CONWAY — Leaders of the Black Bear Village Cooperative resident owners group that is exploring buying the Lamplighter Mobile Home Community of Conway were encouraged by a meeting held at the park with town and Community Development Block Grant officials last Friday.
“It was a good meeting, and we are keeping our fingers crossed that our request for a block grant (for $500,000) is approved,” said Tom Moughan, vice president of Black Bear and a longtime resident, who along with Black Bear President Jim Anderson and Lamplighter maintenance worker and Black Bear purchase study committee member Brian Ames met with the officials at the hourlong meeting.
Present were Conway Town Manager Tom Holmes, Conway grant-writing consultant Donna Lane Kerwin, Tara Reardon and Chris Monroe of the New Hampshire Community Loan Fund, which has been advising Black Bear in the process; and block grant officials Shelley Hadfield, who is the interim director of community development for the federal Community Development Finance Authority, and George Hunton, who is director of the CDFA’s tax credit programs.
Hadfield and the officials had planned to tour Lamplighter, but the day’s heavy snow led to a change in those plans.
She explained that CDFA can only be involved if the appraisal comes in at or below fair market value.
“As long as that comes in pretty close to what the other buyer is offering, it’s eligible (for community development block grant funding,” said Hadfield at the outset of the meeting.
She said the CDFA has received 10 grant requests totaling $5 million, including the town’s request for Black Bear of $500,000. She said the program has $5.5 million in funding during this process.
“The number of requests (10) is not unusual; the amount that is available is,” she told those present.
Asked afterward about her impression of the meeting, Hadfield said, "We enjoyed an informative meeting with those involved in the Black Bear Village Cooperative project and learning more about how it will benefit the local community. We look forward to continuing the evaluation process with a focus on the projects impact on low- and moderate-income households, readiness and financial underwriting, among other key factors we take into considerationfor all of the applicants in a Community Development Block Grant round."
Lamplighter residents belonging to the Black Bear Village Cooperative have been exploring whether to buy the park after learning in November that the park is for sale for $10 million by the Hynes Group of Vancouver, British Columbia, to RHP Properties of Farmington Hills, Mich.
In an earlier interview with the Sun, Reardon said that under RSA 205-A (“Regulation of Manufactured Housing Parks”), when a manufactured home community goes up for sale, residents have 60 days to match the purchase and sales price and terms.
After matching that amount, by law, they also have 60 days after that to do due diligence in terms of engineering studies and financing, she said.
She noted that the law has been in effect since 1983, with the first community in New Hampshire served by the Community Loan Fund in Meredith in 1984.
Moughan said his group is making progress.
“I think the representatives heard our message that we are a park that meets their criteria for low and moderate income; and I think they are also very sensitive to fact that housing is becoming very difficult in our income ranges not only here in New Hampshire but throughout the country. They seemed to respond to our concerns for that,” he said after the meeting.
Anderson and Moughan note that the town has acted as a go-through for Black Bear Cooperative for a federal $500,000 community development block grant.
Selectmen voted 4-0 last month to support the grant request, with Selectman Steve Porter abstaining because he is a resident of Lamplighter and a Black Bear Cooperative board member.
The $500,000 community development grant includes $25,000 for administrative fees for the grant application, Moughan said.
The Community Development Finance Authority of Concord would act on whether to recommend the grant request in spring, according to Hadfield.
It would then go to the N.H. Executive Council and Gov. Chris Sununu for a vote to disburse the grant to the cooperative.
According to Moughan, the cooperative met its Jan. 18 deadline to submit a $10 million offer to purchase the park and is counting on the $500,000 community development grant to make the deal more affordable, with Reardon noting that it could mean a $10 differencet in monthly lot rentals were the loan approved.
“For people in the park, especially those on fixed incomes, that could make all the difference,” he said.
He said lot rental rates in Lamplighter are $465 a month, with residents also paying $15-$30 for water. He said lot rates there are about $70 more expensive than other parks in the region.
Asked if the grant is a must-have for the deal to be transacted, Moughan said that it is not — although it will be helpful toward the goal of keeping lot rental rates manageable.
“The idea behind forming a cooperative is that resident-owned communities (ROCs) will be cheaper than for-profit private entities,” said Moughan.
It will be up to Black Bear members to vote on whether to proceed with the purchase once all the data is obtained and word is received on whether the grant is approved.
Currently, the cooperative has 115 members out of the 213 households in Lamplighter. The cooperative was kept active after being founded 10 years ago during an initial effort to buy the park.
“That far exceeds our effort 10 years ago when we maxed out at 75 households,” said Moughan. “We make it clear to people that their joining the cooperative allows them to vote up or down on whether to purchase the park.
Moughan said Black Bear is hopeful that the Hynes Group will sign Black Bear’s purchase-and-sales agreement this week.
“Once that happens, we are hopeful that would allow us to see all of the Hynes Group’s operating costs — it would also enable the Community Loan Fund to seek financing for the purchase and to get the lowest financing costs possible, which would allow us to show what our lot rental rates would be to residents,” said Moughan.
A Black Bear Village Cooperative meeting is set to be held Feb. 27 at 6 p.m. in the cafeteria at Kennett High to update residents of where the process stands, Moughan and Anderson said.
“We hope to get a good turnout, not only for our members but from all residents who have not yet decided about us becoming a resident-owned park,” said Moughan.
According to the Reardon, director of the N.H. Community Loan Fund’s ROC-NH program, 127 manufactured home communities in New Hampshire have been purchased by cooperatives. She said none has ever failed after being purchased by residents.
According to officials, in addition to Lamplighter, three other Hynes Group communities in New Hampshire are being eyed for purchase by RHP: Kings Towne in Epsom sales price: $8 million; Holiday Acres in Allenstown, $18 million; Tanglewood in Keene, $20 million.
RHP is also seeking to purchase two other Hynes Group communities, one in Maine and another in North Carolina, with the sales price for all six totaling $78 million.
For more information, call Moughan at (603) 733-6578.