Mobile home residents see U.S. 1 plan as threat

Efforts to enforce laws feared as attack on less fortunate

November 28, 1999|By Jamal E. Watson | Jamal E. Watson,SUN STAFF

The move was supposed to be only temporary -- just enough time for Laura Tucker and her family to save money and get back on their feet.

When she moved into a mobile home just off U.S. 1 in North Laurel in 1983, she didn't imagine that 16 years later she would still be stuck there.

"My brother made it out" of the park, said Tucker, a single mother of two children. "He now has a nice house in Glen Burnie, and he takes cruises and everything. Eventually, I want to be able to buy my own house, but until then, I'm just trying to do the best that I can here. Sometimes it takes time."

Living in one of Maryland's wealthiest counties, many residents of the five mobile home parks along U.S. 1 say they feel neglected. Their plight seems certain to become a contentious issue as business and political leaders launch new efforts to improve the corridor.

The revitalization effort has picked up steam over the past weeks. This month, Howard officials met with Prince George's County officials who share an interest in U.S. 1. A revitalization committee composed mainly of business owners was launched to address ways of sprucing up the Howard County stretch of road.

While many residents worry about making ends meet, community activists and county officials focus on problems such as trash and junked vehicles, and they say there is a dire need for improvements.

"My concern is that the laws and regulations governing the mobile home parks in Howard County are not being enforced," said North Laurel community activist Barbara Lovett, who has been monitoring the parks for several years. "There are piles of trash, burned trailers, abandoned cars -- residents shouldn't have to live like this."

Kim Miller, founder of the Patuxent Neighborhood Watch in North Laurel, agreed, saying that several of the trailer parks are in clear violation of the law.

"You can't have a townhouse in a community that's a dump -- the same should be true for the trailers."

Tucker, 28, fears all the talk about improvements masks another agenda. "The people who live in the big houses in Columbia or Ellicott City don't want us here. They would prefer to get rid of us, but many of us have to live here if we want to stay in the county," she said. "We can't afford any other place."

To make enough money to pay the $377 monthly mobile home park fee, Tucker has begun to baby-sit neighborhood children. She is unable to work because she was injured recently in an automobile accident.

"We are often looked down upon by other people because we live in trailer parks," she said. "But most of us are trying our hardest. Sure, you have one or two people who do whatever, but we tend to look out for one another and we care about this community."

Bill Racher, a transplant from Appalachia, lives in another mobile home park along U.S. 1. He grew up in Kentucky and worked for years in coal mines before moving his wife and three children to Jessup, where they live in a three-bedroom mobile home.

Racher, 46, is a truck driver now, but he says that life here isn't much different from the one in Kentucky.

"Things are pretty much the same for me. The only good thing is that the schools in Howard County are excellent," he said. "Our kids will get a good education, and hopefully, they won't have to drive trucks like me."

In recent years, county officials say, they have stepped up efforts to force the owners of mobile home parks to comply with health, safety and zoning regulations.

"We get quite a bit of complaints about the parks," said Joe Lettich, a county Department of Planning and Zoning inspector. "There are certain things that we can do, and other things that we can't do. The problems are ongoing. As soon as we remove one car, another abandoned car shows up.

"There are a lot of reasons why these cars are unregistered in the first place. In some cases, it's an economic thing, many of the residents might be financially disabled," said Lettich, who has been working with several mobile home park owners to ensure that unregistered cars are removed.

On the issue of neighborhood safety, Tucker wants more police to patrol her area, with the hope that the patrols will keep prostitution and drug dealing from seeping into the parks from Whiskey Bottom Road near U.S. 1, where those problems are prevalent.

"I think this is where the government can help out," Tucker said. "I am concerned for the small children that live in this area. We have to worry about these things all the time."

She regularly comforts her two children, Brandon, 8, and Erica, 7, who are often taunted by other children who call them "trailer trash."

"I tell them that we're not trailer trash, we keep our house decent and clean. That's the most important thing," Tucker said.

State Del. Frank S. Turner, a Columbia Democrat who with County Councilman Guy J. Guzzone has become active on U.S. 1 issues, says state dollars might be available to improve landscaping on public roads near the mobile home parks.

"We do have a segment of the county that can't afford some of the more expensive homes, and who need low and moderate housing," said Turner. "We can't displace these people. We need to come up with a way to attract businesses to the area that might employ some of these residents. There is a real benefit to having workers live close to their jobs, but it has to be a partnership between the county, the owners of the mobile home parks and the business community."

It was unclear what role, if any, the mobile home park owners would play in revitalizing U.S. 1. Repeated telephone calls to all five of the owners were not returned.

"I think it's good that people are talking about fixing Route 1," Tucker said. "Everyone else goes back to their big homes in Ellicott City or Columbia, but we're the ones who have to live here."

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