News

Trailer park gets a new lease on life

Gregg Weist and Lisa Manning spend a little time outdoors at the Islander Mobile Home Park Friday afternoon. They cite cost and convenience as two major factors in choosing to live in the mobile home community northeast of City Hall. - RYAN SCHIERLING/Staff Photo
Gregg Weist and Lisa Manning spend a little time outdoors at the Islander Mobile Home Park Friday afternoon. They cite cost and convenience as two major factors in choosing to live in the mobile home community northeast of City Hall.
— image credit: RYAN SCHIERLING/Staff Photo

The Islander Mobile Home Park is an economic anomaly – the island’s most affordable owner-occupied housing on some of Bainbridge’s most valuable land.

So when word spread that long-time park owner Pat Alderman was considering selling the property, the park’s residents – many of them elderly and on fixed incomes – feared that their tenure was about to end.

With quick and coordinated action from the Kitsap County Consolidated Housing Authority, the city and the park’s homeowner association – backed by Alderman’s commitment to the park’s residents – KCCHA will buy the property, preserving it “as is” for at least 10 years, and as affordable housing permanently.

The agreement was announced late Thursday afternoon.

“The housing authority is the perfect solution to a very difficult problem,” said Alderman, who lives in Silverdale because of high Bainbridge housing costs.

The agreement is contingent on KCCHA’s ability to obtain financing for the $5.5 million purchase price, the amount for which the property has been appraised.

The 6.4-acre mobile home park to the northeast of City Hall is in the “mixed-use town center,” a zoning designation slated for the highest-density development on the island.

The purchase also includes a panhandle linking the southern edge of the mobile home park to Ericksen Avenue.

Alderman, in her seventies and “not in the best health herself,” said that a doubling of her property taxes last year was “the last straw.”

Although she raised rents last year to the current $388 per month for each of the 60 spaces, she could not raise them enough to cover the taxes.

“I could see the writing on the wall because of all the development on Ericksen, which has increased the (land) prices,” she said.

And, Alderman said, it was time for her to retire as a landlord.

“Since I retired as a nurse, I had run the park on the side, but it requires a lot of attention – landscaping, plumbing and paperwork,” she said. “It was getting to be a little overwhelming.”

Fear that the park could be sold pervaded the neighborhood over the last month.

“I was shocked, surprised and frightened because I was putting a lot of money into upgrading my place,” said Dorothy Maloney, a retired nurse.

Not only were residents concerned about finding another place to live, they were concerned about the investments in their homes, generally in the $30,000-plus range.

Because many of the homes are older, some other parks would not accept them. And without a place to put it, a mobile home itself is worth little or nothing.

“I don’t know where any of us would go,” said Lois Speer, who lives with her mother, both of them on Social Security. “Not only would we lose our home, but any value it would have.”

City action

When word of the possible sale got out, homeowner association president Bill Isley – a resident and politically well-connected architect – determined to take action.

He made contact with Mayor Darlene Kordonowy, then put together a meeting with Housing Authority executives Norman McLoughlin and Roger Waid.

“They determined this could be done,” said Isley, “if we could show that the residents had income levels that would qualify them for affordable housing.”

The homeowner board split up, knocked on doors, and asked personal questions. The results – an average household income of some $29,000, well within the guidelines for KCCHA assistance, and far below the income necessary to afford the average home on Bainbridge.

While the housing authority worked on drafting an offer, Kordonowy met with Alderman.

“She really wanted to keep it as affordable housing,” said Kordonowy, who serves on the housing authority board of directors, “and she had turned down a couple of offers because they wouldn’t have done that.”

After a week of back-and-forth negotiations, Alderman signed off on the deal Thursday afternoon.

“It’s a great opportunity to save some affordable homes there,” McLoughlin said. “It’s amazing that the mayor and the city are their neighbors – the park is almost invisible to most people.”

McLoughlin said the authority will begin pursuing federal, state, county grants, as well as funds from the city’s Housing Trust Fund. The city’s financial contribution is particularly critical because many of the grant programs require local matching funds.

Future rents can’t be determined until the funding package is in place, McLoughlin said.

“It will depend on the mix of grants and loans, and on the interest rates at the time we sell any bonds we might need to sell,” he said. “Our objective is to keep the rents as low as possible.”

Alderman said she has had numerous opportunities to sell for more money than she took from the housing authority.

“There has been a lot of interest in the park,” she said. “But no developer could ever figure out how to make it work as a mobile home park. They would have had to develop the property as something else, and I didn’t want to displace anyone.”

Residents were pleased and relieved to hear that the park would be sold to the housing authority and that they would be able to stay put.

“Far out. Unbelievable. This is such a relief,” Maloney said Friday.

Kordonowy gave Alderman the credit for putting friendships ahead of a higher financial return.

“The stability given to the people in that community comes because of her efforts,” Kordonowy said.

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The Islander Mobile Home Park began as a mission of mercy.

“My mother had kidney disease and needed to go on dialysis,” owner Pat Alderman said. “Back then, they only took people who were young and had the money to pay. Mom was young enough, but we didn’t have any money. We had this family property, though, and we needed to make it income-producing.”

The family came up with the idea of a mobile home park on the six-plus acre parcel in the middle of downtown Winslow.

“We went to the library to check out a book on how to manage a mobile home park,” she said. “It was a pretty slim volume.”

While a local bank was willing to help, it would provide funding only in phases – meaning one “street” of 10 homes had to be finished before the bank would provide funds for the next street.

And the Winslow city council was cool towards the project.

“But we persevered and got our permits,” Alderman said, and opened in 1968.

What she and her now-deceased husband created was one of the island’s more enduring and endearing neighborhoods, where a few of the original residents still live.

“I got here about a year after it opened,” said John Radnowski. “It’s been a pretty good place to live.”

For some, it has been the only feasible option on Bainbridge.

“When I came here, it was the only place I could afford,” said restaurateur Tina Nguyen.

“I have had success and have a home on the waterfront now, but it couldn’t have happened without that place.”

With its central location and affordable rents, the park is a haven not only for elderly residents on fixed incomes, but for on-island workers – among them, employees at Town & Country, Winslow Hardware, the Pub and Casa Rojas – whose paychecks don’t buy them an island home.

“We wouldn’t be able to live on the island without this,” said retired trucker and bartender Gregg Weist of the home he shares with Lisa Manning, who works at Ivar’s in Seattle.

Belying any stereotypes about “trailer parks,” the homes are neatly tended and well-landscaped. Owner occupancy is a requirement.

That policy has placed some constraints on the population. Because most of the homes are too old to qualify for a bank loan, buyers generally must pay cash in the $30,000-plus range.

Lois Speer, who lives in one mobile home with her mother, up the street from her daughter Dana, said the park is what made it possible for her to retire.

“I came from California, and there wasn’t any place down there where I could retire without working at least part time,” she said.

In addition to the price, residents marvel at both the convenience and the quiet ambience.

Speer felt confined and stifled in California, but loves the naturalness of Bainbridge and the park.

“It’s so amazing to be able to lie in bed at night and listen to the breeze in the trees, the birds singing and the frogs up on the corner,” she said.

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