Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Trick or Treating Gets Politcal

The ladybug rang the doorbell. 

"Trick or Treat," she said in unison with her two friends who were dressed as monsters.

A woman answered the door. She smiled. "Who do you girls want to win the election?" she asked.

The ladybug responded, "Obama."
One monster responded, "Obama."
The second monster offered a different answer. "Romney," she replied.

The Romney supporter got a king size Snickers and the Obama girls got mini candy bars.

The ladybug deemed the behavior unfair, yet the night was still fruitful.

Monday, October 22, 2012


This Saturday when I ventured down to the Seminole Estates manufactured home community in Hollywood, Florida, I noticed a distinct change in its physical appearance. Piles of rubbish and uprooted trees appear on front lawns, the sounds of heavy machinery fill the air, and waste removal trucks, dumpsters, and Uhauls occupy parking spots. Seminole Estates is sporting that unkempt post-natural disaster look, but the residents are actually just responding to a man-made disaster decision to close the park.
Faith remains as residents of Seminole Estates dismantle their lives.
Five weeks ago, the Seminole Tribe of Florida took control of the management of the community and announced the June 30, 2013 closing of the residential community that was originally intended to operate until 2024. Within 24 hours of the STOF's public decision, all recreational amenities and meeting facilities were padlocked. Homeowners, already saddened and angered by the eviction, rendered even more powerless, robbed of any air-conditioned common space where they might commiserate and potentially gather strength to refute the act.

Fit-Mess: With pool and gym locked, residents now build muscle lifting boxes onto moving trucks and carrying parts of their home to the curb.

As the community unravels, some neighbors are sticking together. On one particular street, three homeowners are relocating to Sunshine Village in Davie. Diane Gannett is one of them. When I met Diane, she was up on the roof of her home dismantling her carport. Diane works full-time and deals with all the house stuff after hours and on weekends. She can't ask for anymore time off because long before the eviction was announced, she had reserved time off in November for her children's weddings.  Diane is in overdrive.
Diane Gannett: "They're tearing us apart."

Bud and John help Diane dismantle the shed addition.

Across the street, I see Marilyn looking out the sliding glass doors of her kitchen as a Bobcat takes aim at her front porch. When she comes out of her home, I walk over. Marilyn has lived at Seminole Estates for 41 years, and in her current 2005 Skyline home for five. Recently retired, she does not wish to stay in a place where she is no longer welcome and is motivated to get on with the next stage of her life at Sunshine Village. Marilyn gently stretches the neckline of her top a bit to reveal a tattoo. She says, "I thought about getting a tattoo for ten years and then in 20 minutes I had this one." Marilyn is a woman of action.
Marilyn will spend $2,500 at an extended stay hotel while her home is relocated. The hotel can accommodate her cats too.
Sounds of jack hammering fill the air as Marilyn's porch is about to go down.
Signs of exodus are not only evident in the rubble, they are literally staked into the ground as manufactured home communities in Broward and Palm Beach counties recruit homes for empty lots. Communities such as Coral Cay in Margate, Country Knolls in Pompano, and Rexmere Village in Davie are striking deals that lessen the financial burden on the displaced residents while simultaneously meeting lot occupancy needs. Coral Cay manager Eric Toledo is offering up to $25,000 for relocation plus a few other perks in exchange for each homeowner's promise to keep their home on the lot for 10 years. Homes must first pass inspection. So far Toledo has placed over 30 homes, one of which belongs to Kathy Maynard, the first Seminole Estate resident that I met and now a new friend.

Signs of mass exodus: Lakeshore has an office at Seminole Estates and offers complimentary shuttles to its Pompano Beach community twice a day.

While Diane, Marilyn, and Kathy are proactive and own homes built after 2000, there are plenty of others whose lives still hang in the unknown. Many of these folks own old homes (one of my favorites below) which are more prone to damage in a move. And some communities won't accept these older homes anyway. Tim Kirby, manager at Deerfield Lake in Coconut Creek, says "For us to move a home it has to be wind zone 3 and that means it has to be a 1995 or newer." Tim has placed 2 Seminole Estates homes in his community which was practically full to capacity at the time of the eviction.

At the pop-up Lakeshore Community office here at Seminole Estates, Bunnie is minding the desk. She is friendly and open. This is not her usual gig, but Bunnie is a seasoned land-leasing pro and now a self-confessed consoler.  "I listen, I feed them, and they usually leave in a better mind set. They're not angry at us," says Bunnie who assists people through the overwhelming process of moving a manufactured home. Bunnie continues, "I've seen it all, but nothing like this. These people are not beggars; they just need some help."

Monday, October 15, 2012


One month since getting notice of eviction, residents of Seminole Estates scramble to find alternate shelter while others count their losses. I continue to share their stories with the hope that anyone with legal knowledge, muscle, money and/or compassion can lend a hand to those in need of assistance greater tan the $3000 offered to those who qualify.

Sometime last week the weather shifted in South Florida.  The humidity is lower and delicious breezes are blowing. Fall is in the air. Last October, the residents of Seminole Estates were decorating their homes for Halloween. This year, few took the time because they just don't have it. They are too busy packing up their lives.

Jamie Doyle: "Fighting takes too much energy."
I meet up with Jamie Doyle as she is exercising Rambo on a little plot of grass near the entrance to the Estates. A security guard for the neighboring Seminole casino parks nearby and engages her for a few moments, giving his two cents about the situation. He describes the eviction as "being kicked to the curb." Jamie prefers not to get into it. She merely suggests that the Seminoles could have showed more compassion. She doesn't want to dwell in the negative; she's got to stay focused on figuring out her future. At this point she knows that any move will increase her living expenses by at least $200 a month.

Jamie tells Madame Michelle that she can sell the aluminum before she moves.

A box spring  now occupies Madame Michele's kitchen.
Madame Michele is also looking at a sizable rent increase. She is 76 years old and lives on social security. She was a former home care assistant and says she was often voted employee of the month. Between her heavy Haitian Creole accent and my poor French we communicated as best we can.
Madame takes a moment to give thanks.
She plans to get out of the park before the end of the month and has started turning her house upside down. Her son is not too well and she is doing most of the work herself. While she is certainly put out by the move, she holds strong to her faith. She has bad arthritis and wants to make sure she gets to her local doctors one last time before the move.

Darrell Coe is dismantling all the work he did on his home.
Darrell Coe is disassembling the carport on his 1975 mobile home. "You can never get it back right," he says hoping to get something for the scrap metal. He and his wife Carol bought their home in Seminole Estates 10 years ago for $26,000 and put roughly $12,000 into renovations. Darrell did most of the work himself.

Carol Coe: "We're hoping our house makes the trip."
Carol and Darrell will be out of the park on the 26th. Their home is being relocated 25 miles north to Highland Village in Pompano Beach and should be livable again within 6-7 weeks. They are not sure where they will stay for the duration but need to make a plan so they can continue working. Once resettled, their commute to work will be three times longer than it is now. Despite that change, the Coes are relieved that they finally found a community that would arrange to take their older model mobile.

Others are starting to take homes apart too. Unwanted furniture and piles of debris are common lawn ornament now. Via email Teri Vasterling writes, "Under cover of night and in whispers behind closed doors, folks are planning their move out of a place we once called 'home.' I'm not waving a white personal fight will continue after I make my escape."

Via email and personal visits, I am grateful to those sharing their stories with me and look forward to gathering more. Thank you.

Monday, October 1, 2012


Two weeks after an eviction was posted at Seminole Estates Mobile Home Park in Hollywood, Florida, residents are still reeling from the news. Some residents who leave and/or abandon their homes before December 31, 2012 qualify for $3,000 compensation. After January 1, 2013, United Management Corporation will start raising rents on those who stay.

The tribe claims that it is facing a housing shortage and needs land for its people.  People at the park believe that the Tribe has been calculating expansion of its casino and business properties.

Journalists rushed to cover the story when it broke, but have not been back to follow up. Florida politicians, out and about canvasing for votes, either ignore them or say that they can't help. These homeowners are not asking to stay, they are simply asking to be informed, acknowledged and to be treated decently. 

I continue to report on the recent eviction. This Saturday I was joined by good friend, photographer Ginny Dixon

Joan Huck: "There are people in worse circumstances. Some of the older people that have no family and nowhere to go are talking about committing suicide." (Photo: Ginny Dixon)
Joan Huck: "Where am I going to go and where am I going to get the money to get there?" (Photo: Ginny Dixon)
Joan Huck, 69, and her husband Daniel, 72, moved from Massachusetts to Hollywood Estates in 1999. They were planning theirr retirement and liked the mobile home park very much. It was gated, and quiet, and the lease went to 2024. After Wilma, they spent at least $10,000 on repairs and renovations. When she got news of the mobile home park eviction, she was in the middle of putting a new ceiling in the bedroom "It absolutely came out of left field," says Joan who is still in shock and wonders where she will go and how she is going to afford getting there. The only thing Joan knows for sure is that she won't be completing the ceiling.

By the mail room, Carole Vino and Teresa Daeder: "There were rumors. We heard it all, but we didn't believe it."
Doren Hollingsworth: "We were told in March that everything was OK. There was no buzz or gossip and this is a place where gossip is fruitful!"
Joan is not alone.  The park is filled with worry, fear, and that unsettling feeling of abandonment. Residents in the park are hungry for information, assistance, and time. "It's like they're lost. They barely know what's going on," says Doren Hollingsworth who has lived in the park for 9 years. With public gathering spots locked --  the clubhouse, pool, gym etc. -- friends congregate and commiserate in the street, on porches, and in the mail room. The mail room is apparently "the place" especially between 4 and 5:00 pm.

Kathy Maynard: "There is no doubt it was calculated. They did it so they wouldn't have to take calls. The next morning they fenced and locked the amenities. That just added insult to injury!"
It was in the mail room, after all, that news of the eviction broke a little over two weeks ago. It was Friday, September 14th, 2012 at 4:00 PM when a notice was posted in the Seminole Estates mail room. It read:
"In anticipation of the change in use of Tribal lands, formerly known as Seminole Estates, on the Hollywood Seminole Indian Reservation, the Seminole Tribe of Florida will not be renewing any Rental Permits at the mobile home park. Your current Rental Permit will terminate as of December 31, 2012. Subsequent to this date you will be required to vacate the premises and secure other living accommodations."
Lucy Sanchez (left) moved into the park 1 1/2 years ago. Her sister Betsy (center) also bought a house six months later. Gisela Bernal (right) is a paralegal who wants to help.
It was also in the mail room where Lucy Sanchez put up a flyer and called a meeting to order. "We are not asking to stay," she says, "We need more money for our trailers so at least we can go someplace. Just be reasonable." Lucy knows that there is more power in numbers. Joan Huck was inhere as were 50 other people. At the meeting, Lucy announced she would be seeing an attorney today.

Kathy Maynard: "I can't walk away from my house." (Photo: Ginny Dixon)
Many residents with homes too old to move wait and hope for some respectable compensation. Others like Kathy Maynard with younger homes are figuring out affordable ways to relocate. Kathy, who works full-time, has been dialing for a lifeline that won't drain her retirement savings. She seems to have found a lot large enough for her 64'L by 28"W c. 1999 home at Coral Cay in Margate. The only issue now is finding a rental to live in for the three month interim it will take to break down, transport, and tie down her home again. The relocation director at Coral Cay is working with her. Things are looking up for Kathy who owns 11 birds and is beginning to sleep again.

Thank you residents for letting me into your homes lives.