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To 'Speak with One Voice,' Austin Manufactured Home Residents Get Organized

Joy Diaz/KUT News
Stonegate neighbors vote on their demands. They want copies of their lease agreements and copies of their bylaws. But, above all, they say they want to live free of fear of retaliation.

There are more than 100 registered neighborhood associations in Austin. Sometimes there are even multiple associations in the same neighborhood. In mobile home communities, however, they're rare — not just in Austin, but nationwide.

But after the neighbors at Stonegate Mobile Home Park in North Central Austin started feeling pressured by fees from management, they decided to organize their own.

Neighbors from the North Central Austin mobile home — actually "manufactured home" is the preferred name — community say they were fed up. They say they felt oppressed by excessive fees, like a $100 fine for leaving shoes outside and $500 for throwing trash in the dumpster after 6 p.m.

Most of the residents there are Spanish speakers. One of them, Rosa Zamora, says she used to have an herb garden. But Zamora's husband ripped out the plants to avoid the $50-a-month fee their landlord threatened to charge them.

Credit Joy Diaz/KUT News
Bonifacio Castro had to rip out the herbs his wife Rosa Zamora had planted to avoid a monthly $50 fee.

Saira Castro says there are neighbors who have lights on their porches similar to Christmas lights. For that privilege, they also pay $50 a month.

Zamora and Castro are among the more than 100 neighbors who attended the association's first meeting a couple of weeks ago.

Stonegate Mobile Park is in District 4, which is city council member Greg Casar'sdistrict.

Casar attended the association's first meeting.

He says "somebody showed [him] a notice that they received that their kids' shoes were sitting on their porch, and they were going to be fined if they did not move the shoes." The fine for the shoes was $100.

Credit Joy Diaz/KUT News
A notice posted at Stonegate warns residents that dumpsters would be open one day only and only during business hours when most residents are not home.

Many of the residents at the meeting shared similar stories of steep fines.

City council officials don't normally get involved in a neighborhood association's first meetings. But Casar was there because the community knew he had been an organizer before. In fact, Casar is the one who suggested neighbors create the association, so that they could "speak with one voice."

The next step in the process was finding that voice.

Gloria Cordova, the newly elected president of the association, broke the crowd into small groups and handed out pieces of paper with specific questions about what the residents wanted. She then posted the answers on the walls around the room.

The residents demanded things like having copies of their leases and bylaws, and being informed about rules and fees before they actually take effect. Above all, they don’t want to live in fear of retaliation.

Credit Joy Diaz/KUT News
Robert Doggett is an attorney who represents low-income clients for free. He told neighbors 'he is with them.' That fighting big corporations is hard work. But, 'it's worth it.'

Attorney Robert Doggett works pro bono with low-income clients, and he told the crowd that abuse often takes place when community owners or community managers know residents have nowhere else to go. But Doggett assured them that they do have options. "I am with you." Doggett said, "It will be a hard road, but it will be worth it. We can make a difference."

In order to make a difference, Stonegate owners and managers need to come to the table. So far, they have shown no interest. 

Texas Standard reporter Joy Diaz has amassed a lengthy and highly recognized body of work in public media reporting. Prior to joining Texas Standard, Joy was a reporter with Austin NPR station KUT on and off since 2005. There, she covered city news and politics, education, healthcare and immigration.
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