MANKATO — The Simmons family's last home had holes in the floor and their pipes often would freeze and sometimes burst because it got so cold inside in the winter.
Kelsey and Donald Simmons covered the holes with two-by-fours and made other improvisations they could afford on a tight budget. But they realized it wouldn't be long before their mobile home built in 1972 would be no longer be inhabitable.
In November they moved into a newer, warm trailer with solid floors thanks to a partnership between the city of Mankato, Minnesota Valley Action Council and three mobile home parks, with support from a state grant.
The pilot program is replacing three dilapidated mobile homes with newer ones at no cost to the homeowners if they stay in their new home for 10 years.
The Simmonses are the first recipients of a new residence. They moved into a 2002 home that was for sale in the Southhaven Mobile Home Community just blocks from their former home last month.
“This is the best thing I could ask for for my family,” Donald Simmons said. He and his wife worked hard to care for their former home but couldn't keep up with its constant repair needs, he said.
“This is a dream come true,” Kelsey Simmons said, adding that even her two children are taking pride in their new home by taking their shoes off at the door and picking up their toys.
One resident of the Lime Valley Mobile Home Park and one resident of the University Park Mobile Home Community soon also will get new places to hang their hats.
“Really it's about making sure these folks have a safe, affordable home. Everyone deserves that,” said Judd Schultz, housing services director for the Minnesota Valley Action Council.
Another goal is to remove blight in the mobile home parks. The vacated homes are demolished.
“It's not only helping that household, it's helping the park as well,” Schultz said.
A state grant provided $79,000 toward the pilot project. The city of Mankato gave $40,000 of the federal funding it receives to support community development. The three participating mobile home parks each contributed $10,000.
Those dollars will fund purchase of three mobile homes as well as transportation and demolition costs.
Recipients of new homes must have an income of no more than $24,000 but enough so that they can afford lot rent, utilities and upkeep. They are given a 10-year no-interest loan that will be forgiven if they live in and maintain their replacement residence for 10 years.
Schultz and other project leaders hope the pilot will lead to more grants and participation from all seven of the mobile home parks in Mankato.
The project is the product of an initiative by the public safety and building inspections departments to build better connections with the mobile home parks.
Officers and inspectors now regularly visit the parks to identify and warn residents about code violations and meet with property managers about other concerns, said police Cmdr. Dan Schisel. City staff also works with Minnesota Valley Action Council to find grants and other resources to help residents fund home repairs.
“It sends the message that we're here and we care,” Schisel said.
Southhaven Mobile Home Community Property Manager Ashley Bogenschutz said some of her residents previously weren't very receptive to the increased presence of city officers, but their attitudes are changing.
“I do believe that the tenants are happier,” she said.