Hilltop residents, supporters, talk community wishes, regional housing needs

A neighborhood support system and proximity to shopping, jobs and other amenities are some of the items Hilltop Mobile Home Park residents and their supporters want to see in a community.

A group of more than a dozen gathered Thursday night at New Leaf Initiative on South Fraser Street to brainstorm ideas for a potential future community at the College Township park site. Thursday was the deadline given to residents to move from the park, after the owners announced last fall it would close and be sold.

Matt Rooke, a Hilltop resident who has led the charge to save the park and now serves as the president of its resident association, is still working to bring a resident cooperative to fruition, in which the community’s residents purchase the park as a group and could continue to live there. He said that process is still under way, but only about 20 people still were living at Hilltop on Thursday, adding a challenge to that plan.

Rooke and Eric Sauder, a director of New Leaf who has supported the cause, led the brainstorming session, asking attendees to discuss what they want to see in a community and specific housing needs in the Centre Region, then draw on maps of Hilltop what they’d like to see on that site in the future.

Ron Young, a former Hilltop resident who moved to an apartment in Pleasant Gap, talked about being wanted, and a feeling of care and trust.

“People want to be in a community where there’s caring and concern for your neighbors” he said.

Rooke agreed, and Carol Wilson, a resident getting ready to move from Hilltop, said that, when a neighbor fell and injured her ankle, Wilson’s family cut her grass.

“When someone went away, we watched their trailers so they didn’t get broken into,” she said.

Joy Habovick, a resident who had to move back in with her parents in Howard, said the park used to have a jungle gym, but it was torn down and never replaced.

“I’d just like to have a nice, child-friendly place,” she said.

Meagan Tuttle, a member of the State College Planning Department staff, summarized some of the conversation, saying people want access to amenities that help them do what they enjoy. The discussion centered around having options, a challenge for many Hilltop residents who have moved and had difficulty finding affordable housing.

The group agreed that affordable housing is the greatest need in the region, something housing nonprofit organizations, government officials and others have discussed for years, noting a lack of such housing in the region, with gradual closings of mobile home parks and a current focus on apartment complexes for students.

Paul Spring, of the Centre County Affordable Housing Coalition, said a common standard is that people should pay no more than 30 percent of their income on housing.

“The number of people in this county who pay more than 30 percent is really high,” he said.

Other ideas included more pedestrian connectivity across the region, a better bridge between housing rental and ownership, and the ability to relocate comfortably.

When the Hilltop maps came out, one group drew possible park locations, shade trees over the trailers and sidewalks to East College Avenue.

“There were no sidewalks,” Habovick said. “You had to walk on the road.”

Rooke and Sauder hope to keep working on a resident cooperative at the site, and hope for continued support from across the community.

“The number of people realizing this is a very serious issue is growing,” Sauder said.