar communities across the country: The day they began to take more control of their lives.

Park Plaza is a mobile home park, or what industry calls a manufactured housing community. Five years ago, the residents banded together, formed a nonprofit co-op and bought their entire neighborhood from the company that owned it. Today, these residents exert democratic control over almost 9 acres of prime suburbs, with 80 manufactured houses sited on them.

"It's pretty wild," says Carleton Dahl, one of the resident-owners, as he eats a hot dog. "Been a big change around here."

Picture a mobile home community, and your image might look like Park Plaza. Most homes are white, brown or gray rectangles, with aluminum siding and pickup trucks parked in front. Some homes are bordered with flowers. Others have piles of junk.

There are no precise figures, but the U.S. Census Bureau estimates there are more than 8 million manufactured houses across the country. Housing specialists say they're an important source of affordable housing.

"Where else could you live close to a city for this kind of money?" asks Natividad Seefeld, the elected (and unpaid) president of Park Plaza.

Minneapolis is less than half an hour away, yet a used two-bedroom manufactured house in Park Plaza recently sold for only $2,000.

"We've had people that've lived here 20-plus years," Seefeld says.

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