The Tar Heel Mobile Home Park is easy to miss, whether you’re driving down Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard for the first time or the thousandth. Seventy-three homes are tucked behind the now-defunct Marathon gas station, obscured by dense foliage. 

In 2018, the mobile home park and gas station were sold to Stackhouse Properties. The original owners supposedly sold it under the condition that the 73 residences would keep their spaces. To do this and make money, the group submitted rezoning requests to include a self-storage facility on the property, and open a new gas station in the old Marathon space. 

On Wednesday, the Chapel Hill Town Council will vote on the rezoning process for the second time. The council first voted on the proposal February 24. The request passed 5-3. But since it did not receive a two-thirds majority upon first reading, the rezoning is heading to council again.

The residents of the mobile home community—mostly Latino families—are largely at the mercy of the council. Through connections with the Chapel Hill-Carrboro NAACP, El Centro Hispano, and EmPOWERment INC., they are asking the council to uphold its “yes” vote, despite concerns over precedent. 

“Residents say they don’t like the storage building and the project in principle,” Council Member Tai Huynh wrote in an email to the INDY. “But as one resident put it, ‘Principle isn’t my roof. My family needs a roof.’ Every resident I’ve heard from has stated that housing stability and remaining in this community for their children’s future are their biggest priorities.”

A “yes” vote potentially gives the residents 15 more years in their homes, according to a proposed covenant between the developer and the town. A “no” vote could mean eviction papers and 180 days to move. Supporters say that, while they dislike both options, they are prioritizing the option that is most likely to keep the mobile homes on the property.

“The way we think it’s best to support these families right now is to make sure they have somewhere to live until the town comes up with a better solution,” Dawna Jones, the NAACP chapter president, told the INDY. “And that means voting yes.”

While the families have not spoken on the record for fear of retaliation, El Centro Hispano did a canvass of Tar Heel’s residents. They presented these findings at the NAACP’s chapter meeting Saturday. Delores Bailey, the executive director of EmPOWERment and a member of the Chapel Hill-Carrboro NAACP, says one woman said that the town didn’t care about her family.

“That woman and everybody else in that park has as much right as anybody who lives over in the Oaks has,” Bailey told the INDY. “They work. They pay taxes. They live here, their children go to school here, and yet she can say—and I absolutely feel for her—that the town doesn’t care about them, and that’s why they can play yo-yo with them. It’s not right.”

The children in these families mostly attend Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools, a highly ranked public school system. If families are forced to move their homes to a different mobile home park, they’d likely have to move out of the district. Tenants currently pay $400-$500 a month for the land their homes sit on—about a third of the average cost of an apartment in town, according to RentCafe. Aside from the cost, renting mobile homes is one of the only options for undocumented migrants in need of housing.

The proposed agreement between the town and the property owner would also move residents to annual leases, instead of their current monthly lease situations. The covenant would also require Stackhouse to keep rent prices lower than 115 percent of the market rates in Raleigh or Charlotte. Opponents worry that this would be illegal under current North Carolina law, which prohibits rent control except for within public or subsidized housing.

Similar issues arose in 2018, when Lakeview Mobile Home Park was almost sold to make room for luxury apartment complexes. The NAACP and EmPOWERment were also involved with those discussions; ultimately, the developer withdrew their plans.

Since the initial vote, and after the public hearing process closed, some town residents began Save 1200 MLK in an attempt to bolster a “no” vote. The group claims the council could zone the neighborhood differently to keep the families safe—a decision that couldn’t be made on Wednesday. The NAACP presentation reminds readers that development can only be approved or rejected—no one can force a developer to keep a business open.

“We have to be urging the ‘yes,’ because that, right now, is the only proposal where the developer agrees to keeping these families in their home,” Jones says.

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