Development displaces residents

The dishes rattled in the kitchen cabinets, and a picture hanging above the couch fell from the wall.

“It’s the bulldozers,” said Francis Barrera as she hurried out of her mobile home last Wednesday. “They don’t even care that I’m still living here.”

Outside, a bulldozer steered down the paved road and joined two others already sitting at the entrance to Ingleside Mobile Home Park.

“They’ll start tearing all of this down soon,” Barrera yelled over the noise of the machine. “All of these trailers will be demolished soon. But people are still here — I’m still living here.”

Barrera is one of the remaining Ingleside residents facing displacement from her mobile home as development plans move forward for a new apartment complex aimed at students.

Lexington developer Neal Evans bought the 6.8-acre lot off Red Mile Road for $3.3 million in January to build the complex. In a Nov. 1 meeting, the Lexington Planning Commission unanimously voted to rezone 1201 Devonshire Ave., where the park is located, from single-family residential to a high-density apartment zone.

A court temporarily halted demolition at the mobile home park until Evans obtains a demolition permit. Evans did not have a permit when he started tearing down homes, said Dewey Crowe, director of Lexington-Fayette Urban County Government’s Division of Building Inspection.

As a general practice for obtaining a permit, developers must notify adjoining property owners, cap property sewer lines and show proof that there is no asbestos on the construction site.

Evans is scheduled to go before a Fayette Circuit Court judge Friday to petition for the permit, according to a court order issued March 11 by Judge James Ishmael.

The demolition delay came in response to complaints from Ingleside residents to the Division of Building Inspection.

Bulldozers started tearing down several mobile homes Feb. 25 while people were still living in their homes, according to a lawsuit being drafted by residents. Residents plan to file the suit against Evans and Devonshire Apartments LLC for failing to maintain a “safe, sanitary and habitable condition” in the mobile home park while residents are relocating, according to the draft.

Broken chairs, couch cushions and toilets piled next to picture frames lay in heaps throughout the area. Sagging mobile homes with broken windows and missing siding stood vacant among the piles of trash.

Residents were informed in August that they might have to move but were told they’d be “very well taken care of,” Barrera said.

But once Evans announced the terms for relocating after he bought the property in January, many residents were not happy.

They faced a choice: leave their homes for demolition and receive $1,000 compensation, or relocate their homes and receive nothing. Those choosing to receive compensation must sign a notarized affidavit distributed by Evans stating they are abandoning their homes.

“(Evans) told us back in August that this wouldn’t be something we had to worry about,” said Barrera, who has lived in her mobile home at Ingleside for three years. “But he hasn’t held up his end of the deal — $1,000 isn’t fair, $1,000 doesn’t help me move, it doesn’t help me find a new place to live.”

Resistant to move

The development plan calls for 168 apartments with a total of 504 bedrooms and 457 parking spaces to occupy the property the mobile homes currently sit on. Construction is scheduled to begin in April.

Jason Henson, who has lived at Ingleside since 2001, said students who will eventually move into this area would not have any idea of who was pushed out to make space.

“I don’t think they care who was here before them — I don’t think we ever bother to think about that,” Henson said. “But I know I will now because I’m not just trailer trash. I work hard for everything I have, and I shouldn’t be expected to just give up the first place that I’ve bought of my own.”

Evans declined to comment on Ingleside. Scott Baesler, a developer involved in the demolition of the park, could not be reached for comment.

If residents do not sign the affidavit and choose to move their trailer, they will not receive any compensation or moving assistance.

About 10 families still live at the mobile home park; 18 families lived there when the property was purchased from former owner Mahmoud Shalash. The remaining residents own their trailers and do not think their homes are in good enough condition to be moved.

“That’s the catch,” Henson said. “(Evans) will give us money if we abandon our trailer but nothing if we want to take it with us. If we want to move our home, assuming we could move it without destroying it, we’re on our own.”

Henson said he estimates his trailer is worth about $3,000, and he expects Evans to pay that much plus a “couple of months’ rent at the apartment or house I find.”

Barrera wanted to take her trailer but could not afford to pay for it to be moved. She said Evans has not returned her calls since he gave her the affidavit almost two weeks ago. She has not signed the affidavit or accepted the $1,000.

“It’s mine, and I’ve worked hard for the things I’ve got — I shouldn’t be forced to give them up,” Barrera said.

Legally, Evans, as the owner of the property, can force the tenants who rent the land for their mobile home to move, said Jon Fleming, a property and real estate lawyer for Legal Aid of the Bluegrass.

“When a mobile home is purchased, the owner is given a title, much like is given with a car,” Fleming said. “Different than owning a home, if the trailer is not able to be moved either because it is run down or the wheels have been removed, the property owner has the right to remove it or destroy it if the owner of the mobile home doesn’t remove it upon request.”

The residents can try for better financial compensation by pursuing the full tax value of their property if they have documents proving that they’ve paid taxes on their mobile homes, Fleming said.

“In this situation, with their financial statuses being low and them running out of options, this is one of the last things they can do,” Fleming said.

Concerned about safety

The mobile home park opened in the 1940s but has been the subject of code violations since 2000 when the city condemned 32 of 87 mobile homes in Ingleside, according to records from Lexington’s Division of Code Enforcement. In 2005, raw sewage was found throughout the property. That same year, the state fire marshal found electrical hazards, including electrical boxes without covers.

Early last year, 20 homes were condemned as a result of code inspectors citing unfixed past violations.

Since the demolition began, residents also say security is a major concern.

As part of the court order, residents still living at Ingleside must be provided proper security until the court hearing. Crowe said he was assured last week by the property manager that a privacy fence would be placed around the property and that security personnel would patrol to keep out vandals.

Barrera, who has found a house to rent in downtown Lexington on Jefferson Street, said she is more concerned about safety since the demolition began because people steal siding and other valuables from the mobile home park at night. She is staying in her mobile home while she moves her belongings to her new house because she fears her trailer will be looted.

“People are coming and stealing the siding off of these trailers that people don’t live in anymore to make some money,” Barrera said. “People I don’t know in cars I don’t know are always up here, and they steal stuff and they destroy trailers and strip them. I don’t want to leave mine for them to get.

“I’m scared and I’m stressed, and I don’t know what to do but to cry.”

Approaching eviction

Adult Services/Tenant Services does not have money to relocate the families, but the office provided about eight Ingleside residents with contact information for church groups and non-profit organizations that can offer some financial help, said Shirlyne Mosley, a social services coordinator for the department. Not many came to her office looking for help, she said.

“We’re here to serve, but if they don’t come, we can’t serve,” Mosley said.

The Ingleside families who did seek assistance from city government were given the list of phone numbers for organizations that could help and information for free legal services.

Open Door Church near Ingleside on Addison Avenue is accepting donations to help Ingleside residents. To donate, call (859) 225-3700.

Ingleside residents were given an eviction notice in January that stated they would have to be off the property by March 15 and had until March 20 if they planned to move their trailers. The residents still remaining received a second eviction notice late last week, but many said they will not move until they receive better compensation.

The second eviction hearing is scheduled for 9:30 a.m. on March 26 in Fayette District Court. At the hearing, the residents will go before a judge and have a chance to argue against their eviction.

“I’m going to be here when the bulldozers show up,” Henson said. “They can’t make me leave. I’m going to stay and make them come up with the right amount of money, an amount that will pay for me to leave this trailer and to find somewhere new. And I’m not the only one who plans to do this.”

Even though Barrera has found a new place to live, life is not easy.

She works as a waitress at Ryan’s Restaurant on Red Mile Road and has recently taken on a second restaurant job to help pay her bills.

“I’m paying bills here and bills at my new house and trying to afford to move,” Barrera said.

She gets some financial help from her boyfriend but does not ask for much because “he’s got his own bills and I don’t want to be a burden on him.”

“We fight all the time about money, it’s the only time we’ve ever fought,” she said. “I hate it that this situation is putting a strain on us. I hate it more that as a recovering alcoholic of 22 years, this situation makes me want to drink.”