Mobile park residents threatened with eviction so Jackson County can build its new jail
Residents of Heart Mobile Village were required to relocate by February so the county could move forward with a new detention center. While Jackson County allocated about $2.5 million to help residents relocate, some say officials haven't lived up to their promises.
Current and former residents of a mobile home park that’s being cleared for a new detention center appeared at Monday’s Jackson County Legislature meeting to criticize officials for what they see as the mishandling and mismanagement of their forced displacement.
Last summer, more than 100 households located at Heart Mobile Village in eastern Jackson County received notice that the county purchased the land for $7 million to build a new jail and that all residents would have to relocate by the end of February.
In response, and with the help of tenant union KC Tenants, a number of residents demanded that the county fully compensate residents for moving, issue $10,000 cash payments separate from compensation packages and cancel rent payments.
The county agreed to some of those demands, and in August, the Legislature approved spending $1.7 million to cover relocation costs and financial assistance, and voted to cancel rent payments until February. That plan also included providing $10,000 in housing assistance to each household and establishing a partnership with the nonprofit Community Services League to help residents with relocation.
The county has spent about $1.3 million in relocation payments to residents, which includes relocation assistance and costs associated with moving tenants or acquiring old trailers, according to a county report. As of the end of February, 75 residents had been relocated, with 26 more about to move. Four did not have final relocation plans, according to the report.
In February, as the deadline for relocating neared, the county approved spending another $800,000 to assist with relocation services for the remaining 31 residents who still lived at Heart Mobile Village.
But some former and current residents of the mobile home park say they haven’t received full compensation from the county or adequate support to move. Others are now facing eviction.
They’re demanding that the county issue full compensation for the remaining residents, including a relocation plan, the end of all eviction proceedings and an audit of the money the county has spent in relocation assistance.
Rob Jennings, a resident still living at Heart Mobile Village, told legislators that he has been threatened with eviction and didn’t receive a payment from the county until mid-March.
“And then I was told to get out three days later,” Jennings said. “It hadn't even cleared my bank.”
When Jennings began looking for a new place to live, he tore his meniscus and underwent surgery. As a result of that injury, and the stress of having to move, Jennings said he doesn’t have control of his life anymore.
He asked the Legislature for more money to support his move.
“‘We'll put you in a new place and you'll have 10,000 bucks in the bank,’ is what I was told,” Jennings said. “And now I'm crippled for life. And my life's turned upside down and I'm stuck here.”
Zoila Guzman, a disabled resident who doesn’t qualify for benefits, said that Heart Mobile Village has been the only place that’s felt safe for her.
“I need a house to live, and because I don't qualify for benefits, I don't have any place to go because every place I've applied, they've declined me,” Guzman said. “What am I gonna do?”
Vietnam War veteran Urban Schaefer lived at Heart Mobile Village with his family for nearly seven years before moving in late January to Excelsior Springs, Missouri. Now, Schaefer is fighting an eviction notice filed against him last week.
“I've worked for the past several years building my credit back up. … And every time somebody files an eviction, it goes on your credit report and it ruins you,” Schaefer said. “If I decide to move where I'm at now, they're gonna see an eviction on the record and they're not gonna rent to me. And I've never been evicted anywhere.”
Schaefer criticized the Legislature for a string of broken promises. He said he didn’t receive any monetary compensation, nor was a handicap ramp built for him to get in and out of his home. He said he only received a used trailer from the county.
“They said I'd have no out-of-pocket expenses,” Schaefer said. “I've had over $2,000 of out of pocket expenses. They're supposed to build me a handicap ramp. It's never been built. My electric scooter I’m supposed to get around in has been sitting outside for three months and it's ruined.”