State College, PA - Centre County - Central Pennsylvania - Home of Penn State University

As Hilltop Eviction Date Looms, Residents Grasp for Options

by on December 13, 2012 6:38 AM

As the Feb. 28 eviction deadline for Hilltop Mobile Home Park nears, some residents are running out of options.

Trinitas Ventures, based out of Lafayette, Ind., intends to develop the land at 1275 Pennsylvania Ave. in State College and turn it into luxury student housing. However, the developer has yet to present a proposal before the College Township Council.

Andrew Wishart, Director of Construction Operations, said he isn't sure when the council might see the proposal, but the Midwest-based company was drawn to central Pennsylvania because of the opportunity downtown Penn State offers – students need housing and Trinitas Ventures can provide it.

"We're somewhere in the lot of acquiring all of the land," Wishart said. Generally, the company will develop its student housing on a site that was previously developed – such as a parking lot or even an old apartment building – which may have attracted the company to the land at Hilltop.

The land has not been sold yet, and the owners of Hilltop, Kenneth and Sharon Mayes, did not return calls for comment.

At a College Township Council meeting last week, some of the members asked whether Hilltop residents could relocate and assimilate within another mobile home community or find the land for a new co-op in the area.

Matthew Rooke, spokesman for the Hilltop Residence Association and design engineer, said that is something much easier said than done.

"There are several problems with that," Rooke said. "First, [there's] a practical hurdle – Hilltop is an ideal location close to the downtown and the university where a lot of people work. It's on bus lines and within the State College Area School District. There aren't many other plots available.

"Also, the expense of moving the trailers to suitable zoning elsewhere – not too many other zoning districts or plots would even permit mobile home parks, not to mention the time frame."

One possible solution, Rooke said, would be to secure financing, but many lenders require that an existing park already be in place before they release any funds.

Should Hilltop be able to get the financing it needs, the community could transition to community-owned housing.

"They want to see that there's a park already operating ... [lenders] aren't willing to speculate if the formation of a new resident co-op would be successful."

However, Rooke said he believes the idea of mobile home parks, also known as "manufactured housing" is a valid concept that can be done elsewhere – but right now, it doesn't meet the immediate needs of Hilltop residents who are facing eviction in little more than two months.

"There's an inherent instability to owning your home but not owning the land underneath it," he said.

Resident-owned communities, Rooke said, offer residents the stability to gain equity in their homes, a real step forward.

Last week, Rooke said he believed the developer pulled out of presenting a zoning request to the council because of the anticipated amount of opposition to the plan to rezone the area, and he, along with many residents, are still hopeful that council will take action before the Feb. 28 deadline.

Some residents have moved while others are holding out hope – though it could leave them homeless.

"We think ... even if the owner is successful, there's enough community support that we would continue to publicly oppose [it]," Rooke said. He said his hope is that he, along with residents and other Hilltop supporters, can come together to show that they are serious about maintaining the co-op as is.

"There's a better option than turning this into student housing," Rooke said. "The owners will realize they are losing value for every home that's dragged off. We want to do everything we can to stick together to get the council to hopefully take action."

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Laura Nichols is a news reporter and @LC_Nichols on Twitter.
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