Lowry Grove is a 70-year-old mobile home park in St. Anthony, home to 97 families. On June 13, it was sold to real estate developer Continental Property Group of Wayzata for $6 million.
Continental wants to redevelop the land, which means the folks who live there will have to scramble to clear out. They’ll lose their neighbors. They’ll have to transfer their kids out of the school system. And in some cases, they’ll actually lose their houses too.
Antonia Alvarez lives in a home that’s half a century old and can no longer budge. Eviction in her case means losing the $31,000 she’s invested in her house, pulling her 11-year-old daughter out of St. Anthony Middle School, and having to find someplace else where she can afford to live on the $20,000 annual salary she earns from her housecleaning business.
Now Alvarez and housing nonprofit Aeon, which advocates on behalf of mobile home residents, are suing the park’s old owners, Lowry Grove Partnership, in a last-ditch effort to save their homes.
According to state law, the purchaser of a mobile home park – Continental – is supposed to notify the park owner – Lowry Grove Partnership – in writing if it intends to close the park within one year of the sale. Lowry Grove’s responsibility then is to give each resident a 45-day written notice, during which time residents would have the right to mobilize, raise the cash, and buy the park themselves. If these conditions are met, Lowry Grove has to accept the residents’ bid.
Six million dollars is a steep price, but with Aeon’s help, residents made a counteroffer for their park just before the 45-day deadline.
It made no difference. Lowry Grove rejected the tenants and finalized the sale to Continental instead.
The lawsuit alleges that was illegal. “The park closure will displace all the residents and deny them their statutory right to a long term secure tenure. Due to the physical condition of many of the homes, many will be unable to move their manufactured homes elsewhere or to recover their investments in the homes from the state relocation fund. A number of residents will likely end up homeless.”
Lowry Grove has not yet filed a response to the lawsuit. Its management declined to respond, saying that Continental was the new owner and responsible party.
Continental's CEO Traci Tomas responded in a statement: "Aeon did not have authorization from 51 percent of the owners of manufactured homes as plainly required by the statute. No one met the statutory requirements, therefore the buyer and seller closed on the purchase as they were contractually obligated to do. Because a lawsuit has been filed, our lawyers have requested that I not comment any further."
In a letter to Aeon from June 13, Lowry Grove's lawyer Richard Speeter listed two other reasons for rejecting the residents' offer.
Aeon wanted to delay its closing date some five weeks after Continental Property Group was ready to close, and that would cheapen the deal, Speeter argued.
The lawyer also claimed that Aeon president Alan Arthur once told Phil Johnson, Lowry Grove's manager, that he too had ambitions to develop Lowry Grove. The residents' petition only gave Aeon permission to help them buy Lowry Grove for the purposes of keeping the park as a mobile home community, Speeter said, so Aeon was misleading everyone involved.
Arthur of Aeon says that's utterly ridiculous — he'd never dream of mowing down the homes and building anything else in their place.
"The one they’re probably hanging their hat on is they don’t think we have 51 percent of the residents signing the documents authorizing us to purchase the property on their behalf," Arthur says. "We think they’re wrong, of course. We actually have 90-some signatures. Their way of counting is apparently different than ours, so we’ll see. The court will figure that out."