HODGES — From a morning protest on the Greenwood County Courthouse grounds to a County Council member addressing residents in a front yard of one of their own that evening, Wednesday was tumultuous for tenants of the Mulberry Park mobile home complex in Hodges — and it ended without the concrete answers tenants sought.
It’s all in response to a tersely worded letter by Greenwood-based Uptown Property Rentals left on the doors of more than 20 families inside the park off Highway 25 on Friday alerting them that by Sept. 15, they’d be evicted, with no further explanation.
“I was just shocked because I knew everybody paid rent,” resident Shanika Lee said. “We’re a really tight community.”
Her three girls, ages 10, 6 and 1, joined her Wednesday at a rally decrying the situation.
“This is all they’ve ever known,” Lee said.
Several of the placards pleaded for more time, arguing that 30 days was inadequate to relocate a trailer or find a new residence. The display caught the attention of several passersby.
“That don’t make no sense. They can give them more time,” James Elmore said. “That’s awful. At least give them 90 days. This isn’t a car or a bicycle.”
Rodney “Skinny” McKinney, of Hodges, donated $20 to the cause, which organizers said would be deposited into a GoFundMe page set up to help cover moving costs for the Mulberry Park families.
“It’s not much, but it’s the least I can do,” he said. “I think it’s wrong. Totally wrong. You’ve got to give these people some notice or pay to have their homes moved. There’s no compassion to it.”
Sylvia Clemons lives in Mulberry Park, as does her mother, Barbra McGill. Both said they’re asking for at least four months to find new housing.
With Greenwood County School District 50 classes set to resume Monday, many within Mulberry Park are also worried about the fate of their children. Spokesman Johnathan Graves said 15 students who attend Hodges Elementary School are in danger of being displaced.
“As of right now, Hodges Elementary School has been in contact with some of the parents impacted by the closing of Mulberry Park in Hodges. The school principal and student support facilitator are working with our director of student support services and community services coordinator to see if they can connect families with any community resources available,” he said in a statement.
Clemons’ 6-year-old son is about to enter first grade and was looking forward to meeting up with his friends.
“He’s excited to go back. I want my child to grow up in the same school,” she said. “He already had a hard time last year with reading and different things.”
When contacted by the Index-Journal, an Uptown Property Rentals representative said the eviction notes were distributed at the request of Elaine Barnette. The company also identified her as a Mulberry property owner, but a search of county tax records show most of the parcels are controlled by J&B Investments Inc.
The entity was created Nov. 23, 1983 by William A. Barnette III, Elaine’s late husband, and John W. McDill, according to a Greenwood County property filing. The Secretary of State’s office lists McDill as the sole registered agent of J&B Investments.
Upon her husband’s death, Elaine Barnette assumed a role in managing the firm and has acted as a public representative in its matters — both in dealings with residents inside the park and county officials, they confirmed to the Index-Journal.
However, J&B is not the sole owner of lots within Mulberry Park. Property records also show Robin Bond as an owner of several. Bond did not return a call from the Index-Journal seeking comment about her involvement with Mulberry Park.
McDill did not return a call seeking comment, and a reporter who visited his Montague Avenue real estate business was told he did not have time to talk. The Index-Journal then emailed McDill asking for clarification about his role in overseeing Mulberry Park and his affiliation with J&B Investments.
“You should be careful to report facts and not assume protesters’ comments are accurate,” he replied. “I have no further comment about Mulberry Park.”
Barnette provided the Index-Journal with a copy of a revised letter that was delivered Wednesday to residents of Mulberry Park. The letter is signed by Uptown Property management, but Barnette made the rounds personally, according to Mulberry Park residents and a surveillance camera image that one tenant shared with an Index-Journal reporter.
“As we have disclosed, J&B Mobile Homes LLC and J&B Investments, owners of Mulberry Park, have reached the conclusion that it is no longer able to keep the park open in the future. The notice about the park closing was not intended to create any economic hardship for the current tenants and in retrospect, there is a realization that the tenants need a longer period of time to vacate the park. There will be an announcement to that effect in the near future,” the letter said.
“We know that J&B Mobile Homes and J&B Investments regret the necessity to close the park, and the impact that decision has on the tenants, many of whom have lived there for years,” the letter continued, “We, too, are sorry to see this occur.”
Elora Turner, who lives in the park, called the letter a “fake promise.”
“If it was real, it would have said what kind of time frame we’d be looking at,” Turner said.
Barnette would not speak on the record with the Index-Journal, but met Wednesday afternoon with County Councilman Theo Lane, whose District 7 includes Mulberry Park.
Lane said he was concerned about the plight of his constituents, and hoped to find common ground between the sides. He told tenants Wednesday night a potential buyer might emerge for the site.
Lane emphasized the matter was a landlord-tenant issue that county government had no control over, but said he was moved by the “extenuating circumstances” the decision created.
“It was a positive exchange and because it was, I hope we’re going to have more dialogue and it’ll bring this to an acceptable outcome,” Lane said.