Nonprofit to revitalize mobile home park on Route 1
BY JIM MCCONNELL SENIOR WRITER
When Chesterfield County set out three years ago to begin implementing a new blueprint for the revitalization of northern Jefferson Davis Highway, citizens cautioned against approving redevelopment projects that would result in the displacement of low- and moderate-income residents.
At the same time, county officials remain mindful that pockets of inadequate – and in some cases unsafe – housing exist along the corridor, including trailer parks beset by maintenance and infrastructure issues, building code violations and general lack of attention by management.
Bermuda Estates is one such community. Located along U.S. Route 1 just north of its intersection with state Route 10, the 7.8-acre mobile home park has 52 units of various age and states of repair – and since last September it has been under new ownership.
A Richmond-based nonprofit, Project:HOMES, acquired the property for $1.95 million, with ambitious plans to revitalize the neighborhood and increase access to quality affordable housing in one of Chesterfield’s high-poverty areas.
“This is the biggest risk we’ve taken as a company,” acknowledged Lee Householder, CEO of Project:HOMES, in an interview last Friday.
The purchase marks a major departure from its typical operating model. Project:HOMES has completed large-scale home repairs for thousands of low-income individuals over the past 28 years, but its plan for Bermuda Estates is to gradually replace trailers with more durable, energy-efficient manufactured housing.
Its goals are to enhance quality of life for existing residents, prevent displacement and eliminate the stigma associated with manufactured home communities.
“The residents of Bermuda Estates are thrilled with what is happening there – that somebody is taking care of the place,” said Dan Cohen, director of the county’s Community Enhancement Department.
The project wouldn’t have been possible, Cohen noted, without collaboration between Project:HOMES and staff from Building Inspection, Planning and Community Enhancement, as well as the county attorney’s office.
The county has allocated $315,000 in federal Community Development Block Grant funding for various infrastructure improvements at the trailer park: new lighting, updates to water and sewage systems and road repairs.
It also is investing $40,000 that was collected from the property’s prior owner as part of a
legal settlement of numerous building code violations. “Chesterfield is a powerful partner because we’re aligned in our objectives,” Householder said. “They have the vision and wherewithal to understand that money spent today will produce benefits far into the future.”
Increasing the local inventory of high-quality affordable housing has become a priority for the county administration and Board of Supervisors in recent years, as surging demand for residential properties in Chesterfield began pushing prices out of reach for many potential buyers.
According to the Central Virginia Regional Multiple Listing Service, the average sale price for a single-family home in the county was $325,225 as of November 2020 – an increase of 7.6% over the same period in 2019.
“Housing is an expensive hole to dig out of, but every person deserves a healthy, stable place to call home,” said Laura Lafayette, CEO of the Richmond Association of Realtors and a member of the board of directors for the regional Partnership for Housing Affordability.
Mobile homes are attractive to low-income populations because they’re typically designed to be manufactured inexpensively, but unlike single-family homes, such units don’t hold their value over time and tend to depreciate like automobiles. That makes it impossible for owners to build equity.
Project:HOMES aims to change that at Bermuda Estates by replacing aging units with a more sustainable product that meets federal Department of Housing and Urban Development standards and “doesn’t necessarily look like a mobile home,” Cohen said.
The nonprofit will retain ownership of the land under each residence, significantly reducing the cost for residents to purchase a replacement model; the first new home is expected to be ready for occupancy in March. “It’s a quality product, not something the county would have to be concerned about people living in,” said Gib Sloan, the Bermuda District’s planning commissioner and chair of the steering committee tasked with implementing the Northern Jefferson Davis Special Area Plan.
Cohen thinks Project:HOMES’ revitalization of Bermuda Estates could become a model for other Virginia localities to improve aging mobile home communities and address the shortage of affordable housing.
“They’re looking at this as a solution for a statewide problem,” he added. “It just so happens the first one was in Chesterfield.”