Wheel Estates residents threw a party to celebrate the completion of projects at the mobile home park and invited local officials, including Rent Control Board Chairman Wayne Wilkinson, right.
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — Things have changed at Wheel Estates Mobile Home Park, the most obvious symbol being the Rec Hall.
The aged structure has gone through a transformation from tired and rundown to freshly renovated as one of the first projects by the new resident-owned community. It has new ceilings and floors, is freshly painted inside and out and now has safe, usable back and front decks.
"It's big and clean and fresh," said Kathleen Cruz, who's lived in the park for 28 years. "Things are getting done. ... It's a lot of little things but it all adds up."
Cruz and her husband, Jose Cruz, were among the several dozen park residents and guests at a Christmas party and celebration of the completion of an even bigger project: a $1.3 million water line project that repaired lines to nearly half the homes in the park, road repairs and driveway paving.
"The projection was to get everything accomplished this year. We only had a short time," said Jesse Martinez, vice president of the Wheel Estates Tenants Association Inc. "The board worked very hard at this to get it accomplished and we did."
There's still some finish work to be done in the spring, but Martinez credited contractor D.R. Billings for pushing through on a short timeline.
The physical changes are creating pride of ownership in the park, said Sandra Overlock, president of the tenants association. "They're taking more pride, they enjoy owning it. They have a decision on what can be done."
The tenants purchased the park from Morgan Management last spring, the first to create a resident-owned community in a rent-controlled municipality. Some 130 residents have now bought in as shareholders.
It wasn't an easy path as the Mobile Home Rent Control Board struggled to find a way to fulfill its obligations and still accommodate the residents' need to raise rents to purchase the park.
"I remember saying it was fitting a square plug in a round hole. But we got the saw out and did it," said board Chairman Wayne Wilkinson, also a city councilor-elect. "We had concerns if it would work. Obviously, we were wrong.
"It's absolutely stunning the difference."
North Adams has become something of a model for how to navigate rent-controlled communities in the growing push for resident-owned communities, or ROCs. Wilkinson said there have been calls to the city seeking to look at the reformatted application form developed by rent control board member Joseph Gniadek that helps fit that square peg.
Martinez, also president of the Manufactured Home Federation of Massachusetts, said there are now 19 ROCs in Massachusetts. Another half-dozen parks in rent-controlled areas are also looking to buyout their owners.
"We had a good rent control board in establishing a precedent," said Overlock. "West Stockbridge and Easton just starting rent control and they were looking for a petition."
The tenants invited officials from the rent control board and the city, state Rep. Gailanne Cariddi and representatives from D.R. Billings to show their appreciation for supporting the park, said board member Liz O'Keefe.
Cariddi commended the residents for taking action. "This was not an easy thing to do," she said. "They had a good reason to and they've done a marvelous job here."
"They had a good idea, certainly it resonated well first with City Hall and then the rent control board," said Mayor Richard Alcombright. "Right now, it seems very very successful and everybody's happy."
The Cruzes are hoping that more residents of the 200-lot park would begin to come together for events such as the party, that it could become a tradition for the new cooperative.
"People were skeptical at first, they don't know what to expect, but they're beginning to come around," said Kathleen Cruz. "I think as they see everything improving they're starting to come around.
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