For the second time in 17 years, Terry McGrail is being asked to leave — to move everything she owns, risk her home and start over.
The retired Penn State employee is one of about 200 homeowners who have received eviction letters in the past month from separate State College-area mobile home parks.
Like many, McGrail, caught up in the apparent pending sale of Hilltop mobile home park in College Township, faces the prospect of losing more than just her home.
“This was my retirement,” she said the day after being told to move. “I own this. It may be the only chance in my life I have to own a home. That means something to me.” Sadly, McGrail has been here before. Almost 17 years ago, but much like last
week, McGrail woke one day to find she was being evicted from her home at Woodsdale mobile home park on South Atherton Street.
She joined the ranks of young families, elderly and low-income workers who have been displaced over the years as mobile home parks in the Centre Region disappear, making way for commercial, student and other housing developments.
Residents of the Penn State mobile home park on North Atherton Street in Patton Township were told in August they have a year to find alternative living arrangements.
McGrail and her neighbors received notification last weekend that their leases had been canceled and their homes must be moved.
“In 17 years, we’ve lost an awful lot of affordable housing,” McGrail said. “Now we’re looking at another 150 families out on their (butts).”
At Woodsdale, 44 families were forced to vacate in 1995. But it was seven years before the land was redeveloped for commercial use, according to McGrail.
“It was heartbreaking,” she said. “People were abandoning their homes, tearing their homes apart to sell the aluminum.”
Many who tried to move lost the aging structures to damage while in transit — including McGrail.
Yet, she was one of the lucky ones, purchasing a new mobile home at Hilltop and planning her retirement.
But now, almost two decades and another eviction notice later, McGrail is worried she and her neighbors have run out of places to turn.
Other mobile home parks also have disappeared over the years, including the Mellott park, also on North Atherton Street. The park’s 105 residents had to move in 2007 where construction now is taking place on the Woodycrest Center shopping complex.
“There are nowhere near enough vacancies for mobile homes,” she said. “Right now, it’s almost nonexistent. I actually don’t think there are any places left after these two close.”
While some opportunities exist, finding housing for the roughly 200 people displaced at the Penn State and Hilltop parks will be difficult, said Linda Marshall, a senior planner with the county’s Planning and Community Development Office.
“To find affordable housing opportunities for 200 households is a huge challenge,” Marshall said. “The opportunities out there are few and far between. It’s very sad.”
High property values and constructions costs and insufficient funds to subsidize affordable housing projects exacerbate the problem, Marshall said.
“The growth pressures in the Centre Region, especially commercial development and student housing, mean there is more of a profit margin there than with housing,” she said.
Marshall said human service agencies have been working with households in the Penn State park, and are shifting attention to Hilltop to help determine families’ needs.
She said one resident already contacted her office asking about the county’s first-time homebuyer program, and is eyeing properties in the county.
“But she has her ducks in a row,” Marshall said. “She was in a position to do that. Some, I think, their income is so low that it’s going to be hard to find housing opportunities.”
It’s those neighbors who worry McGrail the most.
“One of the things true of the demographic here is that there are many older women, retired, on Social Security, barely scraping by,” she said. “I’ve had three of these women die in the five trailers surrounding mine. They have nowhere else to go.”
Michelle Corey, another Hilltop resident, said not all residents of mobile home parks are low income. Some are young families, she said, saving to buy their first house.
“They turn around and sell for a profit to be able to buy a house,” Corey said. “They can’t do that now. They can’t get a fair market value for their properties.”
While she acknowledged the rights of the property owner to sell the land, McGrail hopes to unite her neighbors to see what, collectively, they can do.
“We need to get people out of panic mode and do some honest-to-God community organizing,” she said. “(Otherwise), now you’re all of a sudden in competition with 150 neighbors for another place to live.”
Matt Morgan can be reached at 235-3928. Follow him on Twitter @MetroMattMorgan