Athol Selectboard briefed on Miller’s Woods/River Bend; Bialecki supports rent control

  • BIALECKI

For The Athol Daily News
Published: 9/14/2021 1:23:44 PM
Modified: 9/14/2021 1:23:45 PM

ATHOL — The president of the homeowners’ association for Miller’s Woods/River Bend briefed Athol’s Selectboard regarding developments at the manufactured housing development at the board’s meeting on Tuesday, Sept. 7. Earlier this year, a number of homeowners at the development were hit with rent increases imposed by park owner Hometown America in the wake of a state Supreme Judicial Court ruling handed down last November.

The court ruled that homeowners in parks like Miller’s Woods/River Bend should all pay the same amount for rental of the cement pads on which their homes are situated.

Association president Allan Dernalowicz told the board, “Hometown America had to do something to comply with the law. So, they have a base rate and then they have add-ons — taxes and the water and stuff like that. That’s roughly around $70-something bucks a month.”

Dernalowicz said in the time he has lived at the park he has seen three increases which raised his monthly rent from $654 to $671.

“The last day or two of February,” he continued, “we all received enormous packets giving us the new rent structure. And the way it was worded, ‘You have an option sign a five-year lease, or you have the option to sign something as a tenant at will. I was implied if they didn’t receive those signatures that they were able to start eviction proceedings beginning on April 1. That terrorized everyone in there, even though they (Hometown America) were not able to do it.”

Dernalowicz said the HOA secured the services of the Northeast Justice Law Center, which works pro bono on housing cases throughout the region. He said at the end of March, residents received notice from Hometown America that they need not sign either of the agreements. By then, however, a number had already been signed and returned to the Chicago-based company.

He explained a rent structure, developed without any input from park residents, has been introduced by Hometown America. However, legal action, he said, is being pursued.

“We are now in a class action suit,” said Dernalowicz, “along with the state Manufactured Home Association, saying these (rental costs) are not where they should be and they’re still not in compliance with the law.”

“Our big concern is with the long-time residents who are paying, like, in the low $400s. Are they going to be priced out of there?”

Dernalowicz said his rent had actually gone down.

He said a decision has not yet been made regarding the court in which the case will be heard.

Dernalowicz added that, at a meeting of the homeowners’ association, those in attendance voted unanimously to have him appear before the Selectboard to discuss the ongoing issues.

“So, there are no people in there who are not interested in rent control,” he said.

Board Chair Rebecca Bialecki explained that, in May 2020, she, Town Manager Shaun Suhoski, Town Counsel John Barrett, state Rep. Susannah Whipps, and state Sen. Anne Gobi had a conversation with an attorney for Hometown America and one of the company’s vice presidents.

“(They) were really helpful in helping us understand what their endeavors were to try to meet the law,” she said.

“I am not privy to anything from Hometown America and what they would have said to you about how they would meet the law,” Dernalowicz interjected.

“Well,” said Bialecki, “they explained the new rent structure. So, some people’s rent was going to go down, just as you described.

“We also shared with them the concerns that we had heard — very vocally from the residents — with regard to the manager; that there was some significant concern expressed by some of the people at (a March 2020) meeting with regard to the manager not treating everyone with respect and dignity, the way everyone deserves. So, we did address that concern as well.”

“That, to me, is neither here nor there,” Dernalowicz responded. “This is about the big picture and what’s going on there.

“We’re an elderly community. Like I tell people,” he joked, “half of us are over medicated and half of us are under medicated. That’s also part of the nature of the beast.”

Bialecki told Dernalowicz that Whipps and Gobi “were both very supportive of the Athol board moving forward with some sort of rent control structure for the future.”

She explained that, using regulations from several other communities — including Orange and Tyngsboro — a proposed rent control blueprint has been composed and will appear as an article Oct. 18 fall Town Meeting warrant for voter consideration.

“My concern is really for the future,” she continued. “This is a corporate-owned manufactured home park, and Hometown America really assured us they have no intention of selling this park anytime in the near future. But the ‘near future’ doesn’t help the next generation or residents.

“So, from my perspective on this board, it’s important we establish some sort of rent control authority in this town specifically to look at this manufactured home park.”

Bialecki implored the group of people who came to the Selectboard meeting to show support for Dernalowicz to show up at the town meeting.

More than 140 Athol residents own homes in the Miller’s Woods/River Bend development.

Greg Vine can be reached at gvineadn@gmail.com.


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