Residents told to 'vacate' flooded mobile home park in East Naples; county didn't order it

For the last 17 years, Alma Nunez and her family called Harmony Shores in East Naples their home.

On Sunday, they — and all the rest of the mobile home park residents — were told to get out.

Immediately.

To make things worse, the power to the community apparently was kept intentionally disconnected.

The "order to vacate" email came from the property owner, Cove Communities:

Harmony Shores Mobile Home Park

October 2, 2022

NOTICE of ORDER to VACATE

NO TRESPASSING ALLOWED

Due to the destruction caused by Hurricane Ian, the condition of Harmony Shores Mobile Home Port/Park constitutes a clear and imminent danger to the life or health of occupants or other persons, and that protection of life or health requires vacating the premises.  

Based upon these findings, any and all tenants and occupants are hereby ordered to vacate immediately. There will be no rent assessed during closure."

The email referred those who had no alternative shelter to two organizations, one of them the Red Cross office in Palm Beach.

The order came four days after Hurricane Ian floodwaters swept through the park near Bayshore Drive, ruining furniture, clothing, appliances and school supplies.

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'No affordable housing' alternatives

The email sent panic through a community that radiates a neighborhood feel, despite the humble state of most of its mobile homes. There are 177 structures  in Harmony Shores, with a combination of renters and owners.

"Some people are afraid to leave their homes because they worry they'll have no place to come back to," Nuñez said. When she confronted the company's representative on Sunday, he told her the sheriff and code enforcement office had issued the closure.

No such thing happened, said Collier County Commissioner Penny Taylor, who came to the park with staff and a sheriff's deputy to hear the residents' concerns Sunday evening after she was contacted. Both county offices told her they had not issued such an order, she said.

"This is not the county. This is the landlord," said Taylor, who saw the move as tantamount to throwing Harmony Shores residents out on the streets. "There is no place for these people to go. There is no affordable housing here.

"There is no eviction in three days," she added. "The landlord has to go through a process, and he has not done that."

"That has to go through due process. That's 30 days, and even then they can contest it."

Besides the email, a company representative apparently went door to door serving the notice mid-day Sunday, she learned.

"Children were at home. These people are working. They're working! And to have their children call up and say, 'We have to be out in three days,' that is more than horrendous."

Ethan Buatista, 6, left, and his brother Enzo Buatista, 3, play in a box used to deliver food to the residents of Harmony Shores Mobile Home Port Naples, FL, on Wednesday, October 5, 2022.
Ethan Buatista, 6, left, and his brother Enzo Buatista, 3, play in a box used to deliver food to the residents of Harmony Shores Mobile Home Port Naples, FL, on Wednesday, October 5, 2022.

Harmony Shores owner backpedals

State Rep. Bob Rommel, R-Naples, whose legislative district includes Harmony Shores, was at the community Wednesday afternoon when he was told the new owners, investors with Cove Communities, would be coming to address the residents.

Dozens of residents gathered, waiting outside double-wide homes that had various degrees of damage, their anger-fueled energy and frustration mounting as they waited. No representative of Cove Communities came.

The Arizona-based builder and operator of mobile home parks bought Harmony Shores, off U.S. 41, in June 2021, for a recorded $18.5 million.

The low-lying community, tucked behind a Pizza Hut, came  under 4 feet of storm surge water from Ian. One unit caught on fire during the storm. Charred metal is all that is left.

Either Cove Communities is concerned about the residents' health or “it’s a bullying tactic” to get them to leave, Rommel said.

Cove Communities says it's the former. Community relations director Joyce Mireault said the initial notice was sent before building and health department inspectors had been out to inspect the community. She acknowledged both departments said they had found nothing that would keep residents from staying in their homes.

"Although we still maintained that the living conditions at the community posed a health threat, we did not and will not interfere with residents who wish to remain in/at their homes and we did send a follow up notice update informing residents they have the right to stay in/at their home."

She said the company planned to transport the residents to a local shelter but was told residents would not take advantage of that. None of those shelters offers long-term living.

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Power delay might be safety-related

The unit that burned could be the reason electrical power to the community was turned off, said Bryan Garner, FPL communications director.

"There are some communities that are so badly damaged they cannot receive power or it would not be safe for them to receive power until an electrician came in and inspected each dwelling to make sure it is safe," he said. "If we were to re-energize communities where there was storm surge, it could create a fire risk. That's something we're very sensitive to."

Mireault said that's the reason power has not been restored yet.

"The county Chief Electrical Inspector stated the electrical distribution system is unsafe to reenergize the FPL system at this time. The Harmony management team has assigned a dedicated project manager who is organizing the repair.

"We will be working with a 3rd party electrical company and do not yet have a date as to when all the repairs will be completed," she wrote in her email response to Daily News questions.

Florida House representative Bob Rommel talks with legislative aide Kim Time at Harmony Shores Mobile Home Port in Naples, FL, on Wednesday, October 5, 2022. Residents are fighting eviction by new owners of the property and Rommel came down to help. The homes in the port were flooded by Hurricane Ian.
Florida House representative Bob Rommel talks with legislative aide Kim Time at Harmony Shores Mobile Home Port in Naples, FL, on Wednesday, October 5, 2022. Residents are fighting eviction by new owners of the property and Rommel came down to help. The homes in the port were flooded by Hurricane Ian.

'I have absolutely no place to go'

In the meantime, residents of Harmony Shores see a future as cloudy as the skies before Ian. Efrain Gonzales, 28, a tattoo artist with a shop off Airport-Pulling Road, has rented a place in the park for 3½ years.

“I love it here,” he said. “The people here are very nice. Everyone treats everyone else like family.”

He was paying $700 a month. Recently it went up to $900, an increase he thinks was meant to force people to leave.

“I have absolutely no place to go right now. Everything is flooded. Everything is a wait list.”

Elizabeth Radi, with the Collier County Tenants Union, said she fired off an email Monday to Cove Communities that many residents already had paid rent for October and if they would not get their money back, she would “see to it there is a class action” against Cove Communities.

On Tuesday, Cove Communities backpedaled.

“Please understand it is not our intention to remove anyone from their home,” Cove Communities said in an email to Radi.

Those who have paid October rent and cannot be in their home will be reimbursed, it said.

“We will not be assessing rent until further notice. Our hearts go out to all of these residents, and we will be rebuilding the community.”

The Cove email said there "is not currently a final long-term master plan for the community. Our immediate plans are to assist residents however we can, assess the community-owned homes, continue clean up, repair the electrical to restore power and rebuild the community."

Residents of Harmony Shores Mobile Home Port and volunteers distribute meals to the residents in Naples, FL, on Wednesday, October 5, 2022. Most of the homes in the port were flooded by Hurricane Ian.
Residents of Harmony Shores Mobile Home Port and volunteers distribute meals to the residents in Naples, FL, on Wednesday, October 5, 2022. Most of the homes in the port were flooded by Hurricane Ian.

Owners, residents far apart
on buyout prices

Residents are hopeful but not so confident. Before the hurricane, Cove Communities was attempting to meet with owners one by one to buy them out. Many of them are Spanish-speaking and don’t understand what’s going on.

Angel Macedo, 43, is one of them. He has lived in Harmony Shores for 22 years and owns his trailer. He got a buyout notice, but it didn’t include a price. His wife met with Cove Communities and declined to sign an offer, Macedo said through an interpreter, Dennis Gamez.

The price is likely the reason. Nuñez said owners were being offered $3,000 for single-wide mobile homes and $7,000 for double-wides. A look at single-wide mobile home sales in Naples shows prices beginning at $39,500 and $58,000.

Valeria Orfila, 41, owns her double-wide mobile home and has lived in Harmony Shores 22 years. She raised her kids there. She works in the cafeteria at Avalon Elementary School a few miles away.

“This is my life,” she said. “I don’t know anything else. Our main goal is we want to rebuild. We had our hope, but suddenly we got the notice.”

When she got the notice to leave immediately, she said her world fell apart until she learned it was not legitimate.

Rumors were rampant in the close-knit community that the new owner was going to bring in a bus to “haul people out of here.”

“We know we have to go,” she said, referring to the expectation that Harmony Shores would be demolished at some point.

“We just don’t want to get underpaid,” she said. “And where do we go? We have our children. We live here. This is our dream, to own a home.”

Area apartment rents too high

Her neighbors are nurses, her husband is a truck driver, others are teachers, she said. None of them can pay $3,000 or more for an apartment, which is what rental rates are now around town, she said.

Alma Nunez, 22, was so distraught after the ''vacate'' notice, she called her employer — she’s a dental assistant — and said she couldn’t come in to work.

“I was angry. I was crying and confused,” she said.

Nunez said the manager with Cove Communities came over and told her 12-year-old cousin to "Tell your parents they have four hours to leave.”

Cove Communities said its management team "has contacted CRA and began working closely with them to check on the community, bring in meals and water, FEMA representatives, and coordinate with the building department to formally assess the infrastructure. In addition, we contacted Collier County and filled out the proper documentation so the county could come into the community to pick up garbage as we continued clean-up efforts."

Some residents don't believe that.

"I want to thank all the communities who have helped," said Maico Nunez, Alma's brother, who returned to his home community to help relief efforts. "All the supplies that have been brought. Everybody in the community of Naples has been reaching out."

"Everybody but Cove Communities," his sister added.

Harriet Howard Heithaus writes for the Naples Daily News and naplesnews.com. Readers can call her at 239-253-8936.

This article originally appeared on Naples Daily News: Residents told to 'vacate' flooded Harmony Shores mobile home park