‘It just blows my mind.’ Charlotte family forced to leave 50-year-old home

Shelter under siege

Mobile home parks have been a trusted source of affordable housing in Charlotte for decades, offering prices well below nearby apartments or houses. But a confluence of factors, including rising land prices and an influx of investors looking to make money buying parks, threaten this way of life. New reporting and data analysis from The Charlotte Observer show how, amid the city’s growing affordable housing crisis, this remaining haven has come under siege.

For the first time in half a century, Stacy Sprinkle’s family will soon no longer call Countrywoods Mobile Home Park home.

She has seen the community in North Charlotte grow and change since her father bought the two-bedroom, one-bathroom home in 1972 when she was 13. Since then, she has lived here several times, the last time she moved to take care of her elderly mother.

The park at WT Harris Boulevard and Old Statesville Road was close-knit and affordable, Sprinkle said. Many families had lived there for a decade or more.

“There were many neighbors,” he said. “Everyone knew each other’s children or friends.”

But in August, the park was sold to Raleigh-based Countrywoods Community LLC, which is connected to an upstate New York company that owns several mobile home parks.

First, the company raised lot rents, but initially assured residents that they would not have to move if they continued to pay.

Then the notices started coming in that their monthly leases would not be renewed.

They all had to go.

Sprinkle says they have faithfully paid the rent on their lot, even as the most recent increase to $407 a month stretched their budget, which is mostly covered by her and her mother’s Social Security benefits.

The rest of the two dozen families in Countrywoods, who did not own their home like Sprinkle’s but rent both their place and their residences, were also told earlier this year that their leases would not be renewed.

Sprinkle, 63, has seen family after family move in, with a deadline of late May.

“I’ll probably be the last (to leave),” she said, surveying the now-empty park on a recent afternoon, where little remains of life.

What remains: Christmas lights hanging from empty houses. Children’s bicycles in the front. Potted plants baked by the sun.

Stacy Sprinkle cares for her 82-year-old mother Mary, with whom she shares her mobile home. Sprinkle has made numerous improvements to her house over the years, but due to the house’s age, it cannot be moved and will be demolished as the residents of Countrywoods Mobile Home Park are being evicted. Photo from May 2, 2022.

Where once there were rows of rectangular houses, there is now a mix of abandoned houses that have not yet been demolished, freshly turned earth where previously demolished ones stood, and newer, larger, more expensive manufactured homes to replace them.

“It just blows my mind,” he said. “Before, people rented here and it was affordable for us. Most of us don’t have a lot of money,” he said of Countrywoods residents.

“Then they move these new trailers and wow!” he said. “It’s something to see this after all these years.”

Representatives for KDM Development, the New York firm, did not respond to phone or email requests for comment.

Mobile home communities have become a target for investors and private equity firms as a major profit opportunity, experts say, leaving their low-income residents vulnerable to displacement.

A review by The Charlotte Observer of local property records shows that about 20 parks, or about a third of those in Mecklenburg County, have changed hands in the last five years, including several that have been purchased by companies from other states and large investors

‘Stress and tension’

Packing up half a century of life has been a stressful endeavor, he said. Most of the family photos, showing generations of special occasions and everyday life, are already off the walls. Moving boxes are stacked in the living room, where Sprinkle sleeps on the couch or an air mattress so her mother and her son can occupy each of the bedrooms.

“It’s been tough,” he said. “It’s been a lot of stress and strain.”

Sprinkle laments the painstakingly saved improvements they won’t be able to keep: new flooring in the kitchen and hallway, and repairs to the bathroom to make it more accessible to her 82-year-old mother.

Even though the family owns their house, they cannot take it away. Mobile homes built before 1976 cannot be relocated, according to the US Department of Housing and Urban Development’s code that sets construction and safety standards for manufactured homes.

Although residents often use the terms mobile homes, manufactured homes, or sometimes mobile homes interchangeably, those classifications are important.

Anything built after 1976 is a manufactured home and can be relocated. Sprinkle’s is not.

“You can’t move,” he said. “Wish; (there are) memories in it.”

For Countrywoods Mobile Home Park resident Stacy Sprinkle, the move-out order from a new owner marks the first time in nearly 50 years that her family will not call Countrywoods home.

For Countrywoods Mobile Home Park resident Stacy Sprinkle, the move-out order from a new owner marks the first time in nearly 50 years that her family will not call Countrywoods home.

Now Sprinkle is working to buy a neighboring manufactured home that a former Countrywoods resident had rented, rushing to get the permits and funds to move it to a nearby park.

But it has a price.

It can cost between $5,000 and $10,000 to move the house and restore the water, sewer, and other services to make it habitable. That will come from the money Sprinkle was saving for a new car. She plans to stay until the end of the month at her family’s house.

“I’m staying until the last minute,” he said.

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