ITHACA, N.Y.—Ithaca Neighborhood Housing Services (INHS) has expanded its offerings in recent years. There’s the Community Housing Trust to keep owner-occupied homes permanently affordable, there are moderate-income workforce housing units, and a turn towards mixed-use developments like 210 Hancock and Founders Way. Now, they’re taking on another kind of real estate asset—mobile home park ownership and management.

The Ithaca-based housing services and development non-profit finalized the purchase of the 138-pad Aubles Mobile Home Park on the west side of Trumansburg village on Aug. 9. The deed filing with Tompkins County indicates the purchase price was $3.1 million.

“This has been on our radar for several years. It’s been discussed widely with non-profits in the state throughout New York about how most of these communities are naturally occurring affordable housing, and in areas of the state where real estate is in demand, what they are seeing are investors coming in, purchasing communities only to evict people and then selling them off for redevelopment to somebody else. The state has been talking with non-profits encouraging programs like resident-owned communities and for non-profits to come in and purchase and provide stable and affordable housing that is not in jeopardy in disappearing,” said Johanna Anderson, Executive Director of INHS.

The Aubles Mobile Home Park, to be renamed the “Compass Manufactured Home Community” by INHS, is about 80 percent occupied, and consists of both owner-occupied mobile homes, and homes rented out for occupancy, often the result of owners who decided they no longer wanted the mobile home. The Aubles family has a storied history with the village, including using a lot they wanted to develop for a hog farm when local leaders were less than amenable back in the 1980s. The mobile home park at 4337 West Seneca Road was annexed into the village in the 2000s.

Anderson says INHS has been working on acquiring the park for several months, and that they have met with Trumansburg staff and officials as well as households within the mobile home park, saying they’ve managed to engage with and have discussions with all but one household. She stated the reaction has been “overwhelmingly positive” and the discussion process has been clear, consistent and transparent. Residents will have 30 days to review proposed rule and regulation changes, with INHS’s policies going into affect on Oct. 1.

“Granted, we’ve never done anything like this before, but it fits quite naturally within our mission. When we started talking about this, we asked ourselves where is the best place to do it. We started vetting different communities and this one checked all of the boxes – on water and sewer to avoid the added complexity of dealing with wells, a community that’s been established for many decades, close to our headquarters in Ithaca. Several of us on staff have connections to this community. We decided to go ahead and purchase it after a few years of negotiations. This was all INHS equity and conventional financing,” said Anderson. Anderson reached out post-interview to add that $775,000 had been awarded toward the purchase by national affordable housing advocacy group Enterprise Community Partners.

As the purchase relied on conventional bank financing rather than federal and state grants, there are no income restrictions for mobile homeowners and renters. Anderson said that INHS wanted to respect existing residents, and that there are no income restrictions in the works at the moment.

In the short-term, plans are to redo the water and sewer lines, put in new roads (whether they will be deeded to Trumansburg or not is still being debated, but they will be built to village specifications), new exterior streetlighting and a new playground. Landscaping work, such as trimming trees and removing overgrown brush, is already underway. As for the homes owned directly by the park and rented out, they will be evaluated on a case-by-case basis. Some will be renovated, those beyond repair will be removed, and those that are removed will be replaced with new energy-efficient mobile homes.

INHS will be working with Keynote Realty of Rochester to help manage the property.

“(T)he fact is we have never managed one of these communities before, and this really is a unique situation in that a portion of it is homeowners as well as rentals,” Anderson said. “It’s also under a totally separate portion of the real estate law that we are not experts in. We didn’t want to start managing it ourselves until we got more experience. We contacted several of our non-profit counterparts in the state and asked for suggestions on who they would recommend to manage it, we interviewed several and entered an agreement with Keynote Realty. Their compassionate management style is in line with INHS. We follow all of the laws, but we’re also dealing with people’s homes, so there’s a level of compassion that goes along with that.”

The purchase comes with about 100 acres, of which 30 acres are developed. Long-term plans for the park call for trail connections and working the village on grants for sidewalks along Route 96. There is also the possibility of future development in the undeveloped portion, though Anderson stressed that there are no plans at this time and any plans would be years away from happening. The first step would be a “charrette” open house with park and village residents to determine the best uses for the undeveloped property.

Now, some folks likely remember the long and contentious process INHS went through to get its Village Grove (part of Crescent Way, formerly Hamilton Square) development approved. That project will be applying for state affordable housing grants in a few weeks for the fall 2021 award cycle. A little trepidation in approaching another housing plan in Trumansburg, even to renovate already existing homes, would be understandable.

However, village officials seem to be welcoming INHS’s purchase with open arms. In a provided quote, Trumansburg Mayor Rordan Hart stated “The transition of the Auble Mobile Home Park into INHS’ expert hands is a tremendous win for the Park’s residents. It is also an amazing opportunity for the Village to partner with the Park’s new owners on infrastructure in that area. I look forward to working with INHS on making dramatic improvements to the entire northwest corner of the Village.”

Anderson added that INHS has made less splashy inroads into Trumansburg, and that the community had grown to appreciate their presence. “Over the past several years we have really built a strong relationship with village officials and Trumansburg residents, providing low-interest lending and affordable repairs for homeowners. I think we have a really positive, committed relationship and the village is very supportive. There have been many positive remarks of ‘thank goodness it’s INHS purchasing this community’, there have been lots of good, open communication.”

Alongside INHS and Keynote realty, local firm T.G. Miller P.C. has been involved in the surveying for site subdivision between vacant and developed portions, and civil engineering related to the infrastructure work.

Brian Crandall

Brian Crandall reports on housing and development for the Ithaca Voice. He can be reached at bcrandall@ithacavoice.com.