Justice 4 North Fork – A Letter About Economic Oppression

By: Jason Griffith
I was a resident at the North Fork Mobile Home Park for almost 10 years. The residents were informed in March about a pending sale. I was told that the trailer I rented would be moved by the end of April and all of the residents were given about 45 days to vacate the land. Rumors of the sale circulated for over a year, but the owner (Fraley Commercial Properties) and park manager refused to give residents a straight answer when asked if the rumors were true.

City and county leaders insist they had no involvement in the sale, but they entered into a Tax Increment Financing (TIF) agreement with Polo I/Patrick Madden (the buyer). TIFs exist to help rich developers like Madden get richer by providing future tax revenue to him as a subsidy. Madden will not only profit from the businesses that operate in the shopping center he will develop; he will also make $11.7 million from the people of Morehead over the next 30 years. Our tax dollars will go into the pocket of someone with more money than he will ever be able to spend, and regular working folks will be kicked out of their homes to make it happen. Does that sound right?

Did Fraley have a right to sale, and Madden have a right to buy? Absolutely. No one is disputing that. But the way this went down is unethical and there are people that have the real possibility of losing their homes and having nowhere to go. That shouldn’t happen to anyone, especially not during a global pandemic, and when the outcome is to build another shopping center in a town with so many empty storefronts.

Residents that own their trailers but can’t afford to move them should be compensated for their loss. Madden or Fraley (or both) could use their wealth to help the people that will lose their homes, but I guess that’s not in their best interest. At the very least, they could agree to give a reasonable amount of time for residents to move. Forty-five days to find a new home, pack, and move is nowhere near enough time for people that work every day to support their families; and that’s not taking into consideration that some trailers can’t be moved at all and the cost of moving a trailer is about $3,500 which many residents living paycheck-to-paycheck can’t afford.

Fraley “generously” provided $1,000 to each resident to move but that money went to the moving company directly; so if they can’t move their trailers due to age or condition, or were renters like myself, they got nothing. There are several other factors – such as the lack of affordable housing in Morehead, the current housing market being unstable for buyers, and parks in/around Morehead not allowing trailers older than 1995 to sit on the land – that contribute to this terrible situation. Put all these factors together and you can see why residents are under such immense stress.

The bottom line is that working people with families to support are suffering and city and county leaders do not care. Fraley concealed her plans to sell until the very last second, so she doesn’t care. Madden clearly doesn’t care, as evidenced by his condescending remark about the residents’ plight, stating that it’s “unfortunate” that a trailer park sat at the entrance to the city. What I think is unfortunate is that so many, with so much, have so little regard for others. Don’t people matter? Don’t families matter? When someone works every day and pays their taxes to support their community, shouldn’t they have a right to be heard? Why is it that we live in society where our government, from the national to the local level, bends over backwards to support the rich, while discarding the working class?

All parties involved say that we had opportunities to be involved in this process, but we asked the owner of the park, and the manager, directly, if it was being sold and they did not want to tell us the truth. The city insists that they advertised about this, but is dropping an agenda for the special session of city council where this was discussed at 11:45am on a workday (5 hours before the session was supposed to begin) with no mention of the property name really advertising? What was wrong with coming to us directly by calling us, or mailing letters to us? We always got our tax bills on time, so they know where to find us. They didn’t want our input, not that it would’ve mattered if they did, but our elected officials OWED us the right to be informed about the process and they did not adequately do that.

Ben Carter, an attorney for the Kentucky Equal Justice Center, outlined the city’s procedural incompetence in a 12 page letter he sent to city and county officials, Fraley and Madden. Carter found a variety of ways that the city failed the residents of North Fork, up to and including violating the Kentucky State Constitution. Carter asked all parties to negotiate with the residents of North Fork in good faith to try and help the remaining residents avoid the very real possibility of losing their homes. That was a week ago, and nobody has heard a peep from them about the letter.

The resident leaders of the Justice 4 North Fork movement held a press conference on April 30 and through tear-filled eyes they described how this sale has affected their lives. Among those that spoke was a mother who broke down while talking about how she had to sell the trailer she owned for next to nothing to relocate her and her two daughters to a more expensive and smaller apartment; a lady who walks every day to work at Lowes (in the plaza containing many open store fronts across the highway from North Fork) talk about losing the trailer she lives in, which was a gift from a family member that allowed her to get off the busline and move from an apartment that was constructed from an RV; and other long-time residents that shared how this sale has impacted their lives and families. As I sat there and listened to these stories, it broke my heart. 
Charles Booker, a former state representative and potential challenger to Rand Paul for US Senate, spoke on our behalf. He asked the parties that received Carter’s letter to negotiate with the North Fork residents in good faith. Carter and Booker are examples of people from outside this community that care about the residents of North Fork because it’s the right thing to do.

But the elected officials of Rowan County and Morehead? They throw their hands up and say “oh well, what can we do? It’s a private sale.” Patrick Madden says “I don’t control the leases, so what can I do? That’s the responsibility of the owner.” The owner refuses to comment, just as she refused to talk to residents about the sale while rumors swirled for over a year. They all insist that there is nothing they can do and people suffer in the name of “progress.” I say real progress is when people stand up for their neighbors, when communities come together to support each other, and when our government officials realize that PEOPLE who live and work in their communities cast the votes, not multi-millionaire developers from out of town that care nothing for people and everything for profit.

To boil it down to a simple truth- they all saw dollar signs, and we saw eviction notices.

I am proud to be involved in Justice 4 North Fork. I have been fighting for and with my neighbors against the gentrification of North Fork; but so far, attempts to help have not succeeded. They will not listen to us or work with us. Laura White-Brown, mayor of Morehead, and Harry Clark, Rowan County Judge Executive, along with other city council members, met with some of the North Fork residents a few weeks ago. They pretended to care while interrupting citizens as they spoke and laughing at their demands for more time and fair compensation. Does that sound like elected officials that care about their citizens?

Time is running out and we need support. Madden says if the people of Morehead don’t want him there, he isn’t forcing himself on us. So let’s show him, the city, the county, and the owner of the park that we as a community do not approve of the way this went down. Let’s show them that we want affordable housing opportunities in Morehead, not another shopping plaza with chain stores and restaurants that pay poverty wages; and will most likely end up with empty storefronts like every other plaza in the city. Follow Justice 4 North Fork on Facebook, and please sign our petition. Please stand up for your neighbors, because the rich developers and elected officials care nothing for them or you. This isn’t the first time this has happened, it won’t be the last, but maybe with enough community outcry we can force our elected officials to at least acknowledge their wrong-doing and make real changes going forward.

More Infomation:

More information about what’s happening to the residents can be found at The Justice 4 North Fork Facebook page. Remember even if you don’t live in the same community these are still your friends and neighbors! How long until this happens in your community!? You could be the next Justice 4 North Fork. These folks need all the help they can get, Spread the word and sign their petition! Maybe we can get some justice for the people of North Fork Trailer Park!

Jason’s piece was recently in the Courier-Journal In a shorter 600-word version. This version is the full unadulterated piece Jason had written. The 600-word version can be found here

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