Liaison: CVOEO's Mobile Home Program
The following summarized comments are the opinions and observations of Mobile Home community members in the Summer of 2020.
“It’s kind of like you have the cogs, the big cog, on the top moves one, and the person on the bottom is spinning like hell on ice on the bottom. And then what happens? The person on the bottom falls and gets hurt. The people at the top, that are making these decisions need to let everybody know what’s going on.”
“I think that’s probably one of the reasons that I didn’t get too afraid, you know, because I do have faith. And as I saw the governor on TV every day, that did allay a lot of fear for my loved ones and my grandchildren and and my children.”
Environment (Air/Water/Waste/Outdoor Access)
“I haven’t even thought about the environment in what feels like a really long time because we’ve just been mentally focused on one thing and we lose sight.”
- Participants were worried about air quality in schools after Burlington schools were shut down due to PCBs.
- Reported issues with sewage in mobile home parks and clean water. Wondering what are the responsibilities of the previous owner to fix a known water/sewage issue.
“Because environment and health are tied together. You get all kinds of things going wrong in your neighborhood like the water. When I first came here, I was told you had to boil the water, it didn’t taste that great anyway, but only certain people could drink the water because I think it had high sodium at the time. So there were certain people it didn’t bother them at all and there were other people that definitely had health problems. That was an environmental issue. And we just kinda said, ‘oh okay the owner will take care of it.’ Well that was 30 or 40 years ago, and if we had stomped our feet and said something then we wouldn’t have had nasty water and maybe she wouldn’t have had sewage problems over there. So we need to stop being lazy citizens.”
- Sewage was full, overflowing into lots until new owners bought the park. After a year under new ownership, the issue was cleaned up:
“There’s a lot of people that lack the knowledge of existing older issues that affect health.”
- Pandemic set back timing of sewer and water replacement for an entire mobile home park due to financial issues of the park’s co-op owners.
- Participant expressed a sense of cross-generational responsibility, and concern over environmental issues being left to the next generation:
“I’d like a planet left for them to live on. I remember being a child in school and being told that if we didn’t start taking care of the ozone layer and we didn’t start taking care of our planet, that we were going to reap huge consequences. And I think the day has come where we are here.”
- Uncertainty of responsibilities concerning water in mobile homes. Some did not know how to get park manager to fix water issues. One participant explained the park’s responsibility to fix waterlines leading up to each home, but the responsibility is on the tenant for waterlines in the home including putting heat tape on from November 1 – May 1:
“For me on a macro-level, moving up to Vermont five years ago, it’s beautiful, they take care of it, it’s a culture shock for me all the way around, environmentally it’s wonderful. Now on a micro-level in this park, I gotta worry about the water, I gotta worry about the sewage. Both of those are an issue here. One’s been such an issue that it’s affected me personally with sewage in the house. And, so, I love Vermont, this part needs a little work.”
- Several participants experienced layoffs and abrupt unemployment during the pandemic, leading to increased economic strain:
“I’ve been laid off since March 15. Then I thought, you’re safe, you’re at home, you’re not around a lot of people, so just count your blessings. I don’t know if they will really call me back because a couple of our clients have literally gone out of business so they might not need as much customer service as they did in the past.”
- Cutoffs for government resources are too strict. Several mobile home residents lamented being $25 over the limit to receive Medicaid, but being unable to afford healthcare otherwise:
“Where is the flexibility for our programs, to actually make sure people are getting what they need. Quit nickel and diming the cutoff.”
- Concern over workplace safety, health sector worker collecting urine samples could not do his job in a safe manner, forced to quit.
- Information on environmental impact of businesses trying to enter a community should be given to the community earlier in the permitting process, in order to work towards a stable economic future. In regards to the permitting process for a grocery store in Hinesburg:
“I would like to see people who know what they are talking about other than just from emotion, so that when we try to get people to come to Vermont, or to move and build some business that we give them all the information up front.”
- Gendered labor burdens – Woman works for veteran home, has no flexibility in her schedule, told if she can’t be here due to her other responsibilities she should find a flexible job:
“It’s hard on the working moms of this country because they’re trying to do their own job, take care of home, take care of kids, educate on the days that they need to educate because they are remotely learning. And it’s a lot. It’s an awful lot.”
- Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) was challenging to access; the process was cumbersome and communication with the state was difficult. Participants understood that a lot was happening at the time, but felt that they had to repeat steps of the unemployment process many times due to poor communication or sloppy information gathering by unemployment officers. The challenges of this process are compounded by language access issues, age, and disability:
“When I applied for PUA, it was a nightmare. I mean, I have it now and it’s been straightened out. But I bet it was three months of phone calls and arguments, haggling and proving this and proving that, and I would imagine that’s probably the same for a lot of people. And most certainly, probably my age too, those who are working part-time to supplement their income.”
“What I went through with PUA was unreal, the communication, the whole bit. I never got anything until just starting with October. I signed all the papers that they told me to sign, and then they told me they never got any of them. I had to send my tax papers in to show my work, the amount of income that I got for last year to show what they could do for this year, and I still didn’t get anywhere until October.”
Food & Transportation
“It’s amazing how in a few short months that life has changed and it’s almost like a learned helplessness is happening. You know, you just feel so helpless against everything and you have to strive harder even just to get groceries.”
- Some participants had to use Instacart for food delivery, however Instacart doesn’t take Food Stamps so they had to pay out of pocket.
- Participant reported attempts to get food assistance from Community Action, Office on Aging, and Interfaith Council were not successful. Families and neighbors did not offer to pick up food:
“The pandemic has greatly affected my ability to get food because I don’t drive I have a disability I haven’t driven in over ten years and I’m pretty much housebound and I had worked for a year and a half prior to the pandemic trying to get an agency healthy grocery sack. I could get groceries into my home and that never panned out. Then we came upon covid-19 where I was not able to go into the stores grocery shop because of my compromised immune system and I had no family that was able to do it.”
- Receiving cases of MREs from the food shelter, full of unhealthy food containing high fructose corn syrup and high carb foods. Foods that are high in sugar and salt have longer shelf life, but present health problems. People with health conditions such as diabetes or high blood pressure are harmed by consuming this type of food, but do not feel they have a choice.
- Meals on Wheels is only one meal a day, many people prefer to buy and prepare their own food.
- Mobile Home communities differ: some have a good network of neighbors and committees who help each other get food etc., others do not:
“We have a wellness committee, active people that go around and make sure that you’re getting your prescriptions on time and stuff like that. And that’s just one of the many committees in our community park.”
- While receiving unemployment, a participant was making $25 too much for Medicaid. Using the free clinic in Addison County:
“I don’t even qualify for the prescription coverage because I don’t have health insurance. Who thought that one up. I think one of the frustrating parts of that is you can apply at VT health connect, but, if your situation isn’t exact and fits directly into the formula, you have to wait until open enrollment.”
- Help in affording healthcare is out there, if you know how to access it. Information was shared in these meetings on how to access free prescriptions, and how to get medical bills reduced by working with the hospital billing department.
- Fear over medical bills being so high they would have to mortgage their home.
- People with long term relationships with their trusted doctors had a better experience receiving virtual care throughout the pandemic.
- Notified by elder care facility that there was an outbreak where their parents lived, then did not receive any follow up information:
“They still need to keep the public informed, especially when it affects your family. I was just so worried about her that I did want more information, but I wasn’t sure how I would be able to do that.”
- Contact tracing was an acceptable measure by some, but several thought it was crossing a line to have to give your information to every restaurant or building you go in.
- Some preferred the options to meet with doctors virtually. People with chronic illness appreciated not needing to drive to the doctor to get their prescriptions refilled:
“I think that the level of care has gotten better through Covid-19 because I think everybody has stepped up their game a little bit. What we used to take for granted, we no longer do. Doctors are more willing now not to make you have to come into the office. Before, whenever you wanted to try to talk to the doctor before an appointment, you could never get a hold of them.”
- Delayed medical care: kidney transplants, breathing issues not treated during the pandemic.
- A recurring theme of multiplying disparities exists throughout these conversations. For people with health conditions, child/elder care responsibilities, and other compounding factors, it takes a large amount of energy, labor, and knowledge to gain access to basic services.
- Psychological health has been deeply affected by fear of losing a loved one, compounded by not being able to access counsellors/therapists.
- Not being able to socialize, go to the gym, be around family led to increased depression.
“My mother is 94 and she lives on a homestead and it was a community of beautiful people. And now that there’s an apartment there and so and they had to isolate themselves they couldn’t even really visit with each other. My mother got depressed and she really kind of wanted to stay in that isolation. It’s taken me a few months to get her back down to the community, so I’m just glad my mother has a community that she can be a part of and can help each other not feel so depressed and come together as an extended family. But I think of the other people that are my mom’s age that, you know, live by themselves and don’t really have people who can visit.”
- Major concern for children’s mental health in isolation.
- Health care is easier to access virtually:
“Health care has gotten better because instead of trying to find a way to get a ride to my doctors, I now get it over the phone when I have a problem, she calls me right back and talks about it. I’m very happy with that.”
**Suggestions: Prioritize health care stability including a low-cost primary care system with convenient access points, invest in and maintain community relationships. Increase community elder care.
Housing & Energy
- Mobile home park manager raises rent every year when social security payments are raised. Rents for people on fixed income should stay static. Renters need more information about their rights to fair rent and regular maintenance:
“A lot of us older ones, here. The government gives us a raise in our social security check. Every year he gets our raise. Nobody’s getting ahead at all. I mean, not that older people are really gonna get ahead that much. But, you know, they look forward to that little extra. And if it’s $11 that the government gives us all because the government allows that certain percentage…bingo up goes our rent.”
- Fear that advocacy for better living conditions will raise the rent. Neighborhood organizers face challenges in getting neighbors to sign letters or petitions to the landlords because they are afraid of retaliation including rent increase.
- Cooperatively-owned mobile home parks sometimes have an issue with landlords; one co-op is trying to evict a landlord who refuses to evict their violent tenent:
I’ve lived in this park for 27 years. I’ve seen more fistfights, more cops called in here in the past year than I have in the 27 years I’ve lived here. This place is getting so bad that the people who walk carry some kind of a weapon to protect themselves. And the elderly people will not walk the streets anymore for exercise. And everybody is using the pandemic as an excuse.
- Some felt more housing security because many were owners of their mobile home
- Many cooperatively owned parks have built in community support structures that made dealing with the pandemic easier, including wellness committees:
“We’ve seen the cooperative mobile home parks have had more of this community structure and community support that’s shown up during the pandemic.”
- Main issue is people getting behind on rent, if they do not reach out proactively it is more challenging to work with landlord and the state to get into rental assistance programs. Also an issue with misinformation about eviction moratoriums in cooperatively owned parks:
“But I did notice shortly after the pandemic started, we had an enormous amount of people listening to the media saying, “you don’t have to pay rent, you don’t have to pay rent, don’t worry, you won’t be evicted.” We ended up having to get the word out to everybody that it’s affecting the co-op because we own the place and if we don’t pay the mortgage, then we will all lose our homes.”
- Landlords overcharging in the park, receiving Section 8 and increasing rent, charging more than the 110% over cost rule.
- Cooperative ownership was a much better option for most mobile home residents:
“So it seems like the parks with private owners have it a lot worse than the co-ops. Since this park has been owned by the residents, everything is going fine. I think what we did was really great for us here in the park. I wish everyone could enjoy this.”
Emergency Communications & Equal Access
- Participants identified local newspapers, community bulletin board, cable news, government sites, science sites, VPR, governor’s website, 211 (many were unaware of this resource), and Front Porch Forum as helpful resources throughout the pandemic:
“I’ll start with the internet and then once I find the correct places to contact, whether it’s agencies or whatever it is, then I’ll start using the phone and start making phone calls. But as far as background research and stuff, like pretty much all of it, I use the internet.”
- Wish the media did better at giving out information about environment, not just death rates, have to go seek out that information on their own:
“I haven’t even thought about the environment in what feels like a really long time because we’ve just been mentally focused on one thing and we lose sight.”
- Rely on Facebook friends to share information, however many reported unreliable internet:
“People do not have access to the internet the way that people assumed. People do not have access to information.”
- Gap in education with computers, zoom, technology. Need free internet access. Described story of daughter who didn’t have internet access when she was at her fathers house, so she couldn’t complete her schoolwork two days out of the week. School policies affecting access should take into account family dynamics for children rooted in multiple homes.
- Feel inundated with information, difficult to determine what is accurate.
- Feel like the media is distracting them from real information and environmental issues:
“Media love the ratings, rather than to focus on the many wonderful things going on in the world, or environmental health and community concerns. It’s so distracting.”
- Phone calls were not returned as quickly during pandemic, whether it was to government agencies, doctors, or landlords.
Summary compiled by: Jennifer Byrne, Fellow Environmental Justice Clinic Vermont Law School REJOICE 2021