Board members Liz O'Keefe and Jesse Martinez hold up the cake marking Wheel Estates' new establishment date a resident-owned park.
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — With a show of hands, the owners of Wheel Estates Mobile Home Park made their first official decision.
The unanimous vote on Saturday was to continue the rules and policies already in place from former owner Morgan Management, but for the residents it was a symbolic moment in recognizing that they, now, will be deciding the rules.
More than 60 residents and shareholders attended the business meeting and celebration at the recreation hall to mark the change in ownership.
The Wheel Estates Tenants Association had already voted several times on the way to purchasing the 42-year-old manufactured home community for $2.6 million, taking the title at closing on noontime Wednesday.
"It's the biggest contract I ever signed," said Mary Ellen Eliasen with a laugh. Eliasen, a shareholder and former board member of the tenants association, said she applauded the takeover "because the last two companies that owned it never put money back into the park ... .
"This is our community. We want it to look the way it should look."
That seemed to be the general consensus of the new owners, who spent the meeting discussing new billing procedures, ideas for pool use, problems with animals and dumping, and the long-awaited infrastructure repairs.
The new owners are embarking on a $1 million-plus in repaires. The biggest is the water line project that will include fixing the worst roads in the nearly 200-lot park. Bids are also being solicited for the aged recreation hall, including roofing, windows, electrical, insulation and handicapped accessible bathrooms.
The purchase was made possible by Resident Owned Communities USA of New Hampshire and Cooperative Development Institute of Shelburne Falls. ROC put together the financing package of $4.1 million to buy the park and make long-needed repairs.
Tenants Association President Sandra Overlock credited ROC and especially the city and Mobile Home Rent Control Board for creating a new petition form and approving the rent increase to support the financing. Wheel Estates is the first resident-owned park in the state in a rent-controlled community.
"If it weren't for them, we wouldn't have been able to purchase it," she said. "Now we have control over our own futures and can get things done we have been waiting to be done for a long time."
It won't come all at once, cautioned new maintenance manager Richard Wade, a shareholder along with the two prior park maintenance workers who are staying on.
"It's not something where we can do everything the first day," he said, noting the budgetary limitations and the need to learn the ropes. "A lot of things will change. There were things we didn't expect ... Give us some time but please let us know if there's something we can do for you."
Vice President Jesse Martinez asked for patience as the water and road project get under way.
"It's a big project, it's a good project and it will be very satisfying at the end result," he said. "It's all about us and it's all about the money we are paying for our rent every month to make sure we get quality work, quality living and the best thing possible for our community."
He and Overlock also encouraged residents to get involved on the subcommittees that will need to be created and to become more invested in what's happening in the park.
More than half the park's lot owners have paid the $100 to become shareholders; anyone moving into the park will have to join. Overlock thinks that as residents start to see the changes, they'll be more motivated to become owners. "Every day we get more shareholders." she said.
Martinez told those gathered that it wasn't a matter of the board making decisions, but rather the board acting on the directions they give it.
"Remember, it is yours, it is your community, it is your decisions," he said. "Please get involved. If you want things changed, the only way we're going to change it is by the shareholders."
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