Maura In The News

Boston's only trailer park survives, thrives

By KEN MAGUIRE - Associated Press Writer - April 1, 2004

BOSTON- Jackie Lundell's patients don't believe her when she tells them where she lives: a waterfront home that rents for less than $1,000 a month in one of the most expensive cities in the country.

"They're shocked," she said.

She's among 100 tenants who call the Boston Trailer Park their home. Yes, trailer park, in Boston. And it's along the Charles River, to boot.

It's not on the famed Duck Tour, and there isn't a subway stop nearby, but drive south on the VFW Parkway to the city's West Roxbury neighborhood, make a right at the grafitti-covered sign just before the Porsche dealership, and there's sits Boston's only trailer park.

"I feel like I'm in New Hampshire here," said Larry McGinn, 59, a retired firefighter. "I love the privacy. And in the city of Boston, there's nothing you can afford."

The tenants are still celebrating a recent agreement that preserves the park's future. The Porsche and Honda dealership next door tried for years to kick tenants out after James E. Clair bought the 13-acre lot next to his car dealership in 1986 and wanted to expand.

Tenants fought back, forming an association and enlisting city councilors and the mayor's office to help.

After more than a decade of legal squabbling, the sides reached an agreement negotiated by city officials. Clair will donate the back nine acres to a nonprofit affordable housing manager, and keep the front section for his long-awaited expansion. Clair did not return calls seeking comment.

"He bought it for the purpose of making money," said Arthur Niven, a 70-year-old retired iron worker and president of the tenants association. "His interest was to get rid of this place."

Thirty-two of the park's 120 mobile homes must be moved from the front, under terms of the deal, but residents say the inconvenience is worth it. They've got long-term security for the first time, and rents between $200 and $450 - in a city where the average rent for a two-bedroom apartment last year was $1,700.

Mobile homes and trailer parks became popular after World War II, when returning soldiers needed housing. The Boston Trailer Park was established in 1953, according to Bob Murphy, president of the West Roxbury Historical Society, on the former site of what was called Caledonian Park, where a Scottish-American social group gathered on occasion.

"They'd hold their annual track and field meets out there, with bagpipes and everything," said Murphy, who recalls just one other city trailer park, which disbanded years ago.

The Boston Trailer Park's ordeal is being played out at other parks across the country, according to Bruce Savage, a vice president with the Manufactured Housing Institute, a national trade association based in Arlington, Va.

Once reserved for spots on the outskirts of town, the land underneath the mobile homes has become more attractive.

"Urban sprawl has surrounded these communities," Savage said. "You've got these huge pieces of land being redeveloped. With real estate prices continuing to escalate, sometimes they are priced out of the market."

Though trailer parks are increasingly rare in major cities, they still exist across a fairly wide geographical spread. Atlanta, Denver, Minneapolis and Pittsburgh are a few cities that host trailer parks, according to listings on mobilehome.net.

There are an estimated 22 million people living in 25,000 trailer parks - also known as "manufactured housing" - in the United States, Savage said. In Massachusetts, there is an estimated 24,000 residents in such housing.

Boston City Councilor Maura Hennigan, who for 17 years has been helping the park residents, said most Bostonians still don't realize there's a trailer park in the city. She said she knows there's a social stigma, but the park's neighbors were always supportive.

"They very much are a part of our community," Hennigan said. "They are respected and loved. West Roxbury as a whole stood with them and said 'They have a right to live here.'"

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