When Toni Martin and her three children moved to Gaslight Village in September 2010, they formed a bond with the other families in the small neighborhood. Martin said her children quickly made friends.
In March, Martin stood on her porch as six middle school-aged children filed past her, collecting forks. She said she frequently watched and fed neighborhood kids. A month later, as she stood in her empty singlewide trailer, her voice cracked when she spoke of leaving the community.
“We loved everybody in the park,” she said. “We’ve never had a community this close.”
Martin, who is originally from Lawrence, said her ex-husband was a Marine, so the family was used to moving to wherever he was stationed. When Martin returned to Lawrence, she thought the constant moving would be over.
“The kids need a place they can settle down at,” she said.
Gaslight Mobile Home Village on 31st Street, a few blocks east of Iowa Street, once was a full community of about 150 trailers, but now with construction of a student apartment complex looming, residents are emptying the park.
Park residents were told in November that Mid-America Manufactured Housing Communities, the company that owns Gaslight Village, was planning to sell Gaslight to an Austin, Texas-based developer. The company, Aspen Heights, plans to replace the park with townhomes for about 1,000 students.
Forced to move
Martin chose to relocate to Edgewood Apartments on Haskell Avenue. Martin said the owners told her the park can’t buy out her trailer until June, so she’s paying $285 a month in rent at the park in addition to the $434 per month at Edgewood. Martin, who works in the kitchen at Lawrence Memorial Hospital, said the additional rent is a significant burden.
Martin’s Gaslight neighbor Frances Wales said she doesn’t blame Kansas University students for being forced to move from her home of 20 years.
“If it wasn’t for KU, students I wouldn’t have had a job,” Wales said.
She worked security at KU’s Robinson Gymnasium for 37 years. Wales said that during her time at the university she became attached to students and faculty, especially the basketball players. She said many players used the gym during the offseason.
“Milt Newton was my favorite,” Wales said. “I read his life story, and it really makes you appreciate what these kids have to go through to make it.”
Wales, 78, retired in 2004, and though it was tough leaving the students behind, she was glad she could focus on her family. She said she would have started to move already, but much of her time is spent caring for two older sisters. She does cleaning, laundry and grocery shopping for a 95-year-old sister in North Lawrence. Her other sister, in Topeka, uses a walker, so Wales frequently visits her to help out.
“I think I’ve taken her to the eye doctor five times in the last month,” she said.
Wales also has nine grown children, 17 grandkids and 25 great-grandkids. Unlike many of the homes in the park, Wales’ singlewide is carefully landscaped with railroad ties, various flowers and shrubs. Two of her sons who live with her do most of the yard work.
Wales said she plans to have Gaslight’s owners move her trailer to Brookwood Mobile Home Park on East 19th Street where a majority of residents will relocate. Along with the trailer, Wales said, the manager agreed to move her porch, fence and a small shed.
Wales said she thought the lot in Brookwood is smaller than where she lives now, so she might have to leave much of that landscaping.
When she saw other people moving out of the park, she decided to talk to the park manager about what her options for moving were.
“We’ll just have to see what will work,” she said.
Wales said she expected to move within a month but wasn’t sure exactly when. She said had she not gone to the park office to talk to the manager, she probably wouldn’t have known anything anyway.
“I wish they (park officials) would do a better job communicating,” Wales said.
Tom Horner III, an executive with Edwardsville-based Mid-America Manufactured Housing Communities and Horner and Associates, the trailer park’s owners, said there is no set deadline for residents to be out of the park because the deal with the developers remains in negotiation.
Horner said he understands the park residents’ frustration over the vagueness of the park’s lifespan.
“We’d like to tell our residents what’s going on,” Horner said. “We want to give them peace of mind.”
He said the company sends updates about the deal in the park’s monthly newsletter, but there has been little new information since the fall.
Horner said his company would pay residents’ moving costs if they want to relocate their trailer to another park in Lawrence. The company had paid for only two of the about 130 trailers so far, but other residents had begun relocating on their own. In all, no more than 10 residents had relocated. He said he wasn’t sure what the cost to the company for moving residents would be because costs vary based on whether the trailer is a single- or doublewide and on what condition it’s in.
Horner said residents are allowed to stay in the park until the end of the school year so families with children won’t have to relocate until summer.