Written by Soheyla Kovach
Halifax, Mass. – Homeowners in Halifax Estates Mobile Home Park (www.halifaxestates.coop) have made history, closing on the largest-ever limited equity manufactured home cooperative purchase while helping secure the financial futures of the 700 retirement-age residents who live there.
While the $27 million purchase is certainly a milestone in the cooperative and manufactured housing sectors, the impact is life changing for the people who live in the 430 homes in Halifax Estates.
Nancy Froio, president of the residents association that purchased Halifax Estates, and her husband downsized into Halifax more than 12 years ago and fell in love with the community. A widow for nine years now, Froio is thankful that her neighborhood won’t be sold again now that she and her neighbors own it.
“I’m so excited about this, it means the world to me because it’s the best thing for the residents,” said Froio, a retired printing company employee in her 70s. “With so many of our residents retired and on fixed incomes, knowing we’re going to own it and run it the way we want to run it is such a relief. Now everyone is going to have a say.”
Iris Perkoski, secretary on the nine-woman Board of Directors, said she and her neighbors chose resident ownership over selling to a commercial owner and are ready to work to maintain and improve their community.
“It is wonderful to know that we, the residents are taking charge of our homestead,” Perkoski said. “This ensures continuity and stability and a quality of life we originally were looking for when we first moved to Halifax Estates.”
Froio touted several reasons why the homeowners are working to keep their community such a terrific place to live in retirement. She pointed to a robust community workshop, where residents can work and borrow all sorts of woodworking tools, a clubhouse with billiards, table tennis, exercise equipment, an impressive library, bingo setup and more. Residents also enjoy shuffleboard, bocce (outdoors and, in winter, indoors), monthly bus trips, card clubs, a community garden and crafting groups.
The Helping Hands Committee holds fundraisers to support those in Halifax Estates who are struggling, including paying for heating fuel, fixing leaky roofs, mowing lawns, as well as providing transportation to and from medical appointments. All work is carried out anonymously.
Halifax Estates residents also give back to their greater community. The Singing Seniors perform at the clubhouse and take the show on the road to perform at nursing homes and other local institutions. The annual craft fair raises money that residents use to shop for needy children during the holidays.
“We always have a wrapping party and tell folks to show up with scissors and tape,” Froio said. “This year we’ll sponsor 12 kids.”
The resident association has purchased the community for $27 million with assistance from Cooperative Development Institute. CDI is a certified technical assistance provider with ROC USA® Network. ROC USA is a non-profit that works nationally through a network of nine such technical assistance providers to assist residents of for-sale mobile 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.
Halifax Estates is the 18th Massachusetts community supported by ROC USA Network and the 210th nationwide. In all, the nine technical assistance providers in ROC USA Network work with 13,500 households in 14 states. In these democratic resident-owned communities (ROCs), homeowners each buy one low-cost membership interest. 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.
Financing for the project came from ROC USA® Capital in collaboration from TD Bank, Bank of America, Boston Community Capital and Leviticus 25:23 Alternative Fund. ROC USA Capital is a wholly-owned subsidiary of ROC USA and a U.S. Department of Treasury-certified Community Development Financial Institution.
ROC USA Capital Managing Director Michael Sloss said this model for preserving homes as permanently affordable continues to be unique in that it is unsubsidized, cost efficient, and achieves long-term security as a homeownership model.
“The residents association is purchasing the community for $27 million and preserving 430 home sites,” Sloss said. “In contrast, a colleague in the multifamily apartment finance world said that if he financed 430 apartment units in one property it would come out to an $80 million transaction. Residents of such an apartment may only have the security of a one-year lease and no opportunity to build wealth through homeownership.”
ROC USA Capital increased its credit line with Bank of America to $24 million to quickly accommodate the acquisition financing.
“Our purpose is to provide capital to organizations like ROC USA, preserving homeownership and expanding economic opportunities for homeowners,” said Amy Brusiloff, Bank of America Senior CDFI Client Manager. “We’ve supported ROC USA since its inception, and we understand the value they bring, increasing housing stability and economic security by creating resident-owned communities.”
TD Bank will provide $20 million in long-term permanent financing soon after the purchase is finalized.
"We’re excited to partner with ROC USA Capital in such a groundbreaking purchase," said Thomas Potter, Vice President and Senior Relationship Manager at TD Bank. “TD has made similar loans working alongside the New Hampshire Community Loan Fund for years, but this is the Bank's first time working with ROC USA on a national scope. We’ve seen firsthand the difference resident ownership makes in manufactured home communities in New Hampshire and I’m excited ROC USA will provide the opportunity for tenant home buyers on a national scale.”
Boston Community Capital and Leviticus 25:23 Alternative Fund are also participants in ROC USA’s subordinate loan.
Andy Danforth, Director of CDI’s New England Resident Owned Communities (NEROC) Program, said “We’re proud to be able to assist the residents with the purchase, and now operation, of their community. They join more than 30 other communities we have assisted in the last seven years to secure their homesteads, control rents and vital services within democratic cooperatives.”
ROC USA President Paul Bradley praised the Halifax Board and CDI for leading the community through the purchase process. He said the size of this purchase demonstrates not only the motivation of homeowners to gain ownership of the land as a group but also the expanding capacity of the nonprofits that support them.
“Over time there have been lots of owners of large properties who have called and really wanted to sell their communities to the residents – their longtime customers – but assumed there wasn’t enough capacity in the nonprofit sector to do so,” Bradley said. “We are showing with our affiliates and with the leadership of homeowners that larger and increasingly more expensive properties are strong candidates for resident ownership. It’s where we’ve needed to be, and now we’re there!”
Froio said the community leaders will pause to celebrate the purchase with an open-house party, but then will get right to work managing their cooperative business.
“We want to tweak the community rules and work on improving access to the clubhouse for our residents who have trouble getting around,” she said. “We have some tree work and other routine maintenance issues, but we’re getting more people involved and we’ll get it taken care of quickly.”
* * *
Cooperative ownership of mobile home parks as a way of preserving affordable communities is a priority for several national non-profit organizations that in 2008 formed ROC USA to make resident-owned communities viable nationwide. ROC USA is sponsored by the Ford Foundation, NeighborWorks® America, Capital Impact Partners, Prosperity Now, and the New Hampshire Community Loan Fund.
ROC USA is a non-profit organization with a national network of nine organizations such as CDI and a national financing source for resident-owned communities. ROC USA Network affiliates have helped 210 communities preserve nearly 13,500 homes in 14 states. www.rocusa.org
The Cooperative Development Institute is a regional cooperative development center, founded in 1994, which has assisted dozens of new and existing cooperatives throughout New England and New York. It is involved in cooperative housing as well as agriculture, consumer, worker-owner, energy, and fishing cooperatives. For rural senior co-op development, CDI received support from the Cooperative Development Foundation. www.cdi.coop