Bonnie’s Place, Senior Citizens Organized to Buy Their Homes. A conversation with the President of the Board (Missoula, MT)

street with sky and orange leaved tree with mountains behind it
A manufactured housing community, Bonnie’s Place, Missoula Montana

“In my hometown of Missoula, the home where I lived for 30 years and where I’d raised my family, this manufactured housing community, was getting ready to be sold,” Brian Lease, board chair, explained their predicament.

“The price to purchase the place would be so high we figured we weren’t able to afford it so we could no longer llive there. And at the same time, the housing prices in Missoula were going through the roof. My neighbors and I had lived here for 30 plus years–we didn’t want to move. Then, where would our families go?”

“I come from a truck-driving family. My dad was a truck driver. When I was laid off from truck driving, I found a job working as a parts manager for a local truck company. As a trucker, I’ve seen the country and it was clear there’s no place I’d rather be, than Missoula,” he said.

Brian’s resident community had 24 families. All the families had bought and paid off their homes but not the land their homes were on. “The average time living in our homes between all of us was over 30 years. Most are senior citizens.” And 80% lived below the poverty line.

“I grew up in a resident-owned community (ROC) like the one where I live now and I saw how it can work. When my parents had a chance, they, with the other families on the property, got together to buy their land together. So I learned the value of investing now, in order to own it over the long haul. But this idea wasn’t familiar to my neighbors.”

To purchase the land each of them would have to pay an additional $200 more per month, a 40% monthly increase over what they were paying. Most of them, when they heard that amount, thought it was a scam and weren’t interested. “If we weren’t all on board with this, this monthly increase in payments to purchase it, we’d all be out of a place to live,” Brian realized.

So since Brian had grown up in a resident-owned community, he realized he was the one who’d have to organize. He’d have to convince others why and how to buy their land. He sat down with every member of the community to teach them. He told them, this is not a scam but a necessary step in the process of cooperative home ownership. 

As neighbors for decades, they trusted Brian. In the end, they agreed to it, and found the way to own their land! LEAF is delighted to participate in this loan, following the lead of ROC USA who made it happen. 

Bonnie’s Place became a resident-owned community (ROC) in 2023 and now these 24 homes, most with residents over the age of 65, manage their manufactured home park and these homes will stay affordable for years to come.

Brian reflects on the organizing effort

“The experience of our purchase process was stressful, as expected, but the adversity brought us closer together as a community. To see the smilein on the faces of the elderly residents who have lived here for 40 years once they realized they owned it…gave me so much joy.”

As a community, we came out feeling much more confident in our ability to self-govern effectively, especially with the support of NeighborWorks, our partner. We are all excited to begin the process of improving our community and to transform Bonnie’s Place from ‘housing’ to our own homes.

The partner organizations

Resident-owned Communities (ROC)

A ROC preserves unsubsidized affordable housing for working families, seniors, and people with lower incomes. Owning a home in a community like this is typically half as expensive as renting an apartment. Plus, owning allows homeowners an opportunity to build wealth. Now the community residents rest assured knowing their community will not be sold out from under them.

NeighborWorks Montana

NeighborWorks Montana guides the residents through the purchase process and supports them as they build the skills and leadership they need to manage their community. In most manufactured-home parks, homeowners own their homes and pay lot rent to the park owner for the use of the land. In resident-owned communities, the lot rent goes to the resident cooperative and is managed to meet community needs, maintain affordability, and foster a sense of unity amongst the residents.

Bonnie's Place