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Almeda Fire survivors to form first resident-owned manufactured home park in the Rogue Valley

Community Center Talent Mobile Estates.jpg
Coalición Fortaleza
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Facebook
Alberta Villa (center) at a community event where future members of the Talent Mobile Estates cooperative brainstorm ideas for how they want the park to be rebuilt.

When the Almeda fire displaced thousands of people in September 2020, one affected community came up with an ambitious plan to buy a manufactured home park together. After nearly two years of effort, they're closer than ever to reaching their goal.

Two years after the Almeda Fire, Talent Mobile Estates looks more like a parking lot than a neighborhood. Most of the manufactured home park is made up of long, gravel spaces where homes used to be. Several RVs sit next to the row of manufactured homes that didn’t burn in the fire.

Alberta Villa was living at Talent Mobile Estates when the fire burned down her home. More than anything, she misses the relationships she had with her neighbors.

"We had some neighbors that had cactus, and he would share it with us. I had another neighbor who had beautiful plants. Every house was beautiful. Every one of them," Villa said.  

A month after the Almeda Fire destroyed around 2,300 homes, roughly 70 people in once tight-knit community packed themselves into a local high school gym.

Many of them had just lost everything they owned in the fire. Erica Ledesma, a community leader and co-founder of the local nonprofit Coalición Fortaleza, was at the meeting. They were trying to figure out how they were going to rebuild their neighborhoods when a community elder had the idea to buy land together.

"At that moment everyone’s like, 'Yeah!' Someone pulled out a calculator. Everyone was trying to figure out how much money was in the room," Ledesma recalled.

They left feeling inspired. Ledesma soon learned the resident-owned community, or the ROC model, was a perfect fit.

Alberta Villa where her home used to be.jpg
Noah Camuso
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JPR News
Alberta Villa walking in the empty lot where her home used to be at Talent Mobile Estates.

Normally at a manufactured home park, residents own their home but lease the lot it sits on — they’re at the mercy of the park owners. By owning the land as a community, they can live in the park for life without worrying about rent hikes or the land being repurposed. They make decisions based on what’s best for the community, instead of being motivated by profit.

Ledesma and her best friend Niria Garcia teamed up with a local nonprofit called the Community and Shelter Assistance Corporation, or CASA of Oregon, to buy a manufactured home park. For a long time, they didn’t think it was actually going to happen.

“We really kept this a secret. People knew we were working on it, but we didn’t want to give that hope yet,” Ledesma said.  

After years of going back-and-forth with the owner of Talent Mobile Estates, CASA finally purchased the park with a $7.5 million loan from the state. The organization will hold the park until it can be transferred to the residents.

Ledesma says they were all together when the purchase finally when through.

“She got the phone call and we were there in Talent. She walked in and she’s like 'It recorded! It sold! We’re finally the owners!'" Ledesma said. "We were just so happy.” 

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Noah Camuso
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Ledesma created this poster for her community after the Almeda fire. Translated, "sanaremos juntos" means: "we will heal together."

Talent Mobile Estates will be the 23rd manufactured home park that CASA of Oregon has helped transition to community-ownership, and the first in the Rogue Valley.

Not only will this give 89 households who were displaced by the Almeda fire an affordable and stable place to live, but they’ll also get to decide how the neighborhood will be rebuilt. To Villa, this means the community can speak up about their needs.

“Even if we don’t know English, we’re going to be heard," Villa said. "That’s the difference.”

According to Rose Ojeda at CASA of Oregon, buying Talent Mobile Estates was a unique situation.

“First we had, unfortunately, the wildfire destroying so many mobile home parks in Jackson County. And then, of course, so many of these mobile parks were filled with both seniors and immigrant households,” Ojeda said.

Some people who were living at Talent Mobile Estates before the fire have decided not to come back. Those who do want to return will have the opportunity to join the cooperative first.

One priority for Ledesma is bringing back the sense of community that so many people love about manufactured home parks.

“People like living in manufactured homes. I know people are like, they call it trashy. But people that come here from Mexico, they live in small villages where they know each other, in small pueblos. It’s that sense of home,” she said.

Alberta Villa says she believes the park can still come back bigger and better than before.

“Just seeing it like this, it’s like a rebirth. There’s still hope for brighter days ahead.” Villa said.

Two years later, many fire victims are still displaced. CASA's purchase of Talent Mobile Estates this year was a major milestone, but the park won’t be finished for several more years. Villa says she can’t wait to come home and feel the sense of community they had before.

Noah is a broadcast journalist and podcast producer who was born and raised in Salem, Oregon. He came to Jefferson Public Radio through the Charles Snowden Program of Excellence after graduating with a BS in journalism from the University of Oregon. In his spare time, Noah enjoys backpacking, scuba diving and writing music.