Park Plaza Cooperative: Embodying Diversity and Cooperation in Resident Ownership

Community tour put spotlight on ROC’s many successes

FRIDLEY, Minn. – A mural of yellow, blue and green handprints along with flags from across the world decorate a long wall inside Park Plaza Cooperative’s storm shelter. The flags and the pairs of high fives represent more than geography and children’s palm prints – they embody diversity and collaboration, fortitude and tenacity, and a better together attitude. Those words area also painted inside of a Kelly-green mural on the opposite wall.

This colorful and welcoming building also serves as the cooperative’s community center and a gathering place for nearly 30 people last week. They sat at long tables covered in bright tablecloths, chatting and smiling. Homeowners mingled with city officials and state leaders, industry professionals, ROC leaders, nonprofits and ROC USA staff. In the middle of all of it was Natividad Seefeld, Board president at Park Plaza – a homeowner who became an activist when she and her neighbors purchased Park Plaza in 2011. 

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“You can’t do this alone,” Seefeld said. “Including city, county, state, mayor is so important. If you have issues and are butting heads, it won’t work. You have to stay open-minded and work with them.”

Park Plaza is a 97-home community in Fridley, a 20-minute drive north of Minneapolis. It’s one of 13 resident owned communities in Minnesota and is located across the street from a manufactured home community that is not resident owned. Their rent is $960 per month while Park Plaza’s is 43 percent less at $545 per month. Prior to purchase, like most manufactured home communities, residents of Park Plaza owned their homes but not the land beneath them. This arrangement leaves homeowners vulnerable to rent increases and eviction, a risk that can increase when the properties are put on the market. By purchasing the property themselves, homeowners now vote on major decisions like community rules, infrastructure projects and site fees.

“Part of why it’s important to make so many connections, is that you don’t know what you don’t know,” said Sam Estes, Community Projects Coordinator at Northcountry Cooperative Foundation, a Certified Technical Assistance Provider (CTAP) and one of 10 nonprofit organizations performing this kind of community development activity around the country. Together, they have facilitated 326 resident purchases in 21 states. “You make connections that open doors, and you can find more information about funding and opportunity. Natividad does a great job at that.”

Park Plaza is a shining example of how resident ownership works when local, state and national leaders support sustainable and affordable homeownership. And how energized people, energize people.

“These informal connections are so beneficial,” said Fridley Mayor Scott Lund. “From where I stand, this is a great example of a community being able to fend for themselves. I think it’s a real positive and they are more invested as a cooperative. Natividad is a bulldog and believes in perseverance.”

“I talk about this a lot as a model,” said Mandy Meisner, Anoka County Commissioner who represents Fridley and estimates that there are 26 manufactured home communities in the county. “One of the biggest barriers is there’s not more of you.”

“Everything in your path, you make better.”

– Josh Nguyen, Minnesota Housing

“Everything in your path, you make better,” said Josh Nguyen, communications specialist with Minnesota Housing, the state’s financing agency that has supported resident ownership across Minnesota. “You have such an impact on people.”

“It doesn’t work without strong resident leadership,” said Paul Bradley, President of ROC USA. “What’s happening here is a great example of what’s happening across the country. It happens with partnership at a local level, and it takes a village.”

If energized people energize people, and if leadership is one of the most important factors of running a successful manufactured home community, Seefeld is the prime example. She stands about 5 feet tall with long, curly hair, a contagious smile and a hug for anyone she meets. She is referenced multiple times throughout the tour as a “bulldog,” a term of endearment that describes her work ethic and ability to get things done. She makes connections easily and has the ability to put her ego aside to make decisions for the greater good of the community – one she deeply loves and cares about. She beams with pride when she talks about her community. Pointing to the colorful murals painted on the wall, handprints and flags, she not only knows where her neighbors are originally from – Bosnia, Mexico, Sweden, Italy – she also knows their stories. There are single moms and single dads, new families and some who have lived in the community for more than 20 years.

On a cool Thursday morning, Seefeld led the group through Park Plaza. A car dealership’s overflow parking lot divides the community in half, but Seefeld is not deterred by that division. She knows all of her neighbors and is determined one day for her community to own that dividing portion of land. While walking to the other side of Park Plaza, she points out the new fencing, the playground, her daughter’s purple house and the site of a community garden – highlighting that because 80 percent of the community is Hispanic, there are a lot of tomatoes and jalapenos grown for salsa.

She points out the community’s office and talks about a property manager – who does not live in the community but comes in a few times per week to manage the ROC’s finances. It’s an important part of the ROC’s ecosystem.

“An active Board, a good project manager and an active TA,” said Michael Sloss, Managing Director, ROC USA Capital. “Those three things have to work together. If one is missing, a mark will be missed and will put the community at risk.”

During the tour, participants walked through a new home that’s for sale for $116,900. It’s a beautiful two-bedroom, two-bathroom, open floor plan home with a deck off the front and back. And this home, too, seems to come from connection and collaboration. Donna Kisor, manufactured home specialist with Home Source, Inc., who brought the home into the community, knows a ROC Leader from neighboring Richfield, Minn.

“She referred me to Natividad,” Kisor said. 

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While leadership is important, peer-to-peer networking is equally as important and what works at one ROC can most often work at another one. Good ROC leaders know to lean on other Members across the Network for ideas.

About a year and a half ago, Eric Jensen from Solar by Us, connected with Park Plaza after the Clean Energy Resource Teams (CERTS) recommended them to Jensen. He was interested in bringing solar to manufactured home communities and specifically to the new home at Park Plaza.

“You drive around and houses in Minnesota have solar but manufactured homes don’t,” Jensen said. “It’s interesting and feels like there is something here that is overlooked.”

Because of HUD restrictions and the specific roofing used in manufactured homes, installing solar panels has become a challenge, Jensen said.

“There is barrier after barrier, and it seems like you can’t do it until you figure out how to do it and then it’s solar for the whole community,” he said. “I’m inspired by this group of people because they are constantly figuring it out.”