By Kevin Borden
A recent New York Times article titled "How the GOP Elite Lost Its Voters to Donald Trump," featured details of a gathering of seniors in Florida with Rep. Ron DeSantis at a Town Hall Meeting to illustrate the rejection of the G.O.P. establishment by mainly white working class voters. Behind the scenes, a tale emerges on how runaway corporate greed has left the lives of thousands of seniors in economic shambles.
This back story involves Dale and Kathy Muzzy from Daytona Beach, Florida. I first met the couple in September 2012 at a meeting of homeowners who lived in manufactured home communities (formerly known as trailer parks) owned by a company called Equity Lifestyle Properties, Inc. (ELS).
After working decades for a delivery service company, Dale was severely injured in a motorcycle accident. He was no longer able to work and went on disability. A year later, his wife Kathy was in a horrific accident. Kathy was driven off I-95 by a tractor trailer and critically injured. Kathy had to learn how to walk again and has undergone 32 surgeries.
After Kathy nursed Dale back to health from his accident, Dale switched roles with his wife and now acts as her day-to-day caregiver. Dale feeds, clothes and bathes Kathy every day. Dale makes sure she takes her medications.
Dale and Kathy decided to move into their home in Carriage Cove, an ELS-owned community located in Daytona Beach, shortly thereafter. Carriage Cove seemed like a great option for them. They were low on savings with no future employment prospects, and the property was affordable and offered a sense of community.
At first, living there was worry-free for them. But their experience has since soured. ELS used to cover water, sewer and trash pickup as a part of their monthly rent. But ELS took away those services, forced the costs on the homeowners without a reduction in rent. They are faced with constant rent increases, as the backlog on needed repairs to the community grows.
"The longer we live here, the more it's clear to us that ELS communities are operated by a predatory equity scheme that has left our economic security in shreds," Dale says.
ELS is now the nation's largest publically traded Real Estate Investment Trust in terms of ownership of manufactured housing communities. ELS's Chairman is Sam Zell, a wealthy real estate investor currently worth $4.5 billion. To make matters worse, Zell has been investing in PACs, like Karl Rove's American Crossroads, that have pushed for privatization and cutbacks to important social programs that Dale and Kathy rely on like Social Security and Medicare.
Unfettered greed driven by those of Zell's ilk leaves behind a wake of anger, confusion and despair. Those seeking political office further fuel this by spewing hate-filled and divisive political rhetoric. The result are communities left in shambles. But homeowners like Dale and Kathy are standing up, speaking out and working to put their communities back together.
The September 2012 meeting where I first met Dale and Kathy kicked off local community discussions on ways to strengthen and expand Social Security. Protests were also held calling on ELS to be accountable to the needs of homeowners. A contingency of Florida homeowners visited Washington, DC in December 2013 to lobby on Social Security expansion issues. One of the key moments during the Washington trip was a request that Rep. DeSantis remove his name from a 'Dear Colleague' letter calling for Social Security cutbacks. After hearing dissatisfactory answers from DeSantis' staff in DC, they returned home and led in-district efforts that led to homeowners turning out to the gathering with DeSantis mentioned in the New York Times article.
What has emerged is growth and development of a project called MHAction. MHAction is an organized response by manufactured homeowners across the country counteracting the runaway greed that is decimating many families, like the Muzzy's. MHAction's overall strategy stands in stark juxtaposition to the hateful rhetoric that proliferates our current political debate. MHAction leaders believe that preying on the fears of families in economic pain is a dangerous game to play. One that is fraught with mutually destructive consequences. It not only breaks our country's political systems, it breaks our country's soul. MHAction's strategy is based on the values of care for our neighbors and love of our communities.
I feel honored and blessed to have met Dale and Kathy. Their ability to turn the economic pain that is being dished out to their family and transform it into loving community involvement on key issues is inspiring. The pathway that Dale and Kathy are taking is one of patience, love and forgiveness. It may be a difficult road to walk down, but it's the correct one. It's the one that will truly fix the issues that all of our communities face.
Kevin Borden is the Project Director of MHAction, an innovative manufactured housing project sponsored by the Center for Community Change, please visit: www.mhaction.org. On Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/MHaction/