With additional reporting by Giancarlo Garcia Salazar.
When a million-dollar company tried to push 28 families out of their homes, a local community center gave them the fuel to push back instead of sitting down.
El Vínculo Hispano, a nonprofit in Siler City, facilitated negotiations between former residents of Johnson’s Mobile Home Park—a majority Hispanic community—and Mountaire Farms, a chicken processing plant that bought the land that the trailers occupied. Over 12 percent of Chatham County reports Hispanic origins, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
The new plant, off of U.S. 64, is open and accepting applications for both management and entry-level positions.
In November 2017, Mountaire sent residents eviction notices, stating that they had to evacuate the property before March 1, 2018. Lawyers from the N.C. Justice Center assisted in extending the deadline to July 31, 2018. Residents also received an $8,300 settlement from Mountaire, in addition to rent abatement for nine months.
“There is no legal requirement that anybody be provided relocation monies,” said Jack Holtzman, senior attorney at the N.C. Justice Center. “That’s something that just flowed from the activism of the community.”
With the evacuation extension, El Vínculo Hispano had extra time to ensure that all of the evacuees found new homes. However, lack of affordable housing in Chatham County made the process difficult. Most of the families remain in Chatham, but three had to move to Randolph County.
Besides the low rent of the mobile home park, residents appreciated Johnson’s because of the similar cultures shared within the community. Natalia Franco-Lopez, who lived at Johnson’s for over 20 years with her husband, said she feels alone in her new home.
“Here, we’re basically alone,” Franco-Lopez said. She and her husband moved their trailer to a mobile home park just outside of Siler City. “Our neighbors don’t speak Spanish and we don’t speak English. So, it’s just like the two of us.”
Although El Vínculo Hispano helped families throughout the transition, Executive Director Ilana Dubester emphasized the role the community played in deciding its outcome.
“From the beginning, the residents have been united and determined to advocate for fair and just compensation for their families,” Dubester said in a press release. “They faced this crisis together with dignity and courage. The residents made all decisions collectively regarding the terms of the negotiations.”
After families notified El Vínculo Hispano about the eviction notices, the organization scheduled meetings to inform residents about their legal rights.
“It was very impressive and very inspiring to see a lot of people who might not speak English stand up for their rights, stand up for their children, and say, ‘We’re going to fight this, and we demand that you treat us with dignity and respect,’” said Emilio Vicente, former community organizer at El Vínculo Hispano.
Vicente also highlighted the importance of community members having their own voice.
“That was our role of, like, we don’t want to do all of this for them,” Vicente said. “We want to give them the right tools… for them to feel like they have the capacity to also advocate on their behalf.”
Johnson’s Mobile Home Park was home to 62 adults and 53 children. In a statement, one of the parents thanked the nonprofit for providing a way to make their voices heard.
“We are very grateful to The Hispanic Liaison for helping us to come together as a community,” said homeowner and father Jorge L., who asked that his last name not be used. “By standing united, we were able to face a powerful corporation and reach an agreement for fair compensation for our families.”
Some of the former residents now work with the organization as a result of the impact it had on their lives.
“If the rest of us had decided to share their stories, none of this would’ve been possible,” Vicente said. “I can say I care about this, but at the end of the day, [I’m] not the person affected by this directly. It was powerful to see elderly people, as well as young children, say that they were affected by this and they can show that in real life.”
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