NEW TOWN, N.D. – Getting evicted may have a happy ending for residents of a 45-unit mobile home park on the Fort Berthold Indian Reservation.
Residents of the Prairie Winds Trailer Court have until the end of today to move out after the property was purchased to be used for employee housing for United Prairie Cooperative, formerly Cenex of New Town.
Christine Danks, who lived in the park for about a year, said residents feared they’d be homeless because of the area’s housing shortage that’s been exacerbated by oil development.
“Our whole little community was in a panic,” said Danks, who has up to five extended family members that live with her. “We felt like the forgotten citizens.”
But the tribal government of the Three Affiliated Tribes stepped in and developed a new mobile home park for the residents just outside of New Town.
Dennis Fox, CEO of the Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara Nation, said the tribe invested more than $2 million to develop the area, move trailers that were able to be moved and provide mortgages to residents who needed to buy new trailers.
The tribe also bought seven FEMA trailers to be used as transitional housing, Fox said.
Danks said her new home with a view of Lake Sakakawea is a huge improvement over the former park, which was squeezed between railroad tracks and a grain elevator.
“You honest to God felt like you were living in the ghetto,” Danks said. “It was atrocious.”
Now residents will have enough space to have yards and plant trees and shrubs. They’re committed to taking care of their new home, Danks said.
“We fought really hard to get this,” she said.
Residents were aware that the previous owner of the park was trying to sell the property, Danks said. The owner initially offered it to the tribe before selling it to Future Housing LLC, an organization associated with United Prairie Cooperative.
Residents learned in December that they’d be evicted and the area would be used to house employees of United Prairie. The initial deadline was May 1, but tribal leaders worked with Future Housing LLC to extend it to today. Many residents and their supporters organized a public protest of the evictions last April.
John Reese, CEO and general manager of United Prairie Cooperative and the agent for Future Housing, did not return a message left at his office.
Fox said although the eviction notices were tragic, the outcome will be beneficial to the residents. Some residents lived in trailers that were in poor condition and they are purchasing new trailers with a new mortgage program the tribe established.
“The new area is much better. Hopefully they’ll be happy there,” Fox said.
Water and sewer are still being hooked up in the new housing development and should be completed in about 10 days, said Toni Starr, a project manager with the Three Affiliated Tribes who coordinated the move. Most residents are staying with friends or family in the meantime, Starr said.
Resident Verdell Smith said the situation has been very stressful for them, but the end result proves what people can accomplish when they unite.
“If we come together, we can make things happen,” Smith said.