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Seminole Tribe Evicting Nearly 1,500 Elderly From Mobile Homes

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Seminole Tribe of Florida
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NEAR HOLLYWOOD, Fla. (CBSMiami) – All of the nearly 1,500 residents in the 55-and-older community of Hollywood Estates Mobile Home Park are being evicted from their homes.

“I’m packing up my things and god willing he’ll look over me, show me the way and where to go,” said resident Kathy Koenig who has lived in the park for years.

The Seminole Tribe of Florida announced on Friday its plans to close the Hollywood Estates Mobile Home Park near Hollywood.

The announcement comes about one month after the tribe bought out a long-term lease on the 110-acre property at 3300 N. State Road 7, which was previously held by a private management company.

Everyone will be required to vacate the park by June 30, 2013, said Gary Bitner, a tribe spokesman. Park residents may own their mobile home units, but pay monthly rent for the land and trash service.

“It’s pathetic. They’re kicking all us old people out,” said Nancy Gallagher, 73, president of the park’s tenants association. Gallagher said she is a retiree who has lived at the park about nine years and cares for her husband, Joe, who is bed-ridden.

Gallagher spent Friday afternoon hanging posters in the community, informing residents of the changes.

Some of those changes arrived suddenly and others will take more time.

“I don’t know where I’m going, I don’t have any money and  I don’t know what to do, said Lina Alexandere who own a mobile home inside Seminole Estates.

The Seminole Tribe immediately closed the park’s swimming pool, community room, bowling alley, meeting rooms, spa and gym. To make up for the loss of those common areas, the tribe reduced the monthly rent for residents by $100 per space, dropping the average rental from $533 to $433.

Bitner also spent Friday afternoon driving through the park. He said about half of the estimated 720 mobile homes appeared to be shuttered, suggesting they belonged to seasonal residents, most of whom live in Canada during the summer.

“This time of year, I’d say it’s only about half occupied,” Bitner said of the park.

“This is my business, this is where I work, this is where I live,”  said Troy Bola who is a Seminole Estates resident and also takes care of the yard work inside the park.  “I’m out a business and I’m out a home.”

The tribe plans to close the park, which occupies about 20 percent of the 497-acre Seminole reservation, to build homes for members, Bitner said. A housing shortage on the reservation has resulted in a waiting list of more than 200 tribal members seeking housing on their ancestral land.

“The seminoles want to be able to live together, live on the reservation on the land that was set aside for them by Presidemt Taft in 1913,” said Bitner

The Seminole Tribe took over management of the park in July after a protracted legal battle for control of the land led to a negotiated settlement with Hollywood Mobile Estates, the former management company that held a lease on the land through 2024.

The terms of the settlement were not disclosed.

“Essentially, the tribe bought them out of their long-term lease, and took over management,” Bitner said.

The tribe wants most residents to leave the park by Dec. 31, and has offered financial incentives to lower-income, year-round residents.

For those residents who earn a combined annual household income of less than $40,000, and who agree to move out by Dec. 31, the Seminole Tribe will pay up to $3,000 for abandonment or moving expenses.

Residents who stay past Dec. 31 will see monthly rents rise to $590 on Jan. 1, with increases to $620 on March 1,and to $650 on May 1.

Park residents are now allowed to terminate their lease without penalty at any time, Bitner said.

Friday’s news of the park’s closure appears to close the book on a contentious and protracted legal battle over the property, which is steps from the tribe’s glitzy Hollywood-area casino.

The park was built in 1969, and Hollywood Mobile Estates took over management in 1986 with approval from the federal government.

But the company was forced off the property by the Seminoles in 2008, with no prior notice, and at gunpoint. The Seminoles had cited a litany of alleged lease violations that included desecration of a tribal cemetery.

A federal judge ordered the tribe in July 2011 to return the park to the former management company, however, and the tribe complied.

Now the Seminoles likely will face resistance from park residents such as Gallagher, the tenants association president.

“I can’t afford to move; neither can these other people,” Gallagher said. “It’s not right. It’s not humane to do this.”

((c)2012 CBS Local Media, a division of CBS Radio Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. CBS4 news partner The Miami Herald contributed material for this report.)

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