Location: Maine
A project of: Cooperative Development Institute
Contact: Noemi Giszpenc, Executive Director, ngiszpenc@cdi.coop

In 1974 my parents bought a single-wide mobile home in a land leased park and we lived there for a number of years before we moved to other housing. My parents were wage earners and often moved in search of better jobs, housing or a better sense of security. In my adult life and as a single mom for most of it, I have also been in search of that same security. Ten years ago my husband and I purchased a single-wide manufactured home. Ownership is great for the security it provides. We are also live in a resident owned community (ROC), where we are one of 52 co-op member owners, each of whom pays towards the cost of owning and maintaining our investment.

Co-op ownership, has definitely secured our future and the future of the home we live in. Resident ownership removes the fear of a developer buying the land and our having to move our home. We also know by stepping up and being involved with the co-op volunteer efforts, we have a say in how things are managed. Being managed directly by owners helps control costs and keep the lot rent affordable. While being a member of a ROC has provided housing security for my family, ROCs are so much more. They have helped to build a real sense of community and offer the prospect of a platform for long term wellness.

Residents who once did not even know their own neighbors are suddenly empowered to step up and get to know one another, all while promoting each other’s best interests.

Recently, I’ve been thinking about ROCs in an even broader sense and in the context of how they relate to Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs which tells us that there are actually 5 levels of needs that motivate humans. Some are basic, such as food, shelter, safety and water, and other needs are emotional, such as love and belonging. At the top of the pyramid Maslow lays out the needs for self-actualization or self-fulfillment. I believe that this more in-depth theory of what motivates people can help drive our mission to help individuals build a foundation for a successful life.

This past year I participated on a panel at the I’M HOME Conference in San Antonio, Texas. The topic was a discussion on Manufactured Housing as a Platform for Family Wellness. The panel included three organizations, Augusta Communities, Family Promise, and CDI. Each provides services for residents living in manufactured housing communities. Augusta Communities, located in California, is a nonprofit that purchases manufactured housing parks to provide affordable housing and then provides services and programs that promote family wellness. These services include after-school homework clubs, water conservation classes, youth summer camps, and financial literacy classes. During the discussion, we all agreed that wellness matters in the lives of each of us, and that ROCs have enormous potential to be community based platforms to integrate and deliver an array of services, build even greater self-reliance, and strengthen our communities.

Turnpike Park Cooperative

Enhanced networking and the active promoting of services opens up a better chance for broad life opportunities and may help with aging-in-place initiatives. The eight Maine co-ops that I work with are highly networked. Since 2013 these communities have been working to drive a networking platform. They come together three or more times a year to talk about challenges to the communities as well as to promote training and services to residents. These volunteer residents have helped to create community gardens and develop emergency preparedness plans. They have met with local vendors about discounts and state agencies about best practices for infrastructure management. These services alone are a benefit to the community, but the underlying benefit comes from the individuals who promote their own wellness. Residents who once did not even know their own neighbors are suddenly empowered to step up and get to know one another, all while promoting each other’s best interests.

Stories of job promotions and goals accomplished are what continue to support Maslow’s theory of the human need for self-actualization and self-fulfillment. Providing people with the opportunity to drive their own success can actually affect outcomes for their entire life. One community in Maine promoted a Good Shepherd Food Truck in the community. One might think this was to support the residents in the community, but actually it was to support the entire town. More than 70 families walked away from that truck with food.

The community walked away with a sense of pride and accomplishment. The town that they live in now has a different view and respect for the community. I guess you could say that everyone was fed on that day. They proved Maslow’s theory on the need for belonging in its truest sense. We are finding proof that promoting wellness for residents is just as important, if not more important, to meeting long-term affordable housing needs. Apparently, Maslow knew there was a bigger equation. I envision a future where manufactured housing communities are a place where working individuals, families, and retired individuals can live for a lifetime–where each person doesn’t simply reside in the community, but develops a future that meets every need: from basic and emotional needs to self-actualization.