About 300 face eviction as central Arkansas trailer park shutting

Brookside Village Mobile Community in Conway

Hundreds of people are scrambling to find housing and moving money after the owner of a central Arkansas mobile home park told residents that he plans to shut down the 114-home facility, citing utility rate increases.

The announcement comes in the wake of dozens of city violations being filed against the Brookside Village Mobile Community in Conway. That has raised questions among housing advocates and residents about whether higher water and sewer bills are the only reasons for closing the park.

The closure stands to displace more than 300 people.

In an April 15 letter sent to residents, Brookside owner Bruce Keathley said he planned to close the park June 30. He wrote that residents would need to move their homes and continue paying rent in the meantime.

Keathley’s attorney, Mark Riable, said operating the more than 5-acre park has gotten expensive and that the park is no longer profitable.

He said Brookside’s water bills have been $15,000 to $20,000 in past months.

A spokesman for Conway Corp., which operates the city-owned utility system, confirmed that it raised water rates at the beginning of 2018 but said sewer rates haven’t gone up since 2014. He said the fees are based on usage, and several factors can cause fluctuating or higher bills.

Residents and housing advocates wondered whether the numerous city violation citations filed against the park owner — potentially costing tens of thousands of dollars — also influenced the decision to close.

Since last month, the city levied 171 code violations, averaging $250 per citation against the park’s owner, according to city records reviewed by the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.

Violations included reports of dilapidated buildings, piles of used tires, broken appliances and materials lying around, and "obnoxious odors" caused by sewers, among others.

Conway spokesman Bobby Kelly said the city isn’t targeting Keathley or Brookside but has increased its code enforcement efforts in recent months after adding to its staff.

Riable said he plans to argue against the allegations in court, saying many of the reported infractions happened in people’s private homes, which are outside his client’s responsibility.

"I think he’s been generally supportive of the community," Riable said, adding that the decision to close in June was based on children’s school schedules.

He said the park owner offered to help connect residents with mobile home movers or in finding other living arrangements.

The reason for the closure matters less than the fact that people are being told to leave, said Phillip Fletcher, director of City of Hope Outreach, a nonprofit in Conway that is raising money to help Brookside residents relocate.

The reason for the closure "doesn’t change what’s happening to these people on the ground," he said. "Our focus is to help these women, children and families."

Fletcher estimated that at least 300 people live in the park. Residents pay up to $300 per month to rent space in the lot for their trailers.

Moving a trailer is expensive, and some of the trailers might need to be scrapped because they aren’t safe to move, Fletcher said.

Also, he said a number of the residents are financing their homes, compounding the cost of moving them, which can be $2,000 or more depending on the distance.

"It’s not a cheap affair," Fletcher said.

He said Tuesday that he wasn’t sure how much money his group had raised for the displaced residents.

"There’s been a lot of anger but also tears and sadness," Fletcher said. "I’m hoping people will … sympathize with the situations of these families."

Metro on 04/24/2019

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