Homeowners purchase 52-unit Mountainside Park, preserving affordable housing in Camden

Fri, 12/13/2019 - 12:45pm

Homeowners in the 52- unit Mountainside Park, an age 55 and over manufactured housing community on Route 52 in Camden, took a big step toward securing their financial futures when they collectively bought their neighborhood as a resident cooperative Dec. 11.

Securing affordable housing in Maine, especially in a community like Camden,  is an escalating challenge as incomes struggle to keep up with escalating housing costs, and its population ages, according to a Dec. 13 news release.

The homeowners collectively raised December 11 $1.9 million for the purchase.

The estimated median household income in 2016 in Camden was $52,760, and estimated per capita income was $38,544.

“As real estate prices have risen out of proportion to income in the state, manufactured home ownership remains one of the only affordable options for low-income residents,” according to the release. “Estimated median house or condominium values in 2016 in Camden $344,738, a steep increase from $162,400 in 2000 and significantly higher than the statewide average of $184,700. Mountainside Community Cooperative offers an attractive and affordable option for home ownership.”

According to town data, the median resident age in Camden is 54.4 compared to Maine’s statewide median age of 44.5.

Mountainside Community Cooperative is one of only two  manufactured housing communities in Camden.

“Securing this long term, now resident owned community for residents 55-plus can help insure that Camden’s older residents can age in place,” the release said.

The purchasing process and the formation of a resident owned cooperative has already brought the community closer together.

“This has been an all inclusive process affording us the opportunity to learn and work together  towards a common goal. I'm sure it has strengthened us all and we will move into the future with a stronger awareness of our neighbors and a deeper commitment to the success of our community,” said Margaret Jones, board vice president of the newly formed cooperative. 

John McKay,  at large board director,  agreed and is delighted that he and his neighbors now have the peace of mind that they can continue living affordably in one of Maine’s most scenic communities, the release said.

“Living here at Mountainside Park is a delight, with beautiful surrounds, it being extremely private plus having friendly neighbors. The transition from private ownership to cooperative ownership in such a short time is and has been a challenge. It couldn't have happened without the complete cooperation of all the residents,” he said. “That is one of the best things about living here -- the cooperation of my neighbors.”

Board Treasurer Phil Amoroso, and his wife, Anne, agree.

“Mountainside is a wonderful community in a beautiful location,” they said. “The process of purchasing our community as a co-op has been somewhat challenging - mostly due to the unknown factors. However it has also been an opportunity to get to know other members of the community and to have a say in how things are run.  We are hopeful that the purchase will result in positive improvements and an increasing feeling of community. “

Jeanee Wright, cooperative housing specialist with Cooperative Development Institute helped navigate the community through the challenging times, and provided acquisition support and technical assistance to the community as they considered converting to a cooperative.  She is glad that the residents seized the opportunity to purchase their community and looks forward to working with the resident owners to build their financial security and supporting the community towards long term success. 

“The engaged and proud resident homeowners of Mountainside Park saw this as a winning opportunity and worked hard to research the viability of the sale and future business plans for the cooperative. Residents worked collaboratively together to research and identify costs and planning of volunteer committees to ensure a successful transaction and future for Mountainside. Residents are excited to keep the community an attractive and affordable place to live and own a home in Camden,”  said Wright. 

CDI is a certified technical assistance provider with ROC USA Network, a national nonprofit that works to help residents of for-sale manufactured home parks form resident corporations and buy their communities cooperatively. Technical assistance will continue to be provided by CDI to the association for the length of the mortgage — a minimum of 10 years.

The residents of Mountainside Community  purchased the community with financing provided by Camden National Bank, Genesis Community Loan Fund and the Local Enterprise Assistance Fund.

“We are so pleased to be able to help the residents of the Mountainside Community Cooperative become property owners today,” said William Floyd, Executive Director of the Genesis Fund. “For these 52 households of older working adults and retirees, this purchase has secured housing affordability in a high-priced Camden market. For Genesis, it’s also a milestone – the tenth cooperative conversion we’ve financed in the past ten years. We are extremely proud to have helped create these ownership opportunities for so many Maine communities.”

Mountainside Community Cooperative joins nine Maine manufactured housing communities supported by CDI and financed by Genesis, representing  440 homes now under the resident’s control .

All are part of the ROC USA Network, which has helped to secure over 15,000 units of affordable housing. In these democratic resident-owned communities, homeowners each buy one low-cost membership shares. Each household has one vote on matters of the community. The members elect a Board of Directors to act on day-to-day issues and vote as a membership on larger matters like the annual budget, bylaws and community rules. 

Joe Cicirelli, Director of CDI’s New England Resident Owned Communities (NEROC) Program, said resident ownership is a growing trend in the Northeast, and hopes that more Maine manufactured housing communities see the benefit of becoming resident owned.

“Residents understand the insecurity of owning their home atop rented land, especially in areas like Camden, where development pressure and the price of housing are accelerating, often outpacing household income. When offered the chance to collectively purchase that land, residents are excited to find options to secure it for their families,” Cicerelli said. “For CDI, it’s very rewarding assisting residents who are working hard to bring more economic stability and security to their lives through this process of democratic ownership”. 

The residents of Mountainside Community Cooperative join nine other resident owned communities in Maine, and over  175 in New England. With the addition of Mountainside Community to the Maine network, the Genesis Community Loan Fund and the Cooperative Development Institute have preserved 440 units of affordable housing in Maine. 

“We’re proud to provide financing to the residents of the Mountainside Community to secure affordable, quality housing in Camden,” said Steve Matteo, senior vice president, commercial regional manager at Camden National Bank. “Investing in the community is at the core of what we do, and it’s been a pleasure working with the Cooperative Development Institute and seeing this project come to life.”

To complete the deal, additional financing for the Jo-Len conversion to resident ownership was provided by the the Local Enterprise Assistance Fund (LEAF), a Boston-based community development financial institution that supports resident- and worker-owned cooperatives nationally. 

Gerardo Espinoza, Executive Director of LEAF, said, "LEAF is thrilled to support the Mountainside Community Cooperative in taking ownership of their community. This project will preserve long-term affordable housing in an increasingly high-cost market, and aligns with LEAF's core values of cooperative ownership and self-governance. We are grateful to our partners at CDI and Camden National Bank, the committed residents of the Mountainside Community, and the mission-driven investors who make the financing for this project possible. Congratulations to the new resident-owners."

They also join a growing national movement lead by ROC USA. The ROC model was pioneered by the New Hampshire Community Loan Fund in the 1980s before it was taken to scale nationally in 2008 with the launch of ROC USA. The growth among the Network has been strong over the last decade, accelerating as the Network has expanded and matured.

“Congratulations to Mountainside Community Members and welcome to the national network of Resident Owned Communities, now numbering 251 in 16 states,” said Paul Bradley, president ROC USA, LLC.

Mountainside Community Cooperative  will have a community celebration on January 11 at 1 p.m. in Camden. 

The Cooperative Development Institute (CDI) is a regional cooperative development center, founded in 1994, which has assisted dozens of new and existing cooperatives throughout New England and New York. CDI’s New England Resident Owned Communities (NEROC) has assisted 50 communities, now 10 in Maine, convert to cooperative resident ownership. In addition to  cooperative housing, CDI assists with creating agriculture, consumer, worker-owner, energy, and fishing cooperatives. To learn more about CDI, visit, www.cdi.coop, and learn more about Maine specific activities, visit the Cooperative Maine Business Alliance website at www.maine.coop

The Genesis Community Loan Fund was established in 1991 by several Midcoast Maine faith-based organizations as a revolving loan fund to provide financing for affordable housing. The Genesis Community Loan Fund provides innovative financing by soliciting investment loans from individuals, churches, corporations, and foundations, and then re-lending the money at favorable terms to nonprofit organizations developing affordable housing and community facilities for underserved people and communities throughout Maine. More than twenty-seven years later, the Genesis Fund has lent over $45.7 million to more than 240 projects to create affordable housing and vital community facilities.

Camden National Bank founded in 1875, is a local Maine community bank that strives to be a vital part of the towns and communities where Mainers live, work, raise families, serve our customers, and give back to our communities. Community is at the core of what Camden National Bank stands for. The bank’s commitment to socially-minded growth is a deeply held value as we serve the financing needs of Maine’s people, and our communities. 

The Local Enterprise Assistance Fund (LEAF) is a Boston based community development financial institution that supports resident and worker owned cooperatives nationally.