COLUMBIA — Helplessness, anger and confusion were on display at a meeting Tuesday night between Mid-Missouri Legal Services and tenants of Regency Trailer Park who are likely facing the closure of the park.
Crockett Engineering Consultants, on behalf of Regency of Missouri Inc., owner of the trailer park, has requested that the Planning and Zoning Commission rezone the property, which would force tenants to move off the land.
Mid-Missouri Legal Services set up the meeting to discuss legal options with residents of the park. Roughly 50 people from the park attended the meeting.
“This is a tough thing,” Sixth Ward Councilwoman Barbara Hoppe said before the meeting. While speaking to a small group of people after the meeting, she said she believes the rezoning will occur.
Hoppe said she isn’t sure whether she will oppose the rezoning, but she stressed she will try to help with the transition for those who live in the park.
During the meeting, questions were raised about Hoppe not responding during difficulties in the park last year, to which Hoppe said that at that time she contacted Neighborhood Services and did not call back every person who left her a message.
“I will get back to each and every person about this,” Hoppe said about the looming rezoning.
Michael Carney of Mid-Missouri Legal Services gave a brief run-through of the rights of tenants in light of the likely rezoning.
He was not able to provide legal advice during the meeting, but those who pass a screening process with Mid-Missouri Legal Services can receive free legal services through the corporation.
“Our qualifications are mainly financially based,” Carney said.
Some in the audience questioned the accuracy of the official methods for calculating financial need, due to the economy.
“If the park closes, most tenants will have to move,” Carney said, before he paused and reconsidered. “All tenants will have to move.”
If the park closes, Regency of Missouri must provide each tenant 120 days advance notice.
“That’s four months,” Carney said. “Not a lot of time. I can tell you tonight that notice has not been given. That clock has not started ticking.”
Before the rezoning can go through, it must be passed by the Planning and Zoning Commission and be approved by the City Council. Planning and Zoning is scheduled to hold a public hearing and take a vote on the issue Thursday. Hoppe said that this will most likely come before the City Council Oct. 17.
Four months after October is February. When that month was named as the probable deadline for people to move, it was met with dismay from those assembled. “Winter months!” many people called out disapprovingly.
Angela Gay learned about the meeting by finding a note on her door. She has been living in her trailer for only a few months now, though she can’t remember if she moved in during June or July.
Gay is on a four-year rent-to-own plan, and she said she and her boyfriend wonder whether Regency was already planning to sell the park at that time they signed her up for that extended plan. She doesn’t own the trailer, so she can’t move it.
Carney said during the meeting that those making payments on their trailers will have to see if there is anything in their contracts on the matter.
After the meeting, Gay said she plans to look over her lease and see if it will give her any clarity on her options.
Carney said after the meeting that having a four-year plan to pay off her trailer does not mean that Gay has a four-year lease.
If Gay had a four-year lease, it would have to be honored.
Carney said from what he understood, most of the leases in Regency Trailer Park are on a month-to-month basis. When he asked how many people had longer lease periods than that, five people raised their hands.
“I ain’t going nowhere until April 2012 because I have nowhere to go,” Michael Brown said from the back of the room.
His lease extends through April 2012. He said each time the trailer park has changed management he has been threatened with eviction, but he has proof of his ownership of the trailer and his lease on the lot.
“Everyone knows my trailer is probably the worst there,” Brown said, adding that he hasn’t put money into the trailer due to the ongoing eviction struggles.
Carney said that a title will most likely be necessary to move trailers owned by tenants to other trailer parks, and that titles are hard to acquire without legal help.
Hoppe was asked if the city could provide more time to tenants, and her answer was that she could try. She said that during a previous park closure the city gave the people six months instead of four, but she doesn’t know if such a mandate could pass now with new members of the City Council.
“They’re more conservative, I think; maybe less understanding on these issues,” Hoppe said of the new City Council.
Hoppe’s attempts to bring up options for where people could move were met mostly with shaking heads.
Section 8 housing was said to not be an option for most, and when she said she had been told that adjacent trailer parks would take residents, people began to speak up.
“Rent in any of the apartments costs $500, ma’am. The only people that can pay that are people with jobs,” one man said.
“They’re gonna put us out on the street,” a woman yelled from the back. Many in front of her echoed the statement.
“You’re looking at the faces of the new homeless within a year,” one man said with resignation.
“We know corporate America is going to take over your home,” Robin Acree of Grass Roots Organizing yelled to the crowd, riling them up further.
Kandi Burchfild said after the meeting that she doesn’t believe local charities can absorb the need that is going to come from the sudden influx of those who won’t have options if the park closes.
Burchfild and her boyfriend used to be homeless.
“My boyfriend and I fought to get that trailer,” she said.
Burchfild said she has options now to move the trailer, but some of her friends don’t.
One of those friends is Jessica Schaffer, who was with her at the meeting. Schaffer owns a 1974 trailer that she fears will fall apart if it is moved. Schaffer said she may stop paying rent in order to save up to move.
Carney said during the meeting that if tenants stop paying their rent, they can be evicted before the park closes.