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Morehead Mobile Home Park Residents Sue City After Displacement

Some judges are releasing young people facing charges to protect them from the spread of COVID-19.
Airman 1st Class Joseph Barron
A gavel rests inside the court room of the 100th Air Refueling Wing base legal office at RAF Mildenhall, England, May 28, 2019. The attorneys in the legal office offer commanders legal advice and also provide services like notaries, power of attorneys, wills and legal assistance to Team Mildenhall. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Joseph Barron)

Former residents of Morehead’s North Fork Mobile Home Park are suing the city after a local measure paved the way for their mass eviction earlier this year. 

Seven of more than 50 people who lost their homes will go before a judge on Tuesday in an effort to uphold a lawsuit to reverse the city-established measure that led to their displacement. Attorneys representing the city are trying to get the case dismissed.

In 2020, local Morehead and Rowan County officials created a tax increment financing ━ or TIF━  district around the North Fork Mobile Home Park. TIFs incentivize new developments in an area by letting builders keep some of the money generated by increased property and occupation taxes there.

In this case, the developer, Polo LLC, will get about $10 million in taxpayer money over the next 30 years.

Ben Carter is senior litigation and advocacy counsel with the Kentucky Equal Justice Center. He’s representing the former residents in court on Tuesday.

“They passed this law in violation of both substantive and procedural protections that are in place to make sure that city officials do not give away the seed corn,” Carter said.

Carter said his clients aren’t looking for damages. They don’t want to see the city give developers taxpayer money for what they call short-term gains. The original lawsuit outlines that the City of Morehead violated state law and the Kentucky Constitution in ways including:

  • A lack of consideration for the effects of displacement 
  • Mischaracterizing the area in question to pass an ordinance creating the TIF district.
  • Insufficient notice of the locality’s timeline. 

Carter added that approach disenfranchises people who’ve lived there for generations. 

“The people who are also harmed are the kids who are going to go to Rowan County Schools in 20 years, and won't have that tax revenue that lawmakers decided to forego back in 2020,” Carter said. 

Manufactured homes are one of the few remaining options for low-income homeownership. But residents face a high chance of displacement, since they don’t usually own the land their homes sit on. 

Michael Harrington is a social justice advocate in Morehead. He and Carter said moving the homes is costly and risks damage.

“We call these structures, we call them mobile homes. But in reality, they're not very mobile most of the time,” Harrington said. 

“Between the cost of moving the mobile home itself, hiring someone to move it, preparing to have the mobile home moved ━ disconnect the sewer and water, remove the skirt all of that stuff, and then get new utility connections at your new mobile home park that can all run more than $10,000,” Carter said. 

For residents who could afford to successfully move them. They face slim chances of being accepted into new communities. In Morehead and Rowan County, mobile home communities can’t accept houses built before 1995. 

Carter said those who couldn’t afford to move their homes end up selling them and now face the financial burden of having to find housing that meets their budgetary needs. 

“Take Sue Hamilton, for example, who used to pay $175 in lot rent,” Carter said. “She sold her mobile home for a few thousand dollars because she couldn't find anywhere else to move it ━ and moved into an apartment that she now pays upwards of $900 for. That’s $800 a month in additional housing costs for an apartment that has one fewer bedroom and one fewer bathroom.”

That’s another downside of not owning the land parcels under the mobile homes, Carter said, they quickly lose their value. They get titled as vehicles, through the Department of Motor Vehicles. So, owners avoid a traditional mortgage but relinquish the protections that come with it. 

“The owners of mobile home parks do not have to provide any more notice to people who own their mobile homes and who have lived there for 20 years than they do if they were renting an apartment to a college student,” Carter said. He added mobile home park owners aren’t required to give residents advanced notice. 

The hearing will take place in the Rowan County Circuit Court at 9:00 a.m. Tuesday. After that, residents are hosting a rally to commemorate the first hurdle in the judicial process. They’ll gather at the Carl Perkins Center in Morehead at 12:00 p.m..