SYCAMORE – No one really wants to live in Evergreen Village Mobile Home Park.
Walk through the neighborhood east of Sycamore at 955 E. State St. at any time of day and a visitor might see a pack of cats roaming the street. Sometimes adults and children pick through the trash bin looking for scrap metal to sell.
But it’s home to Gina Desmond and her family.
For $375 a month, the 35-year-old stay-at-home mom lives out of a small camper with her husband, Alex “Kel” Desmond, and her three sons, Michael, Xavier and Christian. That $375 includes utilities, and leaves her with enough money to feed and clothe her family. If she lived in a regular apartment with rent at $600 or $700 a month, she couldn’t do that.
“It’s hard enough to afford for your family correctly,” Gina Desmond said.
They might not want to, but the Desmonds likely will have to move, along with the rest of the residents of the 129-unit Evergreen Village. DeKalb County plans to buy Evergreen Village with the help of a $4.2 million grant from the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
With this grant, and other money the county will secure from the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity, the residents will be moved off the trailer park property, which county officials want returned to its natural state in an effort to alleviate the area’s flooding problems.
Ron Davis, state hazard mitigation officer with the Illinois Emergency Management Agency, said the decades-old trailer park repeatedly has been inundated by floodwaters from the east branch of the Kishwaukee River, sometimes forcing evacuations. He pointed to incidents in 1973, 1974, 1996, 2007 and 2008.
He added that there were flooding
insurance payments for flooding made in 1995, 1997 and 2004.
The goal, Davis and county administrator Ray Bockman said, was to get people out of harm’s way.
“Too often we talk about the dollars we save. Really the biggest benefits is the hardships we remove people from and the suffering they go through,” Davis said. “If your home and your possessions all get flooded and destroyed, it’s a pretty horrible situation.”
The owner of the property, Frank Santoro, is willing to sell, Bockman said. Santoro could not be reached for comment Friday.
The Desmonds expressed anger and frustration at what they viewed as a lack of empathy from government officials, and preferential treatment for the Sycamore Golf Club.
“Fix what needs to be fixed, and let all of the single parents live here,” Alex Desmond said. “The government can do a lot more than just shutting down people’s homes here.”
“They can fix the problem for the golf course but they’re not going to fix it for us,” Gina Desmond said.
A portion of Route 64 adjacent to the golf course and the mobile home park is under construction, and the Desmonds believe that the repairs being done on the road will alleviate flooding for the golf course, but not Evergreen Village.
Bockman said he did not know which government entity was responsible for the nearby construction, but that the goal of the project is to help the park’s residents. He added that the trailer park was grandfathered into current zoning laws, which is why it exists today.
“It wouldn’t be allowed today. I would attribute it to enlightened hindsight,” Bockman said. “That project, if it were presented today and that was their ground site, simply wouldn’t be allowed.”
And there seems to be no cost-effective way to stop the park from flooding permanently.
“Rather than doing all the sandbagging and then you lose half the time...We know it’s going to flood there,” Davis said. “Let’s just retreat and let the river take what the river’s going to take.”
Gina Desmond said she knew of the neighborhood’s flooding issue when her family moved in a couple of months ago. But she said she had nowhere else to go. She described her last residence as being a nightmare, with her and her family being subjected to abuse, harassment and overt racism from the landlords and other residents.
Although they live in a camper, the Desmonds cannot pack up and leave. They don’t own a truck; Desmond said they rented a U-Haul in order to tow the camper to its current spot.
In a similar situation is Omar Gomez, another resident of Evergreen Village who does not want to move. Having lived in his trailer for three years with his wife and two children, Gomez detailed the time, energy and money he had put into his trailer.
After buying it, Gomez ripped up and replaced nearly all of the floors. A couple of weeks ago, he finished putting tiles in a storage shed next to his garage.
“Are they going to find a place for us, or move our mobile home for us?” Gomez said. “Right now I’m just making enough for my family and rent.”
The FEMA grant DeKalb County will receive is coming from the federal agency’s Hazard Mitigation Grant Program. Because the residents of the mobile home park are considered tenants, they will be able to receive benefits under federal law.
“We can offer them some funds for relocation expenses to find another comparable place,” said Rusty Tanton, IEMA’s assistant state hazard mitigation officer. Davis added that the agency could pay residents to move their trailer or sell it at fair market value. If residents can produce receipts, they will be 100 percent reimbursed for moving, Davis said.
How much a family could receive for selling their property is a big sticking point with Andrea Sanchez, a 20-year-old stay-at-home mother. Sanchez said that as long as a family gets enough money for their home, she could move.
But Sanchez isn’t sure her family would receive money. They do not actually own their trailer.
“We bought it from who was living here, but they never had a title,” Sanchez said. “We don’t know who the owner was.”
Sanchez said she does not know who owns the property or whether they could find them. It is unknown how many Evergreen Village residents are in a similar situation.
When told of this issue, Davis said mobile homes are considered personal property and not real estate, and that there are steps that could be taken to help families like Sanchez’s.
Tanton added that Sanchez and her family still would be eligible for relocation assistance and temporary rental assistance, comparing her situation to that of living in an apartment.
In an earlier interview, Bockman said the entire process could take at least 18 months, if not more than two years. It’s not much of a comfort to families such as the Desmonds, whom Gina described as living hand-to-mouth.
And between now and then, there’s plenty of time for it to rain.
“The trailer park is entirely in a floodplain. The fact that it hasn’t rained in the last months – we’re very grateful for that,” Bockman said. “There’s a strong and repetitive history of that trailer park being flooded. It simply shouldn’t be there.
“Every time it rains here, I worry about Evergreen Village. Every time it rains, I worry.”