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Camden homeowners buy their housing park

Dec 14, 2019

Camden — Homeowners in the 52-unit Mountainside Park, a manufactured housing community in Camden for people 55 and older, bought their neighborhood as a resident cooperative this week, according to a news release.

The residents of Mountainside Community purchased the community Dec. 11 for $1.9 million with financing provided by Camden National Bank, Genesis Community Loan Fund and the Local Enterprise Assistance Fund.

The 27-acre park property had been owned by Kewe Enterprises and Stuart Welch of Westbrook.

“We are so pleased to be able to help the residents of the Mountainside Community Cooperative become property owners today,” said William Floyd, executive director of the Genesis Fund in the news release. “For these 52 households of older working adults and retirees, this purchase has secured housing affordability in a high-priced Camden market. For Genesis, it’s also a milestone – the 10th cooperative conversion we’ve financed in the past ten years. We are extremely proud to have helped create these ownership opportunities for so many Maine communities.”

Mountainside Community Cooperative joins nine Maine manufactured housing communities supported by CDI and financed by Genesis, representing 440 homes now under the resident’s control.

All are part of the ROC USA Network, which has helped to secure over 15,000 units of affordable housing. In these democratic resident-owned communities, homeowners each buy one low-cost membership share. Each household has one vote on matters of the community. The members elect a board of directors to act on day-to-day issues and vote as a membership on larger matters like the annual budget, bylaws and community rules.

“This has been an all inclusive process affording us the opportunity to learn and work together towards a common goal. I'm sure it has strengthened us all and we will move into the future with a stronger awareness of our neighbors and a deeper commitment to the success of our community,” said Margaret Jones, board vice president of the newly formed cooperative.

“Living here at Mountainside Park is a delight, with beautiful surrounds, it being extremely private plus having friendly neighbors," said John McKay, an at-large board director. "The transition from private ownership to cooperative ownership in such a short time is and has been a challenge. It couldn't have happened without the complete cooperation of all the residents. That is one of the best things about living here -- the cooperation of my neighbors.”

Board treasurer, Phil Amoroso, and his wife, Anne, agreed. “ Mountainside is a wonderful community in a beautiful location. The process of purchasing our community as a co-op has been somewhat challenging - mostly due to the unknown factors. However it has also been an opportunity to get to know other members of the community and to have a say in how things are run. We are hopeful that the purchase will result in positive improvements and an increasing feeling of community."

Securing affordable housing in Maine, especially in a community like Camden, is a growing challenge as incomes struggle to keep up with escalating housing costs, and its population ages, according to the news release.

The estimated median household income in 2016 in Camden was $52,760, and estimated per capita income was $38,544. As real estate prices have risen out of proportion to income in the state, manufactured home ownership remains one of the only affordable options for low-income residents. Estimated median house or condominium values in 2016 in Camden are $344,738, a steep increase from $162,400 in 2000 and significantly higher than the statewide average of $184,700.

According to town data, the median resident age in Camden is 54.4 compared to Maine’s statewide median age of 44.5. Mountainside Community Cooperative is one of only two manufactured housing communities in Camden.

Jeanee Wright, cooperative housing specialist with Cooperative Development Institute, helped navigate the community through the challenging times, and provided acquisition support and technical assistance to the community as they considered converting to a cooperative.

“The engaged and proud resident homeowners of Mountainside Park saw this as a winning opportunity and worked hard to research the viability of the sale and future business plans for the cooperative. Residents worked collaboratively together to research and identify costs and planning of volunteer committees to ensure a successful transaction and future for Mountainside. Residents are excited to keep the community an attractive and affordable place to live and own a home in Camden,” Wright said.

CDI is a certified technical assistance provider with ROC USA® Network, a national non-profit organization that works to help residents of for-sale manufactured home parks form resident corporations and buy their communities cooperatively. Technical assistance will continue to be provided by CDI to the association for the length of the mortgage — a minimum of 10 years.

Joe Cicirelli, Director of CDI’s New England Resident Owned Communities Program, said resident ownership is a growing trend in the Northeast, and hopes that more Maine manufactured housing communities see the benefit of becoming resident owned.

“Residents understand the insecurity of owning their home atop rented land, especially in areas like Camden, Maine where development pressure and the price of housing are accelerating, often outpacing household income. When offered the chance to collectively purchase that land, residents are excited to find options to secure it for their families,” Cicirelli said. “For CDI, it’s very rewarding assisting residents who are working hard to bring more economic stability and security to their lives through this process of democratic ownership.”

To complete the deal, additional financing for the Jo-Len conversion to resident ownership was provided by the The Local Enterprise Assistance Fund, a Boston-based community development financial institution that supports resident- and worker-owned cooperatives nationally. Gerardo Espinoza, Executive Director of LEAF, said, "LEAF is thrilled to support the Mountainside Community Cooperative in taking ownership of their community. This project will preserve long-term affordable housing in an increasingly high-cost market, and aligns with LEAF's core values of cooperative ownership and self-governance. We are grateful to our partners at CDI and Camden National Bank, the committed residents of the Mountainside Community, and the mission-driven investors who make the financing for this project possible. Congratulations to the new resident-owners."

Mountainside Community Cooperative will have a community celebration Jan. 11 at 1 p.m. in Camden.

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