By Andreas Yilma Citizen’s News
BEACON FALLS — River’s Edge Mobile Home Park residents are hoping state Sen. Jorge Cabrera, D-Hamden, can help them fight a third rent increase in three years.
Cabrera and about two dozen mobile home residents met Tuesday at Beacon Falls Senior Center to discuss issues and a possible solution. Those residents want the town to establish a fair rent commission after Athena Real Estate of Orlando, Fla., raised the monthly rent by $50 this year, following increases of $30 and $45 in the previous two years. Many residents are elderly and on fixed incomes.
Described on its website as a “mid-size real estate operating company active in purchasing properties,” Athena bought the 55-unit River’s Edge in 2019 from the community’s current manager, Mark Kudasik.
Athena CEO Richard O’Brien previously said the rent increases are justified.
“Our rental increase effective July 1 was in line with the inflationary consumer price index increase for the last year. Demand at River’s Edge remains high as occupancy is at 100% and there are no homes for sale,” O’Brien said. “We strive to offer clean, safe and reasonably priced lot rents. We have made improvements to River’s Edge since our ownership and resolved maintenance items timely.”
First Selectman Gerard Smith said the town attorney is drafting language for a new ordinance to create a fair rent commission. It eventually would be sent to a hearing and town vote for approval.
Mobile home resident Colleen Dana told Cabrera tenants received a letter stating, “We do realize some of you are on a fixed income from the government and the government checks have historically not kept up with housing costs, which is unfortunate.”
Mobile home resident Kirk Hanifin said most of the residents are on Social Security, disability or both.
Al Hricz, vice president of Connecticut Manufactured Home Owners Alliance and a state advisory council member for the Department of Consumer Protection on mobile homes, said the rent increases come without any improvements to the park.
“They have not improved the infrastructure of that mobile home community,” Hricz said. “They just want money for nothing.”
Hanifin said some residents have electric meters on rotting wooden boards.
“We pointed out to management and the previous owner, like, ‘You got to fix that. That looks like a safety issue.’ (They say) ‘Oh yeah, yeah.’ It’s always, ‘I’ll get to it.'”
Resident Susan Picheco said she can’t get internet and has no wiring underneath her mobile home.
“Mark doesn’t care about anything,” resident Donna Colak said of Kudasik. “They’ve got to do something.”
Debby Bostron, a 43-year resident, said, “We are a small town and I don’t even think we have senior housing in Beacon Falls. If they push us out, there are 55 families – where are we going to go? It’s unfair.”
Cabrera said after Tuesday’s election, he wants to take a look at introducing legislation to help the situation.
“It’s unconscionable to me. You guys are on a fixed income,” Cabrera told the residents. “It’s immoral … it’s wrong. We’ll do whatever we can to stop them and we’ll do some research. You’ve got me in your corner. Keep communicating with me. Your stories are powerful and that’s what really moves people up there in Hartford.”
U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., a group of 16 other senators and members of the House of Representatives wrote a letter Aug. 4 to the Federal Housing Finance Agency to call for more protection for tenants in mobile home communities. The letter stated many of the investment firms that bought up these communities financed their purchase through Federal Home Loan Mortgage Corp. and Federal National Mortgage Association, enterprises sponsored by the federal government.
Blumenthal previously said he’s disturbed by these mobile home issues and is committed to work on federal legislation.
Cabrera said he would talk to Blumenthal after the election. Cabrera faces a challenge from Republican Kathy Hoyt, while Blumenthal is being challenged by Republican Leora Levy.
A new state statue mandates cities with more than 25,000 residents need to create a fair rent commission by July 2023. Beacon Falls, however, only has about 6,000 residents, according to the 2020 Census.
Smith previously said a local fair rent commission would need seven or nine members of the public, as well as its own clerk.
Dana said she’s submitted a petition of 39 signatures to establish a fair rent commission to Town Hall. Four mobile home residents have told Dana they would serve on the commission, she noted.
Hanifin said none of the residents have been able to talk to anyone except for Kudasik.
“Mark said (Athena) doesn’t want to be bothered about it,” Hanifin said. “We asked for emails. Mark said they don’t want to be bothered.”
Kathy Johnson, a former Oxford first selectman whose son suffers from a brain injury and lives in the park, owns a trailer there with her husband.
“What they did with our rent increases is out of the question,” she said, “especially in this economy.”