published Monday, June 9th, 2014

Chickamauga trailer park residents told to leave; they say they're victims of gentrification

Raymond Eugene Stancel, left, talks with Jennifer McBee outside of her mobile home at Mobile Home Village on Lee Avenue in Chickamauga.
Raymond Eugene Stancel, left, talks with Jennifer McBee outside of her mobile home at Mobile Home Village on Lee Avenue in Chickamauga.
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    Many homes are boarded up at Chestnut Hills Mobile Home Park on Lee Avenue in Chickamauga.
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    An electrical outlet sticks out of the wall in Jennifer McBee's mobile home at Mobile Home Village on Lee Avenue in Chickamauga.
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    A nonworking central heat and air unit is openly visible in Jennifer McBee's mobile home at Mobile Home Village on Lee Avenue in Chickamauga.
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CHICKAMAUGA, Ga. — Stacy Brown needs to find affordable housing soon within walking distance of his job at the Shaw Industries carpet backing plant in Chickamauga.

That's because the mobile home park where Brown pays $100 a week to rent a single-wide trailer is being sold, and all of its residents have to move out by July 31.

"I can't move far. I don't drive," he said. "I have to stay pretty close."

Brown and other residents have heard the same talk: That a local foundation plans to buy the 100-space, 16-acre mobile home park on both sides of Lee Avenue, one of the gateways to historic downtown Chickamauga, and build a recreational park with tennis courts and a pool that the foundation will give to the city.

Some park residents feel that Chickamauga, which may get a gated community built on the site of the soon-to-be-demolished century-old Crystal Springs fabric mill, is getting gentrified and others will be happy to see the 1970s-era mobile home park gone.

"They'll just look at you like you're trash," said Jennifer McBee, of the glances she gets as she walks through town.

Residents readily admit that the park, which once had 74 mobile homes for rent and 20 lots for tenants with their own mobile homes, is run down. Drug busts have been made there. They say the rental trailers had such problems as leaky roofs, missing drywall and failed air conditioning. Most of the rental trailers were boarded up recently and bore "no trespassing" signs.

But the remaining residents wonder whether they'll be able to find similarly low-priced housing in Chickamauga, population about 3,100.

"There's not that much to rent down here in Chickamauga," said one renter who declined to give his name.

Raymond Eugene Stancel, a 68-year-old retiree, said he was able to find a place to rent nearby.

"I got lucky," he said.

McBee, a 22-year-old lifelong Walker County resident who is seven months pregnant, said she and her boyfriend, Coty McKee, are looking for another place, but it's difficult.

"I don't have a vehicle," she said. "So it's kind of hard for me to get out."

Cornerstone Community Bank in Chattanooga bought the mobile home park called Chestnut Hills on the west side of Lee Avenue and Mobile Home Village on the east side at a 2012 foreclosure auction. The bank's attorney has sent 60-day notices to vacate to the 23 renters and eight tenant-owned mobile homes.

The bank offers a $1,000 bonus to residents who move out by July 1. Tenants who are current on their rent are eligible for $500 for moving expenses, $250 assistance with utility deposits and help coordinating their move.

"We have it under contract for sale now and have given notice to all the residents there," bank spokeswoman Charlotte Lindeman said. "The bank is not in the business of owning or running rental properties."

Lindeman declined to say who is buying the mobile home park.

City Manager Michael Haney said the city isn't buying the property, and he only heard that residents had been told to vacate when some of them mentioned it as they came in to pay city bills.

"We have no control over what's going on with it," said Haney, the former city police chief. "That trailer park has steadily declined over the years."

Steve Thomas said he moved in about six years ago to do maintenance work for the park's former owner, Rick Johnson.

"He got cancer and died, and everything went haywire from there," Thomas said.

Thomas, who has debilitating health problems, hopes he and his girlfriend can find a place in Chickamauga so the 6-year-old grandson they are raising can stay in the city school system. He wishes he had more notice, so they had more time to save up for a new place.

"I wish they could have gave us a little more notice," Thomas said, "but I guess that's life."

Contact staff writer Tim Omarzu at tomarzu@timesfreepress.com or twitter.com/TimOmarzu or 423-757-6651.

about Tim Omarzu...

Tim Omarzu covers education for the Times Free Press. Omarzu is a longtime journalist who has worked as a reporter and editor at daily and weekly newspapers in Michigan, Nevada and California.

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