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Thursday, Jan. 4, 2007 01:01 am

Trailer park trashed

City official sells property — and now tenants face homelessness

Tim Farley
Untitled Document Mike Markberry has a tall pole with an American flag flapping above his residence at the Applegrove Mobile Home Park. He has a deck built over his storage shed and a big barbecue smoker conveniently situated just outside his door. Three years ago, his friends and relatives added a wooden wheelchair ramp so Markberry could get around after having both legs amputated. In a few weeks, however, Markberry will leave the trailer that has been his home for 12 years. He has no idea where he’ll go, only that he must “quit and deliver up possession of the premises” to his new landlord. Like the rest of the homeowners in Applegrove, Markberry received written notice on Dec. 28 that the park had been sold and that the new owner, Brian Jay Shirley, wants all trailers gone by Feb. 1. “It’s not that easy to get up,” says Markberry, a military veteran and retired cook. “I’m in a wheelchair, I’ve got no legs
. . . it kinda bites a little.”
Other tenants are also upset. Most of the nine trailers remaining at Applegrove (several were destroyed by one of the March 2006 tornadoes) are occupied by low-income owners. Their homes are mobile in name only — every unit in Applegrove is at least a decade old, and some, like Markberry’s, date back to the 1960s. Moving these older modules could cause them to crumble. Furthermore, most mobile-home parks accept only newer trailers.  “You’re looking at 10 or 11 families that are soon to be without homes,” says Amanda Adair, a 27-year-old Mel-O-Creme worker who lives at Applegrove with her boyfriend and their 13-month-old baby. “You’ve got everything from disabled to elderly to people living on Social Security. It’s quite a mess over here right now. Everybody is angry and upset; nobody knows where they’re going to go or what they’re going to do.”
The previous landlord, Tim Farley, says he sold the property on Dec. 15 believing that the new owner, Shirley, intended to replace the old trailers with newer models. But Applegrove residents say that the woman who delivered the 30-day notice told them the new park owner doesn’t plan to continue operating the property as a trailer park. Shirley did not return messages left with several associates Tuesday afternoon. Illinois law specifies that tenants must receive at least 12 months’ notice before being forced to vacate a mobile-home park when a landlord decides to cease operations. Farley, who works for the city of Springfield as executive director of the Convention and Visitors Bureau, has owned the park since 1986 and says he no longer had the time or money to maintain the property.
“I didn’t sell for any particular reason other than it was time for me to get out because I couldn’t do all those people right out there,” Farley says. “I sold it for less than I paid for it 20 years ago.”
He says he had trouble collecting rent and utility payments and had to remove three damaged trailers and a small house after the tornado. “That’s kind of what killed me,” he says.
Applegrove resident Colt Farley’s trailer was destroyed by the tornado, but Farley (no relation to his former landlord) received more than $6,000 in FEMA funds and added some of his own money to put a new roof, new floors, and new drywall in his home. Now, the 22-year-old drywall contractor says, the trailer may be worthless because it can’t be moved.
 “I wish somebody had told me this before I spent all that money,” he says. Tim Farley says that Colt Farley was behind on his rent but acknowledges that other tenants — such as Markberry, Adair, and the park’s longest-term resident, handyman Greg Kile — paid their $140-per-month lot payment plus about $60 in utilities “like clockwork.”
“I do feel bad about Mike [Markberry]. He’s a great guy, and there’s a few other ones I feel terrible about,” Farley says. “But I can’t carry people forever. . . . It was just time for me to move on.” 

Contact Dusty Rhodes at drhodes@illinoistimes.com.
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