Jerry Davich: ‘It’s gonna kill me if I have to leave here’
Jerry Davich firstname.lastname@example.org September 9, 2012 9:10PM
A tear forms on the cheek of Mary Rambo as she considers her future at Don's Motel and Mobile Home Park in Portage Thursday Sept. Sept. 6, 2012. Rambo, 72, and other residents are facing eviction from the park where she's lived for 20 years as the owners lost it to foreclosure and the city considers plans for the area. | Andy Lavalley~Sun-Times Media
Updated: October 11, 2012 6:08AM
Mary Rambo pounded her fists on her lawn chair, out of sheer frustration, before breaking down into a sob.
“I don’t want to be homeless again,” the 71-year-old grandmother sighed.
“I did nothing wrong here. I’ve paid my rent for more than 20 years using money I earned with these two hands,” she said, raising her arms into the air. “It’s gonna kill me if I have to leave here.”
“Here” is her home inside the mobile home park next to Don’s Motel in Portage, located on U.S. 20 on the city’s west side.
It’s a largely forgotten, neglected, and unsightly residential area, and certainly not a site that city officials have been proud of through the decades. Simply put, it’s not the most ideal welcome mat to the city for out-of-town guests or travelers.
“But it’s my home,” said Rambo, as she sat on her back porch deck with her 68-year-old sister, Ginger Johnson.
“We’re a big family here,” Johnson said, who lives across the street inside the park. “Me and my sister don’t want to be split up.”
The sisters are upset about legal proceedings in the works involving the foreclosure of the motel, its mobile home park, and surrounding property.
Main Source Bank now owns the property and a judge will soon determine the site’s fate, I’m told by city officials. Once this legal process is done, residents there will have 90 days to vacate and find a new home, somewhere.
Once this happens, and the property is vacated, the city has definite plans to purchase that stretch of land to attract light industrial businesses, as it’s zoned for. This is part of the city’s “vision” for that U.S. 20 corridor.
One way or another, the two sisters, along with roughly 16 other families at that park, will have to move and live somewhere else. This is the cold truth of the issue.
“I feel badly for those families, but this process would be happening even if the city didn’t have plans to purchase that property,” explained Portage Mayor Jim Snyder.
No financial offer has been made yet from the city to the bank for that property, he noted, but the city has “every intention” of doing so.
Snyder likens this “growth and progress” scenario to what happened earlier this year with the closing of Super Kmart on U.S. 6. That long-time city landmark will be replaced by a Meijer grocery store next year.
“These sorts of things are unfortunate, but this is part of the city’s vision for the future,” Snyder said. “Portage is moving in the right direction.”
As a 32-year resident of the city, I agree with Snyder on a macro level, but it’s the micro level that’s tough to witness first-hand.
Back in February, long-time workers of that Kmart store told me they felt sucker punched when they lost their jobs. And now residents of that mobile home park, such as Rambo (a former Kmart worker, by the way) feel sucker punched, too.
“It’s not humane,” she told me as cars whizzed past along U.S. 20. “All of us here are living paycheck to paycheck, just trying to make ends meet.”
Rambo said she gets a monthly Social Security check and small pension check totaling a little over $800. From that, she pays $270 for her lot rental payment, as well as utilities, food, and other bills.
If she’s forced to move, and it looks like a done deal to me, she is convinced she can’t afford another mobile home park’s lot rental, which range from $400 to $600, she said. Not to mention the cost to move her trailer and other related expenses.
“The bank told me they’re not obligated to help us move,” Rambo said angrily as kids played in the park’s central play area. “I never thought I would end up in such a mess in my so-called golden years.”
“So now where do I go?” she asked me. “How the city can justify this action?”
The city plans on using redevelopment funds to purchase the property, and it’s aptly labeled because the long-term plan is to redevelop that corridor.
At its recent meeting, the city’s Redevelopment Commission unanimously approved the expansion of the city’s Southport Allocation District, also known as a tax increment financing, or TIF, district.
Dave Minick, owner of nearby Marine Drive mobile home park, has already approached Rambo and her sister about moving to his park, they said. But they weren’t sure of his intentions, or their ultimate plans of relocating.
On Thursday, I learned that the two sisters (and the other families) will indeed be forced to leave the park. The only question now is when, and that’s up to a judge and the bank.
“But we’ve done nothing wrong,” Rambo told me with heartfelt emotion.
No, they’ve done nothing wrong. But such collateral damage often happens on the road to growth, progress, and vision. Just try explaining that to the Mary Rambos of the world.
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