'Poverty trap': Trailer court residents in Gander upset with rising land rents
74 residents express interest in forming a co-op and want help from town council
Residents of a Gander trailer park are looking to buy back their land and form a housing co-operative, but say they need help from the town council to make their dream a reality.
"I'm hoping that they will see it as a real social justice issue, to get out of the idea that huge profits have to fall on the backs of those who are not in a position to help themselves," said Rev. Brian Candow, one of the organizers, whose daughter lives in Lakeview Court.
The 86-lot trailer park is now owned by Killam Apartment REIT, a real estate investment company. People who live there say they are frustrated by the increasing cost of their land rents.
They've had no luck with the banks, so they're asking Gander's town council to buy and immediately lease back their land, so they can pay off the purchase price over time.
We can make it from month to month and that's about it.- David Wareham , Lakeview Court resident
Candow estimated it would cost about $2.9 million for the property, though he pledges it would be cost-neutral over the long-term if council leased the land back to the cooperative.
According to Candow, residents from 74 of the lots have said they are interested in joining the proposed cooperative.
One of those is David Wareham, who moved into the trailer park almost 40 years ago, and has seen his land rent go from $48 a month to $225 in that time.
On top of that he and his wife pay property taxes and water fees, pushing his annual cost to $3,500 a year — and that doesn't include payments on his mobile home, and electricity bills.
"Let's face it, that's a lot of money for us," said the 71-year-old, who is still working. "We can make it from month to month and that's about it."
Wareham said he and his neighbours like the area, but are fearful of more rent increases — which they have come to expect each year.
"It's the same thing as putting someone in jail, and saying 'now listen, you're staying there,'" Wareham said.
"They can't sell their mobile homes now because of the simple reason that when people find out how much it costs to live here, they're not interested.
"I'd say when I goes to the graveyard, then I'll retire. I think we could call it all off then. But apart from that, there's no way to retire … impossible."
Candow said the area is becoming a "poverty trap."
"It's OK if you own your trailer outright, but its not OK if you're trying to purchase a trailer anew and are paying the land rent and the property tax as well."
Good housing, good price: Killam
Dan Sampson, a property manager at Killam, passionately denied the allegation that his company is treating his tenants in Gander unfairly — saying the park was not a poverty trap, and that the company is not making huge profits off people who can't afford it.
I certainly don't think that we do anything illegal or immoral.- Dan Sampson, Killam Apartment REIT
"I think that's an unfair statement, I don't think that's the case at all," he said "We run very good parks and buildings, and we provide very good services to all of our tenants."
Sampson said he believes the company is providing very good housing at a very good price.
"I certainly don't think that we do anything illegal or immoral."
Killam bought Lakeview Court in 2005, for about $950,000, according to public financial documents. Average land rent that year was $132 a month.
Average land rents at Killam-owned parks were $242 in 2016.
Sampson said the increase is reasonable, when you consider increases to the cost of maintenance to the trailer court over the past decade.
According to Sampson, Killam usually pays for snowclearing, road salt, landscaping, road repairs and electricity for lights in its parks. However, an official from the Town of Gander said that the town covers snow clearing and road repairs at Lakeview Courts.
According to financial statements, Killam brought in a combined $256,000 in net operating income from two trailer parks in Gander and in Grand Falls-Windsor through the first nine months of 2017.
For Rev. Candow, the endeavour is not related to his duties at St. Martin's Anglican Church in Gander, but he does feel like it is a faith issue.
"The co-op is a means whereby people are able to take control of their own circumstances, working together collectively for the betterment of each individually and as a group," he said.
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The pitch to residents for the proposed cooperative is that rent would stabilize at its current price, and be brought back down as the purchase price is slowly paid off. Candow estimated it would take more than 20 years.
He has written a letter to town council, and has a meeting scheduled with them next week.
I'm hoping that they will see it as a real social justice issue.- Rev. Brian Candow
A representative from the town said it was too early to discuss the letter and the request, as it had yet to be considered in a council committee.
Wareham said the municipal or provincial governments should intervene to look after their constituents.
"I think it's you know awful mean … to have to live this kind of life after working really, really hard all my life right up till now. And here you are. I mean you should be able to sit back and say 'OK, we're fairly comfortable now' but no matter how far ahead you gets there's always someone there to grab the few dollars you got."