Emma residents envision stable housing, healthy schools

COMING TOGETHER: The Dulce Lomita Mobile Home Cooperative in Emma offers an innovative approach to the Asheville area's affordable housing problem. Co-op members formed a company three years ago to jointly purchase the property, which has six mobile homes owned by individual families. Each family owns an equal share; if someone moves out and sells their share, the cooperative agreement calls for the price to stay affordable. All of the families in Dulce Lomita are first-time homeowners. Enjoying the co-op's playground area are essayist Andrea Golden's family members, including, from far left, partner Abel Gonzalez, daughter Yaretzi Cruz Golden, niece Emily Cruz Macey, Golden and son Hyadi Abel Gonzalez. Photo by Tim Robison

By Andrea Golden

Dulce Lomita Mobile Home Cooperative began in June 2013 with the purchase of a six-unit mobile home park in the Emma neighborhood. Members of the cooperative, who had been renting mobile homes in and around the area, created the cooperative as an opportunity for our families for first-time homeownership. But we also wanted to explore the creation of a model that could potentially benefit our wider community.

We are proud of our homes, as are many families in our community, and we do not want them to be replaced with apartments, condominiums or private housing developments. After taking the first several years to lay the foundation of a healthy cooperative — and with many lessons learned — we are excited to host a workshop for interested community members on Thursday, April 7, at 6 p.m.

‘Something that is dignified’

Often, mobile homes are treated as disposable. Families who own their trailers are abruptly notified of the sale of the land out from under them to private or commercial developers and are faced with either moving their homes, which costs thousands of dollars, or losing them. This has been devastating for so many families in our county.

Patricia Guerra lived in a mobile home park that was sold with little notice and was notified along with all of the residents of her park that they had to move their homes.

“It affected me emotionally and economically,” says Guerra. “We had nowhere to go. We were forced to move quickly to a trailer park in another part of town that we didn’t know who the owner was — all the agreements were made over the phone. [Then] the bridge in the entrance collapsed months ago, and they haven’t done anything to fix it. We don’t know who the owners are or how to find them. We have also heard that this new park we moved into might be for sale now, and, at any moment, they could send us a piece of paper telling us to move again. I would like to form a cooperative trailer park because that way residents could help each other mutually. We need something that is dignified, that no one can take away from us.”

Many states have laws that protect their residents, requiring mobile home park owners to provide advance notice that they intend to sell, giving residents time to organize if they wish to come together to make an offer for the property. Some states also offer tax incentives to mobile home park owners who sell to their residents. In the absence of such laws in North Carolina, we at Dulce Lomita are committed to raising these issues with the Asheville and Buncombe County governments. We invite residents of other mobile home parks to join us.

COMMUNITY EFFORT: Members of the Dulce Lomita Mobile Home Cooperative at their community garden include, top row from left, Ingrid Johnson, Yozet Estrada Cruz, Jackie Fitzgerald, Bruno Hinojosa (holding Neftali Hinojosa Fitzgerald), Maria Ruiz (holding Ariana Edgerton Hinojosa) and Carmen Huichapeño; and bottom row, from left, Keyla Estrada Cruz, Andrea Golden (holding son Hyadi Abel Gonzalez Golden) and Rosalba Cruz. Photo by Tim Robison
COMMUNITY EFFORT: Members of the Dulce Lomita Mobile Home Cooperative at their community garden include, top row from left, Ingrid Johnson, Yozet Estrada Cruz, Jackie Fitzgerald, Bruno Hinojosa (holding Neftali Hinojosa Fitzgerald), Maria Ruiz (holding Ariana Edgerton Hinojosa) and Carmen Huichapeño; and bottom row, from left, Keyla Estrada Cruz, Andrea Golden (holding son Hyadi Abel Gonzalez Golden) and Rosalba Cruz. Photo by Tim Robison

From home to school

While Dulce Lomita is focused on housing and while our dreams may begin in the home, they don’t end there. Members of the cooperative are also involved in a grassroots campaign called Nuestras Escuelas (Spanish for “Our Schools”). With the support of two local organizations, Nuestro Centro and the Center for Participatory Change, parents and students are working for racial equity and language justice in the Buncombe County Schools.

Part of Nuestras Escuelas’ work is in partnership with Emma Elementary School to increase parent leadership within the school. The project grows out of our view that our schools are vital community institutions. We ask that our schools commit to our community as well.

Guerra is a leader in Nuestras Escuelas’ work. “I was forced to move out of Emma, but I want to come back,” she says. “It’s where we lived for so long and where we feel comfortable. It’s important to fight for the places that your children live, play and study.”

As we engage in this work, we are aware of its potential impact on the development of our neighborhood. With the community and schools in partnership to create more vibrant, inclusive and empowering schools, we know that it makes the neighborhood more appealing to more affluent families.

This is why we are committed to organizing around housing and education, hand in hand. We envision a community with healthy schools and neighborhood infrastructure, and where our families can live freely from fear of being displaced.

If you are interested in learning more about mobile home cooperatives, the April 7 workshop or the work of Nuestras Escuelas, please contact Andrea Golden at andreajgolden@gmail.com.

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