Listen: Evicted Hispanic residents at Elm Lane trailer park in Willmar move out with Heartland Community Action assistance

MPR’s Laura McCallum reports on evicted Hispanic residents at Elm Lane trailer park in Willmar. Some are being helped out with Heartland Community Action assistance, but others have yet to find new housing.


1995 NBNA Award, award of merit in General Reporting - Medium Market category


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LAURA MCCALLUM: Rosalva Lozano's children are playing dress up in the front yard outside her trailer amid bags of clothes, a chair, a car door, and a bike missing its front wheel. Lozano paid $1,200 for her trailer last year, shortly before the owner of Elm Lane announced he was closing the park. Lozano, her boyfriend, and her four children have been looking for another place to live ever since.

ROSALVA LOZANO: Apartments, there's no apartments. There's only two-bedroom apartments, but they won't take a family of six in the two-bedroom apartment. And all the other mobile parks are full.

LAURA MCCALLUM: Lozano has signed a purchase agreement to buy a new home, but she hasn't closed on it yet and says she doesn't know where her family will stay in the meantime.

MARIA JASSO: Anyway, I pray that you get your house.

ROSALVA LOZANO: I pray every night, every day, all day long.

MARIA JASSO: I can see that.


LAURA MCCALLUM: Maria Jasso, an outreach worker with Heartland Community Action Agency in Willmar, has been working with Lozano and other Elm Lane residents to help them find housing. Jasso says Elm Lane has become almost desolate in the past few weeks as families have moved out one by one, some moving their trailers, others leaving them behind to be vandalized. Broken glass and garbage are scattered around the park. And as she steps over standing water and potholes, Jasso says the park was once a vibrant Hispanic community.

MARIA JASSO: It seems kind of spooky because I'm not used to seeing it like this. ¡Buenos días! Tony. [SPEAKING SPANISH]

LAURA MCCALLUM: Jasso sees Tony Lopez, one of the residents she's worried about. Lopez, who is single, has lived in Elm Lane for three years and says he hasn't found another place to live.


MARIA JASSO: I've made applications at various apartment dwellings, but I haven't heard anything from them.

LAURA MCCALLUM: Lopez says he can stay with his sister temporarily. But she lives in public housing, so he can only stay a couple of weeks.


MARIA JASSO: Luisa? Maria.

LUISA: Oh, hello.


LAURA MCCALLUM: Jasso had better luck helping Refugio Martinez, his wife, and four children. Standing outside his trailer with a cup of coffee, Martinez says Jasso helped them find a four-bedroom apartment in a duplex.

REFUGIO MARTINEZ: At first, we were looking for a house. And at the end here, well, you really got to be satisfied with whatever you can get because, as far as time-wise, there is no time to be choosy.

LAURA MCCALLUM: Willmar has a public housing project and 47 family public housing units but few rental units for large families. HRA director Dorothy Gaffney says the city doesn't have enough low-income housing to absorb 125 families at once.

DOROTHY GAFFNEY: We had waiting lists before the announcement of Elm Lane was closing, and we continued to have sporadic times when there's a number of people coming in and looking for housing. Also, at this time of the year, with the migrant population coming from Texas to Minnesota to work in the fields, I think we're experiencing even more of a housing crunch.

LAURA MCCALLUM: Gaffney says the shortage of affordable housing is not limited to Willmar. She says as communities in rural Minnesota step up their economic development efforts, they often bring new jobs to towns that don't have available housing. Just days before the eviction deadline, about 25 families were still living in Elm Lane. Most of them say they plan to stay with relatives, move into another home shortly, or leave Willmar altogether. Outreach worker Maria Jasso says Willmar churches have asked their congregations to help, and she's hoping some families will open their homes to the remaining Elm Lane residents so none of them will be out on the streets. For the FM news station, I'm Laura McCallum.


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