The Honorable Pam Hemminger
Mayor, Town of Chapel Hill
The Honorable Mr. Parker
Mayor Pro Tem, Town of Chapel Hill
The Honorable Ms. Anderson, Mr. Buansi, Ms. Gu, Mr. Huynh, Ms. Ryan, Ms. Stegman
Council Members, Town of Chapel Hill
Dear Mayor and Council Members,
I hope this letter finds you well. In representation of and with the support of residents of Tar Heel Mobile Park, El Centro Hispano asks you, Madam Mayor and Council member to vote YES on the “1200 MLK” proposal (project number 18-123).
Earlier last week, we received a number of calls from members of the Tar Heel mobile park community asking us to get involved in what is known as the “1200 MLK” project. Due to the nature of the request and its relevance to our mission, we sent our community health workers to canvass the neighborhood and gather feedback from our community. While El Centro Hispano is not a housing organization, we have a long-standing relationship with folks in this community and have assisted them through our various services.
Immediately after hearing about this situation, our community health workers spoke with 57 out of the about 74 residents of the Tar Heel mobile home park to understand what the community felt and needed from us. We also received calls and requests from community leaders and elected officials to publicly share our position on this project, which we can only do now after hearing from the people directly affected by this project. Please note that, out of the 57 residents with whom we spoke, 12 asked us not to share their comments with anyone due to fear of retaliation.
It is our understanding that the owner introduced a proposal to the council about 2 years ago to build a storage unit and a gas station on the property. It was made clear that if the proposal was denied, the Tar Heel mobile park would be closed and the residents forced to relocate.
The proposal that goes before the council for a vote, while negotiations have achieved some improvements, has minimal protections for residents.
Factors to consider when making this decision are the following:
First, the Town’s development plan and priorities. As expressed by many who oppose this project, the proposed building will go against the established plan. They are, in our opinion, correct in that matter, but the situation calls for further deliberation considering that families and homes are at risk.
Second, we must consider the precedent set by this owner by holding residents hostage to pass an otherwise unpassable project. There are various parts to this point. Yes, the town must ensure it can uphold its plans and objectives, yet the fact that this is coming to a vote after years of negotiation implies that the time for grandstanding and concern about precedent has passed.
Today we are faced with the real threat of displacement for 74 families vs. a possible threat in the future if the town cannot create new protections. The choice and action that need to be taken are clear. The families take priority and the town must look to see how they can ensure protection so this does not happen again.
Third, the agreements the town has made with the owner to ensure some level of protection for the families. Among those limited protections is a change from month-to-month agreements to yearly contracts, an appraisal every four years to ensure their rent remains comparable to mobile homes in the Raleigh and Charlotte area, and a promise of retaining that section of the property as a mobile home park for 15 years.
While these agreements are a good first step, they are not enough to make the residents feel secure. After being threatened by the property owner saying that if the plan did not pass they would receive notices by the end of the month, it is not hard to imagine why residents are not too confident the owner will adhere to those promises in good faith. The Town could have asked for other measures, such as no future nonsense restrictions be put on residents, a relocation plan, funds for those residents who opt to move out in the next 15 years, and more. It is unclear to us if any of those requests were ever made.
Lastly, and most importantly, the families and residents who had been left holding the short end of the stick. This is not the first, nor do we believe it will be the last time that residents of mobile homes will be pawns in a game they never intended to play, unless the Town acts to protect these members of our community. We believe they are the most important consideration for this project and future plans to ensure protections to our mobile home communities.
El Centro Hispano will follow the wishes of the community as we present our recommendations to the council. Here are a few of the quotes of the residents when asked “How do you feel about the project and should it pass?” translated from Spanish to English:
“I was told that if the construction project is not approved I would have to find a new place to live… I don’t like the plan but I can’t move or leave.”
“I don’t like this, but I need it to go be approved. If not, I will be kicked out. I spoke to people in government and they have no plans to help us.”
“I have lived here since 2000. The old owners promised us that the new owner had signed they would not sell to make a profit off of us, but that was a lie… I have a daughter with Down Syndrome who would be very affected if we have to leave. That would be a trauma for her to have to change schools… Some of our homes have not been movable for years.”
While our community is not a monolith, it is clear to us that our community, like many community leaders, have a distaste for the project and the way the situation has developed, but we all know that the families’ ability to have a form of stability is much more important.
In light of all we heard from our community, here is our recommendation.
While the tactics used by the property owner, the inability of the town to negotiate more or stronger protections, and the blatant dehumanization of our community as they are held hostage in this project leaves us all with a sour taste in our mouths and full of rage, the families come first. The town must now work to ensure the agreement is fully adhered to, the families will not be harassed, and the owner will not in any way attempt to displace these families in the future. The town must also create a protection plan for the mobile home communities across the city. We, along with our partners, will be sure to keep an eye on the residents of Tar Heel mobile park and the property owner, as we expect the town will as well.
Madam Mayor and Council Members, we again ask you to vote YES on this project, but keep in mind the work is not over, it has just begun.
Acting President & CEO
El Centro Hispano Inc.