Elderly neighbors in one Bethel community demand change; frustration over investment firms and property management

Dozens of residents were gathered in front of the Lakewood Park community Saturday.

Posted: Sep 25, 2021 6:03 PM
Updated: Sep 26, 2021 12:00 AM

EUGENE, Ore.-- Senior residents living in the Lakewood Park community in Northwest Eugene are demanding change. They claim their neighborhood has drastically changed since investment firms and new property management got involved.

Around 180 manufactured homes make up the community. Residents over 55 years of age have been living in the neighborhood for over 40 years.

They said it was the quiet environment, beautiful lake and affordable costs that attracted them to the area. 

In March 2020, the residents attempted to buy out the property.

"We heard it was for sale, we tried to buy it." said resident Deann Sweeper. "We wanted to be self-governing."

But after several bids, the residents were unable to purchase it and the property was acquired by a real estate investment trust.

Soon after that, the owners appointed First Commercial Properties NW as management. Residents said this is when everything went downhill.

Rent costs reportedly increased by 50%, with some paying over $900 to rent their space. This, in turn, caused home selling prices to decrease drastically.

Last fall during the Holiday Farm Fire season, residents claim ash from the fires blew into their yards and cars but management failed to take care of it.

Residents said FCP also installed water meters to all their homes. But this caused more damage to their homes instead.

In May 2021, management switched over to Commonwealth Real Estate services. Since then, they've experienced even more issues which were brought to the forefront in a protest on Saturday.

"When they took over, they fired all the people that worked here," said Sweeper, who spearheaded the event. "There used to be lots of flowers here. Now, if you drive in this place and tell someone they have to pay $975 to live here and they have no amenities, they've got to be kidding."

RELATED: HUNDREDS OF SENIOR NEIGHBORS PROTEST AGAINST HOUSING MANAGEMENT IN BETHEL

Dozens of neighbors gathered with various signs stating their affordable housing rights are being stripped away from them. 

Some issues discussed in the protest include rent prices, lack of amenities, demolishing buildings and lake maintenance.

Erle Calhoun said the algae in the lakes are affecting his health.

"Algae has four toxins and bacteria that go airborne," Calhoun said. "That is what is exacerbating my breathing problems."

Several residents also brought up not being able to access community buildings and using other amenities due to COVID-19, despite paying for them all. 

"Sounds like during our short time involved in management, there is some communication that can be improved," said Adam Cook, president of Commonwealth Real Estate. "Hearing your concerns today is obviously important to us."

Commonwealth explained rent prices are based on market value in other cities like Portland and Seattle. But residents felt it was unfair to compare Eugene to cities with larger populations.

The management company also explained amenities like fitness centers and pools are in development. 

Mayor Lucy Vinis was present at the protest and said affordable housing is a priority for the City of Eugene.

"People are understandably very frustrated," Vinis said. "We know the pandemic, especially for elderly people, the opportunity to be in community is hugely important in terms of their mental health."

Residents said a majority of the neighbors living in the community are on social security.

"In a few years, we're going to be priced out," said resident Tom Daly. "We'll say well 'I guess we'll have to sell the house.' But we can't sell the house. This is a manufactured home park so people don't expect to pay that kind of rent."

Commonwealth Real Estate also said they plan to demolish several buildings in the neighborhood, including the post office, despite retaliation from residents.

KEZI 9 News attempted to interview Commonwealth Real Estate leadership privately, but they declined.

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