By: Pam Bournival
Pam Bournival is a manufactured homeowner and an activist with MHAction, a program of the Center for Community Change that organizes and mobilizes the residents of manufactured home communities — especially those marketed toward seniors, veterans and people with disabilities – to fight for policies that protect the economic and retirement security of those homeowners.
There’s a right way and wrong way to make money. That’s my motto.
My husband and I worked with my parents in the 1980s to help them operate a manufactured housing community. My parents always stood for doing what’s right. I saw from working with them how you can make money and still treat people well.
So when my husband and I moved to a manufactured housing community in Florida and saw how the owners, Equity LifeStyle Properties, were intimidating people and treating them badly, I knew from personal experience this was wrong.
When I was president of our homeowners association, we tried to negotiate a long-term rental agreement and ended up in mediation, but there was no real give-and-take. So, I made up my mind to buy stock in ELS and go to the shareholder meetings. I went two years in a row with my husband, and we felt like sheep in a room full of wolves.
While several top ELS executives spoke with me very briefly after the very scripted shareholder meeting which lasted under three minutes, it felt like they were patting me on the head and saying “go away, little girl” – there was no real dialogue. The second year I told CEO Tom Heneghan that I was there to be his conscience.
It’s not right the way these corporations are running their businesses. Ground rents have risen so out of proportion that retired people on fixed incomes can’t afford them anymore. They face a double whammy! They can’t afford to stay, yet the ground rents are so high, they can’t sell their homes, forcing them to turn in the keys to the office and walk away. Or, they sell the home for peanuts. In either case, they’ve lost the equity in their home even as the costs rise.
I have been working with other ELS homeowners to convince the company to change the way it does business.
When I met Kevin Borden, who was organizing seniors in manufactured housing communities around Social Security for MH Action, it was a perfect match. Our campaigns go hand in hand because a lot of the seniors here are using Social Security checks to pay their rent.
So far, I’ve participated in two Grassroots Ambassadors gathering where I learned how to approach campaigns to get things done. It also opened up a world of different contacts and networking possibilities. It was great to get together with people across the country fighting the same battles.
To everyone out there who sees something wrong, but doesn’t quite know what to do about it: Find like-minded people and band together. In doing so, doors will open in terms of steps to take. You can’t wait for someone else to take care of the problem.