By: Keith Kappes
Carter County Times
Ruth Glass, a sociologist, is credited with coining the word “gentrification” in 1964.
It describes the buying and renovation of houses and stores in deteriorated urban neighborhoods by upper or middle income families or individuals, raising property values but often displacing low-income families and small businesses.
A serious concern primarily of city dwellers for many years, this process now has become a reality in rural America.
Gentrification is the best description of the worsening situation in Morehead where a landowner is forcing about 50 families out of a mobile home park at the northern edge of the city alongside I-64.
The 22 acres of land apparently will become the site of commercial and residential development by the same company that created Hamburg Pavilion in Lexington, now one of the state’s largest shopping centers with more than one million square feet of retail space in 70 stores.
The developer is promising to spend $32 million and create 250 new jobs but is not helping with relocation of those being displaced. The owner of the mobile home park has agreed to give each family $1,000 toward the expense of moving their mobile homes, some of which are more than 30 years old.
Considering the cost of rental housing in a college town and the fact that most mobile home parks won’t accept units older than 25 years, most of the residents are in a tough spot.
Some complain that Morehead and Rowan County governments helped make this unfairness possible by establishing a TIF (tax increment financing district) at the site.
Designed to spur economic development in blighted neighborhoods, a TIF allows a developer to keep as much as 90 percent of property and sales taxes generated by the property to recover infrastructure costs over 30 years. In this case, that figure is estimated at $11 million.
Another TIF was created earlier to help lure a new hotel downtown adjacent to the Morehead Conference Center. That project is on hold because of the pandemic’s impact on tourism.
Morehead Mayor Laura White-Brown and Rowan Judge-Executive Harry Clark say they are sympathetic to those being displaced but can do nothing officially because the sale and reuse of the property involve only private enterprise.
If the development were a project of federal, state, or local government, the residents would be entitled to relocation expenses, perhaps even fair market value for trailers too old to move.
A new community activist group, Justice 4 North Fork, and Frontier Housing are trying to help the families affected but time is running out. The deadline to vacate is April 30. Some residents already have abandoned their homes.
The mobile home park is named for the nearby North Fork of Triplett Creek which flows into the Licking River below Cave Run Lake.
As the situation stands today, the park’s name is most appropriate because those 50 families literally are up the creek without any sign of a paddle.
Keith Kappes can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org