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We Own It: How One Community Won the Fight for Self-Determination

Jo Manning and Susan Stoltenborg were instrumental in charting the course of their community’s future.

Once known as The Patrician, the manufactured home community Filbert Grove Cooperative in Springfield, OR is now home to Jo, Susan, and 125 other 55+ residents. The residents run the community as a cooperative that owns the park. Governed by a board of directors, they ensure its affordability for all residents. The notion of community runs deep: they have a community food pantry in the common area, a swimming pool, a committee that organizes gatherings for holidays and clubhouse sales and also groups that meet weekly for activities like quilting/sewing sessions for its residents.

The transformation of the park into a cooperative was a lengthy process that was trying, difficult, but ultimately, joyous. I had the pleasure of sitting down with Susan and Jo—who came armed with their scrapbooks filled with community notices, newspaper articles, and other ephemera from the park’s transformation—to hear their story.

Jo: In the 70s and early 80s, I lived in Oregon, Cannon Beach. I knew after I retired when my husband and I were in Texas that I wanted to come back. We crossed the Oregon border September 1st, 2017. When we moved into this park it was called The Patrician. It didn’t become Filbert Grove Cooperative until, what, two, three years ago?

Susan: Two years, July 2021.

Susan: I moved here when it was the Patrician too. I moved in with my adult daughter who has medical disabilities, and so it was just a nice, quiet place for her. It was like, “This is it.”

Jo: Then we got what we refer to as “the letter.”

Susan: That was sent out, I believe it was in March. Basically it said that the owners of the Patrician were going to rezone the land. They said, “Well, we’re not saying that we’re selling it.” They really did this little tap dance around that. The bottom line is, they wanted to rezone it so that when it did go for sale, it was rezoned as multi-use commercial and of course that drives the price up. Then it’s like everybody knew at that point, it’s time to do something. That’s when Jo initiated the potluck for residents.

Jo: I was angry and scared. Something needed to be done. I have to say, trying to get people who are trying to be retired up and in action again is not an easy feat.

Susan: Some were riled up, some weren’t. It started with the potluck and then Jo said, “Okay, so this is what is going on.” Then Jo got in touch with legal services.

Jo: I went to a senior center. They’ll have an attorney there who will give free advice. I took the letter and she’s like, “Yes, you’re screwed.” She got us in touch with some other people and helped us out a little bit.

Susan: We had another meeting at the clubhouse with residents to get information out. There were a lot of people. Then The Patrician said, “You can’t use the clubhouse for this.”

Jo: Then we got Laurie Hauber from Legal Aid involved .

Susan: And we kept having meetings with the other residents.

Jo: We got the usual from the people at The Patrician, the talking points, what you’re supposed to tell freaked-out seniors. “Oh, nothing’s going to happen for four to five years,” or, “Don’t worry about it.” We did worry about it. We learned a lot. We were only going to get $6,000 in tax credits—not cash—for a double wide.

Susan: We were doing what needed to be done. Period.

Jo: We learned through our advocates, and a lot of them showed up. We were fortunate. Even people from other mobile home parks. We were getting all kinds of advice. Looking back, I think we took pretty much all the advice. Some of it was, “keep getting extensions. Ask for extensions at planning commission hearings, and get more people to come to the courthouse.” We were standing room only, just about every time that we had to go back. For the planning commission sessions, we may have gone three or four times, we got extensions every time. We kept it going. Then we went the city hall route. Afterwards, Planning said, “Yes, we think they’re right.”

Susan: They should not rezone it.

Jo: Should not rezone it because it’s affordable housing, especially for elders–what are they going to do? We had people that came from the park and from all over to speak- different agencies, social agencies, and so forth.

Susan: SETA, the Springfield Eugene Tenant Association was a big help.

Jo: We had brochures. We wrote letters that [Patrician residents] could use, or they could write their own. It’s like, “This is what needs to be said. Send everything. Make phone calls.” We had a list of different agencies and the government.

Susan: We sent them to all the senate representatives, county commissioners, so as many resources as possible. Then even with the flyers, we tried to put them up in public spaces.

Jo: We made a lot of noise. We went, we fought. We got media coverage. We were on the news all the time. We were in The Oregonian.

Susan: It was exhausting. It was meetings upon meetings upon meetings. And [the Springfield City Council] voted to have it turned into multi-use commercial.

Jo: With cute little shops that nobody can afford.

Susan: They had different visions and it was not geared towards any kind of lower or middle income.


Jo: Bob and I were packing up. We were looking for another place to live, and there wasn’t anything. We knew that we were going to get maybe $6,000 [for our home when the park sold], but that’s not even a down payment. All of that work before, and then COVID hit. And then we got the letter stating they were going to sell the park. I immediately called Laurie and I said, “Look what we got.” We knew that the Patrician had to give us notice, but also let us have an opportunity to buy the park. Of course, I’m sure [The Patrician] thought, “The residents can’t buy the park.”

Susan: What are you going to do? Pass around the hat?

Jo: Then Laurie from Legal Aid said, “You need to call CASA of Oregon.” I picked up the phone right then and there.

Susan: Then more and more people got involved. SETA, County Commissioner Joe Berney—he was the force. That networking circle got bigger and bigger. We were contacting St. Vinny’s and throwing that net out as far as we could.

Jo: When I called CASA, [Rose] pretty much laid it out. I just don’t have enough praise for her. I don’t know how many times I called and said, “I can’t do this anymore.” She talked me off the ledge—I would have lost my mind if she hadn’t guided us and gotten us help that we needed in going from point A to becoming a cooperative that owns the park and runs a multi-million-dollar corporation in four months.

Jo: He already had bids on the property from other developers. It was tense. Two or three other offers, I understand. He did not want to sell it to us.

Susan: This is happening across the entire United States. Manufactured home parks are being plowed down. They’re just being bulldozed. The psychological impact on that of the people and the community, it’s profound.

Jo: Thankfully, we have people in their homes. Of course, people are going to take better care of their homes when they own them.

Susan: We’re fortunate in that for us, it’s been a success story.

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