‘Where will I live?’

Residents wonder where they’ll go when their mobile-home park is razed for a new apartment complex

MAKE ROOM FOR PROGRESS<br>These are some of the trailers that will be removed when the A&amp;A Pear Grove Mobile Home Park is razed to make way for a new affordable-housing apartment complex.

These are some of the trailers that will be removed when the A&A Pear Grove Mobile Home Park is razed to make way for a new affordable-housing apartment complex.

Photo By Bryce Benson

Other new affordable projects:
At East 20th Street and Notre Dame Boulevard, construction is almost finished on Jarvis Gardens (50 units for low-income seniors). Also on Notre Dame Boulevard, Murphy Commons’ 86 units were just completed (low-income families). On Pillsbury Road, across from North Valley Plaza, Chico Courtyards will add 76 units of family housing once construction is complete.

Even a well-meant, socially responsible development project can have unwelcome consequences. Just ask Butch Mason.

Mason lives in the A&A Pear Grove Mobile Home Park, which straddles a block between traffic-filled East Eighth and Ninth streets in Chico, just west of the freeway. The park has been tucked in there for decades. The people who live there are poor, and there’s a fair amount of crime that causes the police to show up often. But some of the residents have been there for years, their single-wides so settled on their concrete slabs that that last thing you’d call them is “mobile.” For better or worse, it’s home.

On Tuesday morning (Sept. 11), Mason braved the unfamiliar environs of the Chico City Council chambers to attend a meeting of the council’s Internal Affairs Committee. He wanted to talk about a project that, if approved, will require him and the other residents of the park to move to make way for an affordable-housing apartment complex.

“I own a trailer that is too old to move,” Mason told the three members of the committee, Councilmen Tom Nickell and Steve Bertagna and Vice-Mayor Ann Schwab. “What do I do with that? Who do I talk to?”

Randall Stone wants Mason to know that every effort will be made to help him find comparable housing.

Stone is a local real estate developer and broker, but he’s more widely known as a Democratic Party activist. The Chico State grad has lived here nearly 13 years, and in that time he’s concluded that social problems such as homelessness stem from the community’s housing policy.

“For a community to have a two-year waiting list for affordable housing is substantial,” he said during a recent phone interview. “The prices are going up for single family homes, and the need for affordable housing is astounding—in a word, disgusting.”

In 2005, Stone, who then lived three doors down from the mobile home park, decided that something needed to be done to fix the blight and poor conditions of what he called “deplorable housing.”

While his younger brother, Gregg Stone, was in Chico, he pitched the idea that they work together in building new affordable housing. His brother owns the Southern California-based Stone Building Corporation.

“This is a major artery coming into Chico,” Randall Stone said, referring to East Eighth Street, “and the trailer park is one of the first things you see driving into town. We want to increase the number of units and provide a higher standard of living.”

The brothers’ proposed project, which is being done in coordination with the council in its parallel role as board of the Chico Redevelopment Agency, will relocate the residents into comparable housing. It will also increase the number of affordable living units from 31—the park’s capacity, though only 12 currently exist there—to 38.

Units will range from one-bedrooms to three-bedrooms and from 625 to 1,030 square feet.

In designing Bidwell Park Apartments, the proposed name for the new housing complex, Stone worked with local nonprofits such as Independent Living Services of Northern California, the Child Abuse Prevention Council and Big Brothers Big Sisters to develop a resident services program that will offer computer training and English-as-a-second-language classes, he said.

Housing will have to be found for the current residents, some of whom are unsure of what the future holds. They were notified by letters sent out July 31 that they were eligible for a relocation plan.

At the Internal Affairs Committee meeting, David Richman, the Oakland-based regional director of the relocation-consulting firm Overland, Pacific & Cutler, outlined the plan that would help the mobile-home owners find comparable housing. The firm was contracted to meet individually with each resident, which it did in December 2006, to access their housing needs.

Richman explained that housing is comparable based not on the value of the home but the type of residence. If a person lived at a one-bedroom at Pear Grove, he or she will be moved into a one-bedroom mobile home or apartment, if a trailer does not exist. If no one-bedroom housing is available, a two-bedroom house, trailer or apartment will be sought.

Once housing is secured for the residents, the relocation plan includes measures to pay for their belongings to be moved.

While it will be possible for new residents to learn English on site, the language barrier between Spanish and English was one problem that the group Legal Services of Northern California saw with the process.

Evanne O’Donnell, managing attorney at LSNC’s Butte Regional Office, in Chico, told committee members about one Spanish-speaking resident at Pear Grove who had received the letter from Overland but could not read it because it was in English.

Residents should be found housing in Chico, where they currently live, work or may have children going to school, O’Donnell said. She expressed concern that the plan would have to relocate residents to comparable housing outside Chico, in places like Orland or Corning.

The current Pear Grove residents will be given the option to live in Bidwell Park Apartments, said James Coles, a housing specialist in the city’s Housing and Neighborhood Services Department. But, for those already on the waiting list for affordable housing, it will mean their wait will get longer for each resident who takes that option.

The City Council, acting as the RDA, will decide whether to lend the project $2.6 million to construct Bidwell Park Apartments at its Sept. 18 meeting. The project will receive an additional $5.7 million in federal tax credits disbursed by the California Tax Credit Allocation Committee.