We love our community, despite the big problems

Carol Giambalvo – Flagler Beach, Florida

I have lived in Bulow Plantation, a senior mobile home community, for the past 26 years. I am  legally blind after suffering from Type I Diabetes. I recovered from triple bypass surgery and am currently caring for my husband who has pulmonary hypertension and must be on oxygen at all times. My community has been fighting Equity Lifestyle for the past 19 years. I am on the negotiating committee of the 9 person board and while some negotiations have taken place the community has continued to face rent increases.

A couple of long term agreements have been reached, however, when we do meet with ELS they tend to reduce the rent a little to get an LTA, but still are neglecting to take care of the community.

Me and my husband used to live in Long Island, but Florida was more affordable and had enticing weather so we moved here 26 years ago. My previous occupation was conducting interventions and helping families who had a relative in a cult. I also founded a recovery from cults workshop for the International Cultic Studies Association and continue to provide support for former members and families with loved ones in a cult via phone. My husband was a schoolteacher and continues to receive benefits from a retirement paycheck.

The housing community in Florida is important to us because the connections are strong, we will help each other whenever anyone has a problem. There is a strong sense of community, we have coffee and donuts twice a week, the Homeowners Association puts on activities, and have a church service for which one retiree is a pastor.

I am very concerned about the seniors in my community that are living solely off of Social Security benefits. The market rent is going up each year, with a 4% increase this year. This is a grave threat for many community members with fixed incomes. A three year LTA had agreed that when those already at market rate only went up 1% but those under market rent had a $25 per year cap when/if they hit market rate. They can only get a person up to market if the home is near market and the yearly percentage increase takes them up to market rates or if the home is sold.

This community was developed behind an RV park that is also owned by Equity Lifestyles. There is a gate between the two properties that is made of wood. It is insecure and often dysfunctional. People are coming in that shouldn’t be, which makes many seniors worried.

Within this community there are four different categories of rent. On the street that was first developed there are electric wires above ground, so they get the lowest rent. The highest rents are cul-de-sac homes at $889. There are canals on the property that lead to an outstanding Florida waterway. Management hasn’t kept those canals clean, however, some residents pay higher rent for creek access because they have a canal in the back of their yard. There are so many trees and bushes that have gone into the canal that many people no longer have access.  Furthermore in some places the water is too low to put a boat in, but they are still being charged for creek access.

The only thing included in this rent is running water, the community doesn’t have planned activities though many members have expressed interest, or even sufficient Clubhouse space to host these events. The pricing is unfair, this community pays as much as other ones nearby that get lawn services, manned security gates, cable, and water. The new community manager says she will look into it, but nothing happens, they know we don’t have the money to take them to court.

I will need to move out in the next couple of years with the continuance of lot fee increases. When the community was owned by a family for the first 5 years things were different, but then ELS bought it. The community tried to figure out how to buy it, but it scared some of the seniors and they protested it. Now we are paying the price.

We are fond of this housing community and do not want to leave. But we need conditions to change. The improvements needed are a fixed gate, improved maintenance, clearing passage in the canals, and more favorable rent stabilization. While not all communities are owned by corporations and some are doing well, the voices of those being discriminated against must be listened to and rent increases must be stabilized so that seniors are not forced to live in fear.