NEWPORT NEWS, Va. – Several families living in the Patrick Henry Mobile Home Park are not giving up without a fight.
Nearly 20 tenants hired a lawyer to get what they say they deserve as time ticks away and the fear sets in that they could be left without a place to call home.
Efralyn Rosa Arce takes care of his father whose health is declining and is on a fixed income.
Rosa Arce bought his mobile home two years ago and fixed it up so he could look after his dad. Now, they, along with 80 other families in the park are being forced out.
“We know in our heart that what they’re doing is wrong,” Rosa Arce said.
Rosa Arce is now leading the charge by bringing together the several tenants to get a lawyer.
The attorney Nathaniel Webb, III, sent a letter to the Newport News Airport Commission, which owns the land, and argued the families need more time and money to pack up and leave.
Newport News/Williamsburg International Airport Executive Director Mike Giardino told News 3 over the phone Monday that he got the letter but didn’t read it.
“Nobody’s here on their way of progress,” said Arce. “But, we’re not going to take $2,000 because to me, that was like a slap in the face.”
The airport is closing the park in November and tenants are living rent-free until that day comes. They, however, only got the news just three weeks ago and have until the end of the month to move out for a $2,000 compensation.
Newport News Councilman Dave Jenkins said that’s not enough money to uproot families and relocate homes that could cost thousands of dollars if other parks will even take them.
“I thought it was a terrible idea,” Jenkins said. “I don’t think the people who made this decision were really thinking about the impact it would have on the families.”
Jenkins believes the focus needs to be on getting more homes into the park rather than fewer and adds that high housing market is going to make it difficult for families to relocate.
“One of the big things that we need to focus on here in Newport News is affordable housing,” he said. “Rather than closing this community, I’d like to see it full.”
Giardino, the airport’s executive director, said they’re not making any money on the property anymore and it needs a lot of work.
Giardino said that even though there are no immediate plans for the land, they’re spending $650,000 of state money to update part of the storm drainage system that’s been an ongoing issue for decades.
The full drainage project is estimated to cost $1.5 million, according to Giardino.
“I could somewhat understand the decision if this land was going to be immediately used for some other vital economic purpose, but they’ve stated that they have no plans for that, so that to me, makes the decision even worse,” said Jenkins.
Kenny Bishop used to be a tenant in the park two decades ago when there were more than 200 families living there.
“They let it go,” said Bishop. “They let the infrastructure go and everything. When I’d come in the morning, the streets would be so flooded and backed up.”
Giardino said he understands tenants are facing a difficult situation, which is why they’re connecting them with organizations to help with housing and possible financial assistance.
The city’s spokesperson said the Newport News Department of Human Services (DHS) continues to engage with tenants and has also partnered with the United Way and other community agencies, including the Salvation Army; Catholic Charities; Thrive; Peninsula Agency on Aging and others to determine what programs, services and resources are available to the residents.
Many families say it’s not enough. They say they want the money back that they put into fixing and updating the homes and are staying hopeful.
“We want what is fair. Give me what my home’s worth; give me my deposit back, and I’m on my way,” said Rosa Arce. “If they are watching, do the right thing. Don’t try and do bad to the low-income people, because a lot of us here are low income. Some are retired; some of them get Social Security.”
In the meantime, Councilman Jenkins is urging tenants to make their council members aware of the situation and call the airport commission to convince them to let them stay.
News 3 has reached out to Newport News Mayor McKinley Price on this, but he declined to speak with us.