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Families Face Homelessness, Affordable Housing Concerns Increase as Third Mobile Home Park Prepares to Close

by on April 07, 2014 6:15 AM

Some were expecting it. Others were surprised. Penny Wingard says she was stunned to receive a letter saying she has to leave her home within six months.

Wingard has lived with her fiancé and daughter at Franklin Manor Mobile Home Park for about 10 years. Last week, the roughly 25 families living in the park received written notice that the park is closing and everyone must move out by Oct. 1.

Now, Wingard and her fiancé are trying to find affordable housing. It's likely that her daughter, who's in middle school, will have to switch schools.

"She's a little upset because she has friends here at this school," Wingard says.

Her neighbor, Robert Wetzel said he's heard rumors for months the park would close, so he says the letter didn't come as a surprise. Still, it doesn't make his situation easier.

"I'm homeless," he says.

Wetzel, who's also lived at the park for 10 years, says he is hoping he can buy a home with an elderly neighbor he helps out with day-to-day things. But it won't be in State College, he says.

"I'd rather stay here, but it's too expensive. It's outrageous," he says. "I have to go far away just to live reasonably."

For the 25 families impacted by the closure, chances are they will have to relocate outside of State College, due to a lack of affordable housing. That means adults possibly leaving jobs and children forced to change school districts. Currently, the residents are located in walking distance to work at Walmart, Trader Joe's and other retailers nearby as well as public transportation. 

"it's convenient for anybody who can't afford the gas prices, you're right near the stores," Wetzel says. "I'll miss it. There are a lot of convenient things about this place."

Most residents in the park live on fixed incomes. Some have lived there for more than 30 years. Many are relatives. They have family pets – dogs, cats, hamsters. Some will have to give up those pets just to secure an apartment.

Franklin Manor is the third mobile home park to close in recent years in the State College area.

The closure of mobile home parks, which are considered part of the affordable housing market, eliminates critical steps on the ladder of housing, according to Natalie Corman, director of Adult Services with Centre County.

The steps on the housing ladder range from homelessness to subsidized housing to rental properties to higher cost rental properties to home ownership. Corman says it is critical for all steps on the ladder to exist in a community to meet the needs of all residents. With the removal of mobile homes, a step on the ladder disappears, creating a bigger struggle for low-income and fixed-income residents.

Making the matter more complicated, if some steps are missing on the ladder it makes it much more challenging for someone on a lower step to move up the ladder.

"The more we reduce our housing stock when it comes to affordable housing it just keeps making it harder for people to move," Corman says. "We really are creating a tighter availability for people to find housing when we keep removing housing opportunities."

Adult Services has seen a steady increase in demands for services due to homelessness. In the 2011-2012 fiscal year, the agency assisted 926 residents. In 2012-2013, the agency assisted 1,120 residents.

For the current fiscal year, Corman says her office continues to see an ongoing demand for affordable housing. From folks who lost their affordable units in the July 4th fire on Waupelani Drive to a general need among residents throughout the county – the office receives calls for assistance on a daily basis.

In the case of Franklin Manor, property owner Ed Temple notified residents last week the park will close Oct. 1. Patton Township officials zoned the property as commercial in the 1960s. It's likely the park will be the future site of retail outlets. Temple did not return a request for comment.

While the State College area has limited affordable housing, Corman notes there are three homeless shelters in the area. Still, she says it's important for a community to offer a variety of mixed-income housing to meet the needs of folks on each step of the housing ladder.

"What drives the market is definitely the direction we see communities go in and the market for State College has been student-oriented because of the university," Corman says. "We have to then know it can be hard at times when different types of housing are not available for all levels of income. It takes a lot of work to stay here long-term, it can be a challenge to find rentals and housing for people who want to live in the community."

Adult Services and Housing Transitions are working with Franklin Park residents to locate affordable housing. Any landlords who have affordable housing available are encouraged to contact one of the agencies.

Susanna Paul, spokeswoman for Housing Transitions, says the group's priority is to help displaced residents secure suitable replacement housing that is safe, stable, and affordable. She also notes that even if residents qualify for federally-funded rent subsidies, the waiting list for a voucher is several years long.

"Franklin Manor is known for being a close-knit community, and some households have lived there for multiple generations. Folks are not just losing their homes; they are also losing a neighborhood and a support network," says Paul.

Paul says a family of four earning 50 percent of the median income for Centre County should not pay more than $850 a month in rent.

"Finding a three-bedroom rental at that rate is very difficult, and, in fact, many of the families who come to us for help are what we call 'cost burdened' by their housing expenses," Paul says. "Finding affordable housing that is close to public transportation and employment opportunities is even more challenging."

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Jennifer Miller is a reporter for StateCollege.com. She has worked in journalism since 2005. She's covered news at the local, state and national level with an emphasis on crime and local government.
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