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Mobile homes get new defender

The Citizens Task Force for Fairness is open to residents countywide who think they are in jeopardy of losing their homes.

By SHANNON TAN
Published November 6, 2005


LARGO - Mobile home parks are sold. Hapless residents are evicted. Pricy condominiums go up in their place.

It's an issue local governments are grappling with throughout the state. Now a Largo group wants to join the debate by forming a task force of people affected by redevelopment.

The Largo Civic Association, headed by former city Commissioner Ernie Bach, is starting the Citizens Task Force for Fairness, open to residents countywide who think they are in jeopardy of losing their homes. Bach said they don't have to join the civic association to become a part of the task force.

"We've been hearing and reading about all these property sales going on, especially at the mobile home parks," Bach said. "Up till now, basically every individual community or neighborhood association has been dealing with it individually or on their own."

Bach said the task force will give affected residents a unified voice and provide them with information on Florida statutes and laws that affect them. While the civic association is overseeing the formation of the task force, Bach said the organization may not be active with the task force after it is formed.

The group will focus initially on housing issues for mobile home park residents, and it might address eminent domain issues. Because the task force is newly formed, plans on how to proceed have yet to be established.

"People need to get together and not only realize the scope of the problem," Bach said, "but be educated on what they can do or can't do at this time."

Hopefully, the task force can help save some people's homes, said civic association member Dawson Berry.

Berry, 59, is president of the Belleair Village mobile home park's homeowners association. He has spoken out against the city's Clearwater-Largo Road redevelopment plan, saying more needs to be done for elderly residents displaced from mobile homes in the area.

"I can't afford to live in a $600, $700 apartment," Berry said.

The group asked Don Hazelton, president of the Federation of Manufactured Home Owners of Florida, to join the task force. He declined.

"Ernie may have the best interests, but he doesn't live in this type of housing," Hazelton said. Bach lives in a condominium.

Hazelton also expressed doubt that a local group without any legal authority could tackle a statewide problem.

"I don't think they're going to serve a purpose other than cause some general overall concern by the City Commission or County Commission," he said.

The Largo Civic Association, which was formed a year ago, claims a membership of about 3,000 Largo residents, according to Bach. Members pay an annual $5 membership fee.

The group has played an active role in Largo politics, hosting a candidate forum last year and even endorsing commission candidates Mary Gray Black and Andrew Guyette. Bach says civic association members knocked on doors and handed out fliers supporting Black and Guyette in such places as Island in the Sun mobile home park. Black and Guyette won seats in the election.

Bach, who served on the City Commission from 1987 to 1990, is a consumer advocate and retired private investigator. In 2003, he ran unsuccessfully against Commissioner Jean Halvorsen and is now considering another bid for office.

Shannon Tan can be reached at shtan@sptimes.com or 445-4174.

WANT TO JOIN?

Those interested in joining the Citizens Task Force for Fairness should contact the Largo Civic Association at Largoca@aol.com or call 585-1111 or 586-0889. LCA will discuss the task force at its next meeting at 10 a.m. Nov. 12 at the Largo Library, Central Park Drive.