Rent control option being weighed for Miller’s River Wood/River Bend development

  • BIALECKI

  • Athol Selectboard Chair Rebecca Bialecki speaks with residents of Miller's River Wood/River Bend before Sunday's meeting. Staff photo/Greg Vine

  • SUHOSKI Contributed photo

For the Athol Daily News
Published: 4/7/2021 2:09:48 PM
Modified: 4/7/2021 2:09:46 PM

ATHOL — Chairwoman Rebecca Bialecki said at Tuesday’s meeting of the Selectboard that she and Town Manager Shaun Suhoski had been in contact with the town’s legislative delegation to discuss strategies for dealing with what could be a significant increase in rents for residents of the Miller’s River Wood/River Bend manufactured home development.

Residents recently received notice from park owner American Home that, in order to comply with a recent state Supreme Judicial Court ruling, rents would — for many residents — be going up as the first of April. The court ruled in November that rents in a given development or park could not differ significantly from one renter to the next.

Residents of Miller’s River Wood/River Bend own the homes in which they live but rent the cement pad and the parcel of land on which their home is located.

Bialecki, Town Manager Shaun Suhoski, state Rep. Susannah Whipps and then-candidate for selectman Mitch Grosky (who joined the board this week) were among those who attended a meeting of over 100 park residents and concerned family members on March 21 to discuss strategies for responding to the rent hike.

“The latest proposed lease that came from their owner,” said Bialecki, “proposed to increase their rent by a couple of hundred dollars (per month). It’s a pretty significant jump when you look at folks over there who are all over 55, many of whom are living on fixed incomes. They certainly don’t have incomes that would grow to keep up with that kind of skyrocketing rent.”

Following the meeting, said Bialecki, research was undertaken by the staffs of Rep. Whipps and Sen. Ann Gobi.

“We came across an option that the city of Attleboro has undertaken,” she said, “to create, via the Legislature, a rent control board. So, their city council is acting as their rent control board for one specific property. In Athol, this would apply only to this single manufactured home park.

“So, we will get out more information as it becomes available to us. Shaun has been in close contact with Sen. Gobi’s staff about any options that we have as a community.”

Bialecki said she and the other officials who attended the meeting in March had an important message for residents of the park.

“We did encourage folks over there,” she continued, “to certainly stay united; it was a good, strong message for them to work together as a community so they could negotiate some terms to this lease that will be livable for them, rather than feeling like they had to panic and sell their house.”

Bialecki said notice of the rent increase didn’t give residents much time to make important decisions.

“It was pretty minimal notice,” she said. “They sent out the notice with just 30 days, for an April 1 increase.”

She said she wanted to make sure members of the board, residents of the park, and the community in general know what was happening.

“We don’t have any plans to go ahead with any action tonight because we’re just not prepared yet, but down the road we will be,” she concluded.

“We are looking into this,” said Suhoski. “In the neighboring town there is rent control for some of their mobile home, manufactured home facilities. So, we’ll get more information to the board.”

The town of Orange does have an established rent control board that deals specifically with the Leisure Hills and Brookside mobile home parks.

“Regarding rent control,” said Town Counsel John Barrett, “that is something, I believe, that if the town was to go forward would require a special act (of the Legislature). I know that’s what they did in Plainville and in Attleboro to adopt the rent control board.”

The Athol Daily News reached out to American Home for comment but did not hear back by deadline.

Greg Vine can be reached at gvineadn@gmail.com


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