CONWAY, Ark. — Hundreds of Conway residents are worried about where they are going to live, because the owner of their mobile home park said he is shutting the whole thing down.
Brookside Village is the biggest mobile home park in Conway, but it will be empty come July 1. Residents found out when a letter arrived in their mailboxes this week telling them that all of them will be evicted.
“Shock,” Elizabeth Estrada said Wednesday, tears forming in her eyes as she recalled her reaction to reading the letter. “The first thing is shock because, I mean, you’ve been here for so many years.”
The letter showed up on Monday. Bruce Keathely, who owns the property, wrote that, “due to Conway Corporation increasing sewer and water rates, Brookside Village are ceasing operations effective June 30, 2019.”
“You have to, you know, keep your head up and start looking for solutions,” Estrada said. “And you have to be able to stay strong, especially for the kids. You don’t want your kids looking at you and being desperate, and not knowing what’s going to happen to their house, or if they’re going to go homeless in two months or not.”
City of Hope Outreach has started to help residents plan their moves. The non-profit has had a resource center on the premises since 2012, which includes an after-school program for children, English classes for Spanish-speaking adults, and more.
“I’ve had some of the same kids for the entire time that we’ve been here, and so, we really get to know the families really well,” said Mary Nabholz, Director of Educational Initiatives at Brookside Village for City of Hope Outreach.
Nabholz said families are experiencing the stages of grief as they cope with the reality that they are being forced to uproot their lives. “I think it’s going to be really difficult,” she added, “because several of these families have been here for a long period of time, and it’s really become, it’s a very family-oriented neighborhood.”
Estrada grew up in Brookside Village, and then bought her own place here to be closer to her family.
“You always can count on your neighbor,” she said. “Like, the kids. If you are not able to be here by the time your kid is supposed to be here, you can always, you know, call someone and ask them, ‘hey, can you pick them up?’ So, you know you can rely on someone.”
Estrada estimated that it will cost around $2,000 to move, if she is able to find another park nearby; more if she is forced to move outside Conway. But she mentioned that most parks have qualifying standards for mobile homes, and many people in Brookside Village have homes that are not sturdy enough to move.
“They have to leave everything behind and start all over again,” she stated. “Which, a lot of us are immigrants, so we already went through it. We know we can go, but it’s hard. Especially with the kids. It’s just hard. It’s just really hard.
“I started working, actually, today was my first day, so I can have a little extra income, so we can afford it. My mom is my babysitter because I have a three-year-old and she’s still not enrolled in school. So, now we’re going to have a little more expenses, because wherever she goes, I’m going to have to go and drop off my kid.”
Estrada said she and her neighbors had heard rumors over the last few years that the park might close, but that Keathely assured them each time that it would not.
“The main question that most of us have,” she said, “is: he charged $300 per month. It’s 113 homes. We were doing the math—and that’s just for the lot rent, not including what he gets paid for the homes that are being bought—it’s $33,000 monthly. If the water bill is the problem, why he doesn’t have enough money to pay. Like, how did that happen?”
Keathely did not respond to multiple requests from THV11 for a comment.
Estrada also said neighbors had been told that if Brookside Village did close, Keathely would give residents lots of advance notice. She feels like 11 weeks is a very short amount of time, given the difficulty of finding a new mobile home park or finding a new home entirely.
“If we would’ve known since the beginning of the year, we wouldn’t have this issue, because at least we had more months,” she said. “That’s all we’re asking for. I don’t know—we actually don’t know who to ask for more time. I don’t know if it’s, like, the City of Conway, or if it’s him, or the governor. We don’t know. We’re just asking for them to, just, please touch their hearts and let us have at least two more months.”
Manny Sepulveda owns a home in Brookside Village and works for the Arkansas Immigrant Integration Project. Since many of the residents in Brookside Village are immigrants, he said he feels a sense of responsibility to find a solution. But he believes the answer does not lie with the park or its residents.
“The City of Conway,” he began, who talks about economic development, that talks about not having more homeless, that talks about having more families move into the city to make it help grow, as well as Conway Corp, that is being blamed—and I don’t know the truth. I don’t know what really happened—is being blamed for the cause of closing this mobile home park.
“But, I can tell you this: it’s a very real possibility we’re going to have 20-25 homeless families come June 30th, and I think it’s an imperative, both on part of the city and on part of Conway Corporation to come together and see if something can be worked out.”
Nahbolz said several community partners have already pledged to help the residents. First Security Bank established a Brookside Family Fund, and anyone may donate at any First Security Bank branch, with all the money going to the residents.
City of Hope Outreach will host a community meeting at its office on the Brookside Village property Thursday at 7:00 p.m. Community supporters will be able to discuss the resources they can offer, and neighbors can plan their next steps.