MURPHYSBORO — Mobile Ranch is tucked out of the way but has been a particular focus for the city for the last year.
The community of mobile homes sits just south of St. Joseph Memorial Hospital in Murphysboro and is situated below the road, down a hill. Passersby aren’t able to see, at least too clearly, the state of the community — abandoned crumbling trailers, pitted roads and trash. Among the debris and shells of houses are trailers many are calling home.
Mayor Will Stephens said the park really came to his attention in the last year, starting when a resident complained “about the living conditions of the place.”
He said Holiday Inn Express developer Joe Koppeis also brought the conditions to his attention — Stephens said Koppeis even had thought about buying the park, demolishing the development and building new, low-income housing.
Stephens said he had to see it for himself.
“Once I got there and saw the condition of things ... frankly (I) was appalled,” Stephens said. It was then that he began trying to figure out what to do, and he has taken to making the conditions of the trailer court a discussion at the twice-monthly city council meetings.
He said many of the hundred notices sent to Mobile Ranch owners for code violations were not responded to — the city had to take money out of public funds to pick up trash, among other projects.
Stephens said he has sent inspectors out and they came back with a count: At least 16 trailers are not occupied and are likely uninhabitable, and another 15 need to be demolished. The other 60, he said, are inhabitable but have other comparatively more minor code violations.
“This is unacceptable for our community to allow this to go on,” Stephens said. “The people that live there deserve to have a quality of life and representation of government as anyone else.”
On top of the living conditions, Stephens said there have been shady dealings of various kinds. One story stuck out.
He said a resident came to him saying that he had purchased a trailer from a man who owned two lots there. He paid $8,000 for the mobile home — after receiving payment, the seller disappeared.
Stephens said the resident told him that when the new owners took over, they asked who they were and why the family was there. The resident explained that they purchased the trailer from a former resident. After a document check, the new owners said that man had never even lived there and had no rights to sell the property — they had been scammed.
Some residents of spoke to The Southern about the park’s problems with drugs and vacant buildings — several speculated that meth was being cooked in some of the numerous vacant trailers in the court. They were also almost certain drugs were being sold out of some of the homes.
Things have gotten a bit better in recent months, though.
Last year, Mobile Ranch transferred hands from the Vaughn family to The Mobile Home Park Consultants of Oakdale, California. Residents and Stephens said there has been a move in the right direction, though there’s a long way to go.
Robert Hubbard has lived in his trailer in the Mobile Ranch with his wife Heather and their 13-year-old daughter for the last four years. He said he has seen improvement in the last few months.
“It’s not too bad now,” he remarked.
Robert Hubbard has seen new property managers doing maintenance and trailer checks, and even tearing down some of the blighted buildings.
“Landlords (are) actually coming in and doing some work,” Hubbard said. Hubbard said he has seen the new ownership thin out the “deadbeats” who were causing problems in the neighborhood.
Mostly gone are the days of relentless traffic in and out of the trailer court with stereos blasting, and loud, late parties, Heather Hubbard said Friday.
Stephens has seen similar improvements, but he still would like to see more — he said the new owners have a tall order to fill in getting the place cleaned up.
“I will say that the new ownership has been much more responsive,” he said.
Robert Merchant is the manager of Mobile Home Park Consultants, and said it is the company’s model to give communities like these a facelift.
“It ain’t nowhere near where we want it to be,” Merchant said. However, he noted that that they are doing the work “as fast as we can get it done.”
One problem Merchant said MHPC has had is keeping a good manager on site, but said Joe Blake has had a promising start. He started about two weeks ago.
Blake said it’s an uphill challenge getting the park up to snuff. But he’s trying.
“I plug at it every day,” he said.
Merchant said it’s his company’s goal to make clean, safe places for people to live, and if that means losing a bit of money, that’s just the cost of doing business.
“We would rather have a vacant trailer than have someone who won’t take care of it,” he said.
As to the cleanup of unsavory tenants that are already there, Merchant said they do all they can.
“We do whatever it takes to insure the safety of the tenants that our lawyer will allow,” he said.
Despite the turn for the better, Stephens said he’s still keeping a close eye on Mobile Ranch. He said if there isn’t marked improvement, “I’m of the opinion that we should seek a contractor to demolish those vacant and uninhabitable trailers … and place a lien on that particular park.”