The tree-shrouded, quiet and secure mobile home community of Oakdale Park is a far cry from the drug-infested apartment complex Earl Lambert left eight years ago.
"This place was heaven compared to what I left," said the 59-year-old disabled steel worker. "I like living here."
That all changed two months ago, when Mr. Lambert learned that his mobile home was being moved because of plans to redevelop a portion of the park. Now he isn't sure what the future holds. His new site is just across the street from the present one. He expects to be moved again in the near future.
"It looks like management will keep relocating me until I leave," he said.
Mr. Lambert's move and the relocation of others sparked concern in the 800-unit mobile home community along Eastern Boulevard between Middle River and Chase. Residents learned management was trying to make tenants pay the moving expenses, which in one case cost $1,000. Many were troubled by rumors about plans to turn six acres of the park into a commercial development.
Last month, over 400 of the park's residents met at Chase Elementary School. They discussed organizing a community association and questioned management about relocation policies, needed improvements and requests for a decent playground.
"Management officials quickly ran out of answers and refused to address any more questions," said Jackie Miller, one of the association organizers.
William T. Poole, Jr., president of the firm that owns the park, has a different memory of what happened.
"The meeting was a zoo," he said. "They didn't want to listen to what we had to say."
Since the meeting, management officials and tenants have agreed to form a committee which will meet monthly to discuss problems and ways to improve the community. Mr. Poole said that management will deal with the association through the joint tenant-management committee.
Michael L. Homa, company vice president, admits that management has not always communicated well with the residents, but he also said "we are looking at ways to improve on that."
Previously, tenants said, management was insensitive to their concerns. Questions about the park's proposed redevelopment went unanswered and management refused to consider a rent freeze or to repair the buckling sidewalks in Oakdale Park.
Mr. Poole said management won't fix the sidewalks because "sidewalks are not our responsibility, but that of the tenants." He also said the rent increases merely reflect the cost of doing business. Rents currently average between $350 and $400 each month.
"We're very reasonable in our rents," he said.
Management officials say some association members are misleading the residents, most of whom are elderly, exaggerating conflicts and playing on tenant fears about being forced out of the mobile home park.
The company's relocation policies caused the most concern among tenants.
Paying for moving costs would have presented a hardship for people on fixed incomes, members of the tenant association said.
Marion Ware, an elderly widow, said she was told she might have to pay for relocating and for new skirting that covers the open area beneath her mobile home.
"I told them I couldn't afford it and wouldn't pay it," Mrs. Ware said.
After hearing her case, the company backed down, paid for her relocation and reattached the original skirting, she said.
Mr. Homa said only two residents were asked to pay part of their relocation costs. This was done "because of unusual circumstances but even then we ended up paying for it," he said.
"The association leaders exaggerated these two unusual situations to be the norm instead of the rare exceptions they were," Mr. Homa said.
"It's always been our policy to pay the costs of relocation," he said.
As for the skirting, if it doesn't meet company regulations, it is taken down and re-attached at the new site "at our expense," he said.
Jamie Coffman, one of the association's organizers, said management stopped making tenants bear moving costs only "after we started organizing."
Baltimore County Councilman Vincent Gardina, D-5th, who represents the area, said he is encouraged that management and the association are now meeting with each other. "I think it will benefit both sides," he said.