It’s been nearly a year and a half since the city of Monroe disconnected utilities at Conestoga Mobile Home Park. Residents that were displaced have long since moved on, most with the help of FISH (Faith In Serving Humanity) and the greater Walton County community.
“God give us a good place. But I lost the home I owned since 1997,” said former Conestoga resident Rebecca Lowe, who owned her mobile home but paid rent for the lot on which it stood. “It was my life. My kids were raised there.”
Lowe and her family found their current rental home a week before the power got turned off on Oct. 11, 2019. She said her mother moved in the new place first, and she and her husband stayed behind at the mobile home park to pack.
“If it hadn’t been for Cindy Little we wouldn’t have gotten our barn moved,” Lowe said, crediting the executive director of F.I.S.H. for organizing the effort to assist displaced Conestoga residents.
Lowe said she is grateful to be in a nice home, despite having to pay more than double in rent what she paid monthly for her mobile home in the park.
“We make do,” she said. “I’m a fifth generation in this town. I was born and raised in this town. I’ve never left my roots.”
Lowe had been asked by the other mobile home owners in Conestoga to address the Monroe City Council in September 2019 prior to the October disconnect at the park. She claims Monroe Mayor John Howard did not appear to be sympathetic and would not look at her until she asked what the city wanted with the property.
“He said the city doesn’t want the property,” Lowe recalled. She added that several city officials were unaware several residents owned their mobile homes.
Lowe remembers one fellow Conestoga mobile home owner who chose to leave nothing behind when moving day arrived.
“He tore his mobile home down piece by piece,” she said.
Lowe said she had attempted to move her mobile home to another park, but her home was too big for the lot there and she didn’t have $5,000 to pay for the move.
Lowe’s problems with her former landlords, Anthony and Bobby Gravitt, continued even after she moved out of the park in early October 2019. In November 2019 she went to court after learning a notice had been posted on her mobile home – and on several others’ – on Oct. 30, 2019, according to previous reporting by the Tribune. The notices claimed she and the other mobile home owners owed $400 in unpaid lot rent and if it went unpaid the landlord could take possession of the trailers. Lowe countersued claiming the forced move had caused her financial and emotional distress, according to the Tribune. Lowe said the case was settled and she cannot discuss its details.
Monroe City Council member David Dickinson, who is an attorney, represented Lowe in the case.
“As a councilmember, I think the city had no viable option other than to shut down Gravitt’s operation,” Dickinson said. “He refused to correct numerous life threatening problems simply because doing so would have diminished his substantial profits from the operation. All of the council members sympathized with the residents and wanted some better alternative but Gravitt would not cooperate at all. I assume that the property will eventually be redeveloped but I do not know of any current proposal for that.”
“The most unfortunate part of the Conestoga shutdown was the lack of cooperation and communication from the property owner,” Mayor Howard said. “Our team did all they could hoping to give a little more time to the residents; however, someone vandalized the utility boxes creating a very hazardous situation. At the very least, it is comforting to know the residents of Conestoga are now in safer conditions.”
“The current status of the mobile home park is that it is completely cleared of mobiles homes, trash and other debris,” Monroe City Manager Logan Propes said. “The same owner still has it to my knowledge. It is not being used for any other purpose at this time. The owner did pay $7,500 in fines. He chose to relocate or dismantle the mobile homes on the site.”
Repeated attempts to reach the Gravitts for comment were unsuccessful.
As for the park’s residents who found themselves displaced in October 2019, F.I.S.H. stepped in with an army of 40-50 volunteers to assist.
“We didn’t worry about the politics we just dealt with the need that was there,” Little said.
The faith-based outreach spent $30,000 to help people get relocated, in some cases by paying down deposits and the first month of rent.
“We worked closely with a lot of the local landlords around,” Little said. She added that if former Conestoga residents moved within the City of Monroe, the city did not charge them a transfer fee for utilities.
“We had to get everybody out. It was very unsafe,” Little said.
F.I.S.H. arranged for some residents to stay at motels temporarily until permanent housing could be found, and other volunteers helped elderly and infirm residents pack their households, she added.
Many Walton County citizens and businesses pitched in, according to Little. She said a medical transport team was contacted to assist one resident who could not walk. Little said the man was relocated to Southside Trailer Park and that volunteers even built a ramp for him at his new place.
“He was so happy when they got him over there, they said he just kissed the floor and he cried.”
F.I.S.H. had tried to make improvements to the park in the beginning, Little said. But once the situation came to an impasse F.I.S.H. went to plan “B” and helped park residents leave before the lights went out.
The organization assisted 14 of the park’s 50 residents to move within 12 hours on the final day, she said.
F.I.S.H. assisted 33 families financially and helped more than a dozen others secure their belongings at a storage warehouse, Little said.
“People were scared,” Little recalled. “We just kept saying we’re going to get you out, don’t worry about it. They just needed to know someone cared.”
Local churches, businesses and individuals came through by donating time and money toward the relocation effort, according to Little.
“It was a God-thing because it just fell in place,” she said.