Residents of the Midfield Mobile Home Park have gathered over 1,400 signatures on their petition to try and save the park
A petition started by residents of the Midfield Mobile Home Park has more than 1,400 signatures on their petition asking the City of Calgary to sharply improve their compensation for the shutdown of the park and the eviction of the residents.
The petition is asking for the City of Calgary and the Calgary Housing Corporation to honour their 2012 "Go Forward Strategy" commitment to build and move them to a new mobile home park, or pay the 306 residents a "full replacement value buyout." Of the 306 total residents, there are 104 seniors and seven veterans who live in Midfield, according to the Midfield Mobile Home Park's website.
Although the petition has received a fair amount of support, Cindy MacDonald — the person behind the petition — said she feels that there is still more work to be done. MacDonald said she feels a lot of Calgarians are not even aware of the petition or the situation in Midfield, and she's disappointed by the city and Calgarians for what she feels is a lack of empathy thus far.
"We're human beings here, and we're standing to lose everything," said MacDonald. "We haven't given up, but we don't know where to turn."
As reported in the Calgary Herald on April 13, 2015, Mike Smith (also known as Bubbles) of the Sunnyvale Trailer Park, and the hit Canadian show Trailer Park Boys is using his celebrity status to try and help the residents of the Midfield Mobile Home Park and bring attention to the issue.
In a tweet directed at Mayor Nenshi, Smith asked the mayor to "pls (sic) stop destroying homes and lives in Midfield park #yyc Trailer parks need to look out for one another!"
In a telephone interview, Councillor Gian-Carlo Carra said that the situation was a very complex and fragile situation and that "the mainstream media had not been doing a very good job covering the situation." However, Councillor Carra made it clear that he was endeavoring to help the residents of Midfield, but that he also needed to take into account the needs of the city.
"The situation of Midfield keeps me up at night. I am working as hard as I can with the private sector to help the residents [of Midfield]," said Councillor Carra. "The deal for the residents is very fair."
The petition comes after a decade-long saga of brinksmanship between the city and the residents of Midfield, located at 954 16th Ave. N.E. The success of the petition is a welcome sight for the residents who, over the last decade, have faced threats of closure, changed plans, and broken promises that have left some residents in serious distress and has prompted others to abandon Midfield entirely, leaving their homes to be demolished.
The residents of Midfield and the City of Calgary are in an awkward position; the city owns the land that Midfield sits on, but the residents own their homes and pay rent to the city within the range of $300 to $600 dollars a month, depending on if residents are on a rental subsidy.
"We purchased our little home here at Midfield a short 3 years ago," writes Ginette Aubin on the petition page, "We chose to be a part of this small community in order to be closer to other family members who also live in the park and who have made this their home for over 30 years."
"I am saddened and worried about what our future holds for not only us but all others who also call this community 'home.'"
"For most, this is really all they have. This is their home – this is their life. They – we deserve a secure future, as does everyone," finishes Aubin.
Shutting down Midfield
In an official letter sent out by the City of Calgary in May 2014, residents of the Midfield Mobile Home Park were told the park would be shut down Sept. 30, 2017. The city said residents, before that date, must find other places to live, or move their mobile homes to other locations.
To compensate Midfield residents, the city offered a maximum amount of $20,000 per home; $10,000 in direct compensation, and a further reimbursement for a homeowner to demolish or relocate their home, up to a maximum of $10,000. This is less than half of what some residents say is the value of their homes and well below what residents say it will cost them to move their homes. The Calgary Housing Company, the managers of the park property, have also promised financial and relocation counselling for residents.
City officials said the park's infrastructure, including failing water lines, is too expensive for the city to fix and maintain. As well, a new development may be planned on the park site as part of a city development strategy.
Shirley Evans, a retired grandmother of two and the self-proclaimed "Queen of Midfield", is among the Midfield residents distressed by their experiences with the city. When Evans and her husband Garry bought their Midfield home, they spent $65,000.
"Ten thousand dollars [in compensation] is not going to cut it," Evans said "What are you going to do, leave us out on the street? We're old now and you don't care about us anymore? Well, I feel that way."
Evans said she is always worried about what will happen to her community, her friends, and herself when the eviction date arrives. She said she does not know what she will do, especially given the lack of affordable housing in the city.
"We want to be stable. We want a home. It's not a big fancy home, it's a tiny little mobile. It's two bedrooms. We're happy. It's for our retirement," Evans said.
The history of Midfield
The Midfield Mobile Home Park was opened by the city in 1970 and the city began to look into Midfield's waste and water networks in the early 2000s, but it was not until July 27, 2005 that representatives from the city's administration met with the residents of Midfield to discuss what the officials described as the deteriorating infrastructure.
The Calgary Herald reported at the time that there had been about 20 water main breaks at the park over the previous 20 years, each break costing an average of $40,000 to repair. The Herald also said the city estimated it would cost $5 million to maintain the infrastructure in the park over the next 25 years.
Midfield is situated on a plot of land just outside of Calgary's city centre. The inner-city mobile home park sits on an area that overlooks the Fox Hollow golf course and Deerfoot Trail.
The Calgary Housing Company said in an email interview that the land will be redeveloped as "a commercial corridor for mixed residential commercial and office uses."
The Calgary Herald argued in an editorial published June 27, 2006 that, "In a place that's growing as quickly as Calgary, it's unrealistic to maintain a publicly owned trailer park in the heart of the inner city. From an economic point of view, [the] Midfield Mobile Home [Park] is poor use of prime real estate and does little to help the overall shortage of affordable housing"
But Midfield residents say the park isn't just a 'trailer park' in the middle of the city. It is a place to call home and a community that cannot be simply uprooted and moved away.
In a letter dated June 2010 that was addressed to Harvey Deary, then head of the Midfield residents' co-operative, Marc Henry said it would cost between $13.1 million to $16.2 million to replace the infrastructure in Midfield.
On March 15, 2006, city officials had a second meeting with the residents of Midfield to go over six options the city had come up with. The options included continuing to maintain the mobile home park, replacing the infrastructure, relocating the park to a new site, selling the park to the Midfield Cooperative Association, selling the park to a private park owner or closing it down.
The city, unsure of the structural integrity of the water mains, and the residents, who were hesitant to relocate their homes, could not find an option at the 2006 meeting that was ideal for both.
Buying back Midfield
In an attempt to secure their future, the Midfield Cooperative tried to purchase the park from the city. Rudy Prediger, current president of the Midfield Cooperative, said they were originally told it would cost $7 million to buy the park. By putting together their rent, the residents created a plan to purchase the park within nine years.
According to Prediger, "When we came back to them (city officials) with a promissory note their eyes got big ... when we explained how we were going to do it, the bankers were ready and willing because they knew we would own it in nine years."
"We're human beings here, and we're standing to lose everything. We haven't given up, but we don't know where to turn."
-Cindy MacDonald, resident of Midfield Mobile Home ParkBut the city officials said they would "need a few days" to discuss the purchase plan and when they got back to the Midfield Cooperative, the officials said the Cooperative could go ahead and purchase the land for $7 million but Midfield would also need to fix the infrastructure. On top of that, a new road connecting to Moncton Rd. N.E. would need to be installed.
Because of these added expenses, $17 million was added on top of the $7 million dollar purchase price for the park. Residents would need to pay $24 million to keep their homes. This proved impossible, and the purchase plan was dropped.
As matters stand today, if a tenant moves away or passes on and relatives or others do not come and remove the belongings from the home, the home will be destroyed with the personal effects still inside once the overseers at Calgary Housing, and the Office of Land Servicing and Housing give the go-ahead, according to Prediger and other residents in Midfield.
One by one, the homes in Midfield are vanishing and the only evidence of the people who built their lives in the northeast community is found in the garbage bins and dumping containers that have taken over the lots.
Midfield resident Cindy MacDonald looks out her window every day and sees the empty lot across the street that used to have a home on it. She recalls that on the day of the demolition across the street, the home did not have a safety fence installed, and the residents were not informed of the demolition beforehand.
"What, is our safety not important? Is it not worth making sure that the children who live in the house next door are safe from an open construction or excavation site? Are we not worth that?" Macdonald said.
The emotional toll
Some elderly residents of Midfield said that, because of the accumulated stress brought on by worrying about where they will be living in the winter of 2017, elderly neighbours have caved under the pressure and taken the payout they have been offered, feeling that they have no other options that are affordable or realistic.
Other Midfield seniors have been checked into hospitals after suffering anxiety attacks and breakdowns. One resident, Simon Camus — a veteran who served in Europe from 1957-1966 — said that it is not uncommon for him to come to the aid of older women in Midfield, who are in tears over how the City of Calgary and its representatives have been treating them and how afraid they are for their futures.
Camus said he often helps seniors in Midfield in other ways, by clearing their walks in the winter and fixing their broken appliances.
He said he was a loyal city worker before his retirement in 1998. After he returned to Calgary from his service in Europe in 1966, he became a city transit operator for 32 years, and he worked nights, driving on routes all over the city.
Camus said the City of Calgary has not been fair in their treatment of the homeowners living in Midfield. He said that $20,000 strikes him as wholly unfair compensation after he spent $60,000 to buy his Midfield home in 1992.
"They haven't been very kind to us. What are they going to do with me, have me sit on the curb to die?" he asked.
In an email response, officials from the Calgary Housing Company said that Midfield residents will be able to access the following social services, provided by Homewood Human Solutions: The resident assistance program which includes financial consultations and elder/family care, and the Alternative Living Accommodation Program, which assists residents in developing a housing plan.
The Go Forward Strategy
In December 2009, city council approved funds to begin the Go Forward Strategy, which included relocating the residents of Midfield to new land purchased by the city. On March 3, 2010, the City Administration conducted visits at each home informing the residents that Midfield would be closing by the summer of 2012 and they would be relocated to a new site called the East Hills Estates.
Midfield residents considered this proposed relocation site less than ideal. According to both Shirley and Garry Evans, the land was on the eastern edge of the city, east of the ring road and far away from any amenities, a serious challenge for many of the elderly residents, especially those with mobility issues and disabilities.
In November 2010, Don Sandford, chief executive of Lansdowne Equity Ventures Ltd., urged newly-elected mayor Naheed Nenshi to look into the $26 million purchase of the East Hills Estates land. Sandford argued that resolving the Midfield Park issue could have been done more cheaply by the private sector and questioned the lack of transparency in the city's land purchasing system.
Following municipal elections in October 2010, the new city council, including the new councillor for Ward 9 in which Midfield is located, Gian-Carlo Carra, revisited the Midfield situation, spending the next year coming to a decision. During this time, the Go Forward Strategy including an Area Redevelopment Plan for the Winston Heights/Mountainview region — which includes Midfield — was approved, but Councillor Carra did not fully agree with the plans.
Councillor Cara advocated against the Go Forward Strategy. In a letter addressed to the residents of Midfield, he said, "In my opinion, the initial Go Forward Strategy did not adequately address the concerns of Midfield residents."
Despite the concerns voiced by Carra, city council voted to reaffirm the relocation plan on Jan. 4, 2012. The deadline that the previous city council had set for the park closure, summer 2012, was not going to be met and a new date had not yet been determined.
Meanwhile, the residents of Midfield seemed to have a sliver of hope for their futures and they were even allowed to choose lots for their homes in the newly promised park at East Hills Estates. Then residents woke up to letters on their doors in May 2014 on City of Calgary letterhead, which said that the Midfield park would be closed on Sept. 30, 2017 and the previous plan to relocate Midfield to the East Hills Estates had been cancelled.
The city currently does not have a place for the residents to go, but in an interview with CBC, Mayor Nenshi said that there are "many private sectors" that are interested in building more mobile home parks in Calgary and, financially, they can do it better than the city could.
Nenshi said, "When we made the announcement the other day, we already had one reputable mobile home operator say, 'Great. I'm going to build a new mobile home in the next three years and there'll be room for virtually all of the Midfield residents there.'"
But many Midfield residents fear a financial loss, as many of the Midfield homes are valued between $30,000 - $165,000.
"Why should people take $10,000? They're insulting us," Prediger said.
Camus said city officials "don't have a plan at all. They have nothing. Well, there's a couple of places, but they want $3,000 a month. There's one guy that lives here, you know how much his pension is? Twelve hundred dollars a month, now where is he going to go?"
A Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy (FOIP) request was made to the FOIP coordinator by Laura O'Grady on behalf of the residents of the Midfield Mobile Home Park in April 2012. In September 2014, the commissioner overseeing the process strongly recommended that the information was to be released. All of the details regarding the development strategies and future plans for Midfield, which included feasibility updates regarding the Go Forward Strategy, had been removed from the 300-plus page document.
What was left in the document was information found in the public record and in public correspondences between the residents of Midfield and the City of Calgary, information that Midfield residents were already aware of, such as information pertaining to eviction notices, counselling services and information regarding the East Hills Estates. There were no new updates in the documents.
The Calgary Sun reported in January 2015 that the Landsdowne Equity Venture has plans to build a mobile home park on the properties along 84 St. N.E., which could house all 117 trailers in Midfield and make nearly 2,000 more spots available as a form of affordable housing, according to the companies spokesman Don Sandford. Landsdowne would retain ownership of the property and the residents would still own their homes, and they would rent the space that they sit on.
Furthermore, the Sun reported that a spokeswoman with the city's planning department said the area is not slated to be developed for another 10 years. However, Mayor Naheed Nenshi said changing that is possible, and he is interested in seeing potential plans and having conversations between the developers and residents.
In an interview with The Sun, Nenshi said, "I have suspected for some time that the private sector, if there was a demand for mobile home parks, would actually come forward to build these parks."
Midfield residents — including Macdonald, Prediger, Evans and Camus — who have not yet abandoned the park said they are not giving up. They said either a new mobile home park needs to open up or the city needs to provide what residents would regard as proper financial assistance to help make this difficult transition as easy as possible, as outlined by the Midfield petition.
- By TYLER RYAN, AMY SIMPSON, LOGAN PETERS