By John Francis
The mobile home community at Happy Hearts Park near Tobermory has been there as long as most people can remember. With its ten homes flanking a tree-lined lane, the mobile home park has the feel of a suburban neighbourhood. Most of its past and present residents think of it in those terms.
But that community — and the dream of debt-free living for households living on seasonal employment — is about to end. On October 18, the park residents received notice that the year-round nature of the community is changing and they must leave the park by October 31, 2020.
This is devastating to the residents, many of whom have lived here for decades.
Residents agree that only two of the units are readily moveable; the rest have been here for decades.
Many have foundations, decks and additions. What can the owners do?
Tracy Johnson’s family moved here in 1976, when she was a teen-ager. She and her husband, Rob, have raised their own family here. They now have a very comfortable unit along the forested edge of the park. They were in the process of renovating their home when the notice to vacate arrived. Across the road from them, Kim and Erick Belrose have a very comfortable 1,100-square-foot home. They have lived here for 20 years, upgrading a little every year. This year the dining room and porch; next year would have been windows and siding. Their house would be very difficult (perhaps impossible) to move — nearly half the square footage is an addition. The park’s offer as detailed in the notice of closure, “an amount equal to one year’s rent or $3,000, whichever is less”, would not begin to cover the cost of moving it. What are they to do, they wonder. They have been debt-free for years and have taken much pleasure in that. The absence of debt may help a lot over the next year as they search for alternatives.
Others at the park will find the future even more challenging. It’s hard to make a go of it on seasonal work plus a few weeks of unemployment benefits.
Some people have bought their homes at Happy Hearts in the recent past, in one case, only a year ago. The units have been bought and sold on the assumption that the park would go on forever. Some families still owe money on their units, which will make it even harder for them to find an alternative.
The owners at Happy Hearts, the Campbell and Franklin families insist they are not the villains of this piece. Asked why they are closing the mobile home park, they replied:
“The park is not being closed. For reasons of sustainability and ongoing operations, we have had to make some very hard decisions. One of them is converting a section of the park from a year-round mobile home to a seasonal/transient tent/trailer section. We have struggled for years to maintain and support the mobile home section, but continued significant losses related to this section have forced us to look at a change or face losing the entire community. It goes without saying that the decision to make this change and the impact it has on our own neighbours has been incredibly difficult. Our focus now is on supporting the residents’ transition.”
On the subject of what will happen to the mobile homes on the eviction date, the Franklins respond: “Even though the land upon which the units are located is not the tenant’s property, the mobile unit is. The tenant is free to sell and move or simply move the unit for their own use if that’s an option for them. … If a resident is unable to move their unit, we will, at the termination of the tenancy, take steps to remove them in accordance with the law. The park will absorb these costs and will not seek the removal costs from the resident, regardless of our legal right to do so.”
When this edition goes to press, the shock waves of this story are still reverberating. The evictions are almost certain to be discussed at MNBP Council’s October 28 Meeting. Residents are trying to imagine a future without a house at Happy Hearts.