Maine ROCs illustrate potential impact of PRICE fund to congressional staffers

Three Maine ROCs hosted tours this fall to highlight infrastructure needs and the importance of the PRICE Fund, which would give ROCs access to federal funding to complete costly infrastructure repair projects.

Congressional staffers toured Mountainside Community Cooperative in Camden; Wardtown Mobile Home Cooperative in Freeport, and Sunset Terrace Mobile Home Cooperative in Rockland, where Board Members highlighted their communities’ infrastructure issues in real time.

“I think the ROC leaders really made the case and showed how much blood, sweat and tears, as well as time and dedication that they all put into their communities,” said Aliza Levine, cooperative development specialist with Cooperative Development Institute, the ROC USA Network affiliate in Maine and four other New England states. “In these communities, there are some infrastructure challenges that need more investment. And a little bit of investment can help these communities be sustainable for the next 50 years.”

When manufactured home communities become resident owned communities, homeowners inherit similar what cities and towns consistently face on a larger scale – aging sewage systems and water pipes, large trees with the potential to damage homes, and worn roadways in need of re-paving.

In Wardtown Mobile Home Cooperative in Freeport, which became a ROC in 2015, sewer lines and water pipes need to be replaced along with well updates, a new electrical board and street repaving. Board President Carol Hodgkins said the sewage pipes are not up to code.

“When they laid the pipes, they should have put sand under them. Instead of sand, they put rocks underneath, so over time, the rocks have started to puncture the pipes. When we have an immediate problem, we repair it, so the pipes are up to code, but it’s kind of like putting Band-Aids on,” Hodgkins said. “Band-Aids take care of a little but eventually the seepage starts again.”

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Margaret Jones (Green shirt), Board President at Mountainside Community Cooperative leads discussion with (from left) Joe Cicirelli, director NEROC Program Cooperative Development Institute; Dan Hardcastle, senior advisory to Secretary Housing and Urban Development Marcia Fudge; Ali Solis, owner of Solis Strategic Solutions; Melissa Mullineaux, Cooperative Development Specialist in Maine for Cooperative Development Institute; and Jon Duffy, Board Operations for Mountainside Community Cooperative.

Hodgkins said a combination of Maine’s climate, the amount of ledge found underground and time have contributed to the long-term maintenance problems that the community now faces. She shared this information with the congressional staffers when they toured the community.

“I think they were surprised at the amount of knowledge we have,” Hodgkins said. “I don’t know if they were surprised at the amount of work that needs to be done, I think they did their research, but to put a face to it, makes it totally different, it makes if more human.”

Sunset Terrace Mobile Home Cooperative in Rockland needs a water main replacement, stormwater management repairs, repaving and removal of dangerous trees, which could cost about $1 million. The 76-home community was purchased in 2016 and a water main that supplies half of the community needs to be replaced. While the community has money in its budget for repairs, if that water main bursts, it could decimate the community’s reserves.

“That’s going to wipe our budget completely off the map,” said Board President George Krise. “If we could secure half a million dollars, replace the water main, and if it’s fixed correctly, it could last 30 years minimum, and we could move and use that $80,000 in our reserves to make smaller repairs.”

Mountainside Community has a unique set of needs. Because it does not tie into Camden’s sewer system, a tanker truck pumps sewage from a 26,000-gallon concrete holding tank every day, and then a driver hauls it nearly three miles to a wastewater facility in town. The truck is more than 15 years old, is starting to rust and the driver who has been hauling the sewage since before Mountainside became a ROC in 2019 is unable to drive. Additionally, the holding tank is 50 years old and two decades past its prime.

“When we purchased Mountainside, we had an engineering study done on the sewer lines,” said Board President Margaret Jones. “We were aware it needed to be done, but it would not have been fixed when we became a ROC. It was a unique situation, and we had no place to hook up to the town’s sewer. The town wasn’t willing to talk to us about that at the time. But in the last three years, we have made some progress, and we are working with the town and the wastewater department.”

The 52-home community needs a complete sewer system replacement, a water pipe replacement and re-paving to the tune of $3.5 million.

The tours of all three ROCS in Maine is an on-going effort to encourage government officials to support the PRICE fund, a $500 million grant specific to resident owned communities as well as talk to the homeowners about infrastructure issues. All three board presidents felt like they were heard.

“It’s so much better when people can see and touch things,” Jones said. “They came and were interested in what they saw and understood that these are real people. Taxpayers. These are voters. These are families like yours and mine and they need help, and they are a big part of affordable housing in the United States today.”