The residents of Wardtown Mobile Home Park in Freeport recently secured funding support from the Genesis Community Loan Fund in Damariscotta and the Maine State Housing Authority in Augusta to become the 6th resident-owned community in Maine. Aided in their purchase acquisition by assistance from the Cooperative Development Institute under the New England Resident-Owned Communities (NEROC) Program, the residents have engaged in extensive training and organizational development.
Andy Danforth, director of the NEROC Program, said, “For nine long months, the residents of this community have worked toward resident-ownership, and it is so great to see them finally in control of their community. We are proud to assist in the process and in operating their community going forward.”
Wardtown Mobile Home Cooperative joins more than 170 ROC USA cooperatives nationwide, Danforth said. A member of NCBA CLUSA, ROC USA is a nonprofit organization with a mission to make quality resident ownership possible nationwide.
According to Jim Hatch, executive director of the Freeport Housing Trust—which first purchased Wardtown in 1997—the organization always intended to help the residents become community owners.
“It took the expertise and support of CDI working with the residents to finally make this a reality,” Hatch said.
The Wardtown Mobile Home Cooperative is home to 60 resident-owners who are excited about major infrastructure upgrades, which are scheduled to begin soon. Resident and Wardtown Board President Dale Whitmore said, “This is the best outcome for all the residents of Wardtown. We have a lot of work to do, but it will be worth it.”
Board Member Patricia Eastman is particularly interested in maintaining safety and security with her neighbors. “I want our neighbors to know they can count on us [the board] for answers.” Beyond infrastructure repairs, the resident-ownership model has deeper meaning to some residents. For Board Member Bill Hodgkins, “I want to see us begin to build a community where we take pride in our homes and in our relationships with each other.”
Wardtown joins four other Maine communities under the technical assistance of CDI—Brunswick Bay Mobile Home Cooperative, Medomak Mobile Home Cooperative in Waldoboro, Deer Ridge Mobile Home Cooperative in Augusta, and the Pemaquid Villas Mobile Home Cooperative in Bristol. The sixth resident-owned community in Maine is Greystone in Veazie. The Genesis Community Loan Fund has provided financing for all six projects.
Bill Floyd, director of Genesis Community Loan Fund, said the organization feels a “true partnership with the Cooperative Development Institute in the conversion of these communities to resident-ownership. It is always very exciting to be involved in assisting people in gaining ownership of the land their homes sit on and preserving affordability into the future, and now the folks of Wardtown get to enjoy it, too.”
Maine Housing is celebrating the Wardtown conversion as their first project of its kind. “We really love the idea of manufactured housing communities becoming cooperatively-owned and preserving affordable housing,” said Jane Sturk, portfolio loan originator for Maine Housing. “We hope this is just the first of many projects we are able to participate in.”
Jessica Pooley, NEROC’s technical assistant for the community, said, “The Wardtown community had a long journey to purchasing their park. True bonds of trust and democracy have been formed through that process, and I am confident in their success. This is empowering and life-changing stuff.”
With their conversion to a cooperative, Wardtown is the newest member of Maine’s Resident-Owned Neighborhoods Association (RONA), an organization focused on the growth and development of resident-owned communities in the state, Pooley added.