Wellington Park residents at a press conference to protest the rezoning and sale of the mobile home park. Photo by Caryl Espinoza Jaen. 

For residents of Wellington Park, a mobile home community in Wake Forest, the next few months could mean the end of their homes and community. 

Residents organized a press conference late last month to oppose a proposed rezoning and redevelopment of Wellington Park. More than 230 people showed up to rally against the rezoning, calling for both George Mackie Jr.—the park’s owner and former Wake Forest mayor—and the Wake Forest Board of Commissioners to stop the rezoning and sale of the property. 

Mackie is said to be making plans to sell Wellington Park to Middleburg Communities, a real estate group that has “acquired or built over 20,000 apartments and executed over $2.5 billion in transactions’’ in the Southeast and mid-Atlantic regions, according to its website. 

Wake Forest commissioners are set to vote on the rezoning later this summer.

If the rezoning is approved, Middleburg Communities would be greenlit to redevelop the neighborhood, making it unaffordable for those currently living in the mobile home park, residents fear. And even if the rezoning is not approved, Mackie still has the ability to evict the residents, said Katia Roebuck, an organizer at ONE Wake, a multi-ethnic coalition of faith-based and civic organizations working on behalf of Wellington residents.

The INDY’s attempts to reach Mackie last week were unsuccessful. 

If the property is sold, residents say it could not only render dozens of North Carolinians homeless with possible  job insecurity, but also eliminate one of the few remaining sources of affordable housing in Wake County. 

Carol Ornett, a Wellington Park resident, said that even with the affordable cost of living in the mobile home park, he cannot afford to move out on a fixed income.

“I live on about $1,000 Social Security, and you know what rent goes for if you’re finding a new space,” Ornett said. “I couldn’t possibly afford to get an apartment, move out, and have money to afford whatever place to live in. I will be homeless, and I don’t see any way of solving this problem.”

Ornett, a Vietnam War veteran, is not the only resident who spoke up about potentially facing homelessness if the property is successfully sold and rezoned. 

Erica and Eduardo Sevilla, two siblings and residents of Wellington Park, said that having to move poses challenges for them as well.

“As the oldest daughter and first-generation American, the burden of finding a new home would fall on me,” Erica Sevilla said at the July 17 press conference. “I do not have the knowledge, experience, or have established enough credit to help find a new and better home for my family.”

Sofia Miro, another resident of Wellington Park, said that a possible solution would be for Mackie to sell the property to ROC USA, a nonprofit that assists mobile park residents in forming cooperatives to purchase their own parks. (ROC stands for “resident-owned community.”)  

“We are gathering today not just to ask the commissioners to vote no,” Miro said, “but also to ask the commissioners to meet with this organization in August to better understand the alternative solution.”

Roebuck, the ONE Wake organizer, said that residents and community groups, such as her organization and the NC Congress of Latino Organizations, are in constant contact with the Wake Forest Board of Commissioners and Wellington Park’s owner to negotiate the future of the mobile home park. 

Roebuck said that selling the property to ROC USA would be the best compromise between residents and Mackie. She added that ROC USA has enough funds to likely rival the deal between Mackie and Middleburg Communities.

“We don’t see Mr. Mackie as the enemy,” Roebuck said. “We just want Mr. Mackie to think hard about where these people are going.”

Bridget Wall-Lennon, a Wake Forest commissioner, was the only commissioner to make a public appearance at the press conference. While Wall-Lennon said she could not disclose her stance on the rezoning ahead of time, she said she did want residents to know that she and the other Wake Forest commissioners were listening to their demands.

“I don’t really want to say anything formally, but I just wanted to let you all know that I was present,” Wall-Lennon said.

In the meantime, things are unclear for residents of Wellington Park. Roebuck said that with the final decision of the mobile home park’s rezoning not coming until late summer, residents are anxiously waiting to learn whether they really will have to face homelessness. 

“What we want from the commissioners obviously is to vote no on this project, rezoning, and for Mr. Mackie to be open to selling his park to ROC USA,” Roebuck told the INDY

Meanwhile, stakeholders are working on contingency plans. 

Last Thursday, Roebuck and other organizers met with representatives of Middleburg Communities, who appeared open to providing residents with enough compensation to successfully relocate should the development move forward, Roebuck told the INDY.   

“They’re losing a lot of money if the rezoning doesn’t pass, so everybody has an interest here: the commissioners, the developers, and the park residents,” she said. “We’re just helping the park residents to not be homeless.”

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