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Beechcrest residents feel left out of county's plan

The thought of leaving the Beechcrest Mobile Home Park in North Laurel after 15 years is bittersweet for Janice Brown.

She would stay in her trailer until the roof caves in, she said, but moving does respresent a fresh start.

"Whether I like or welcome the change, it's coming," Brown said.

The Howard County Housing Commission purchased the 5.5-acre mobile home park in September and plans to build between 33 and 50 one-room apartments for the chronically homeless. The park is scheduled to close Nov. 15.

While she is not upset that the park is closing, Brown is concerned because she has "been told practically nothing" about how the county will help her find a new home.

"They're putting my life on hold," said Brown, 51. "If I'm not satisfied with the compensation they're giving me, then yes, I will fight them."

The proposed site is behind the Econo Lodge on Route 1, and sits between the Country Meadows apartment complex to the east and single-family homes to the west.

Tom Carbo, executive director of the Housing Commission, said the county is in the process of making the proper assesments to determine each resident's relocation assistance package. Assessments include an appraisal of the mobile home, determing if the home can be relocated and getting a sense of each resident's wants and needs.

Carbo said the assessments for the 38 units will take time.

"It's not a simple process," he said. "We can't tell them right now exactly what they would be getting."

According to state law, the county is required to provide the equivalent of 10 months rent as relocation assistance, but Carbo said the county will follow federal guidelines that require a greater amount of assistance.

"The minimum amount they will be getting is equivalent to 10 months," he said.

A legal battle?

While Brown said hiring an attorney is a possibility if the county does not provide adequate assistance, resident Gary Molina said he will seek legal advice.

Molina wants to ensure the county refunds him for "at least half" the money he has put into renovating his trailer.

A Beechcrest resident for nearly two years, Molina estimates he has invested about $17,000 in drywall, flooring, plumbing and other repairs.

The Housing Commission is now collecting tenants' rent through Humphrey Management, a Columbia-based property management firm.

Carbo said the rent will go toward maintenance costs, and the remainder will be used for relocation assistance.

Molina has no idea where he'll move, but is prepared to fight for what he said he deserves.

"I'm ready to use all of my savings," he said of hiring an attorney. "I will go to all of the media; I will go to senators; I will go everywhere."

'Hard pill to swallow'

Some North Laurel residents living near Beechcrest have said they fear the proposed project will attract more homeless to the area and increase crime and drug use.

Project planners have questioned those concerns by asking, "Would this be worse than what is there now?"

Brown said she was surpised to hear that comment.

"These people are family to me," she said.

She added that there is not a lot of crime in the neighborhood and that she feels safe.

Molina said there is some vandalism in the area but, overall, living in Beechrest is "not so bad.

"If you don't mess with nobody, they don't mess with you," he said.

For Brown, knowing that the county plans on turning Beechcrest into a homeless housing complex is a "hard pill to swallow.

"I want to be compassionate for the homeless people, but where's the compassion for me?" she said.

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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