Photo Caption: Many of the trailers in Pine-Aire Village sit abandoned and vandalized.
Some 21 months after a tornado-like storm ripped through it, the Pine-Aire Village trailer park near The Plains still looks like a war zone.
Many of its manufactured homes stand empty; some have broken windows or even missing walls; the insides of others are piled high with furniture, tree limbs, children's toys, and assorted other junk. Spray-painted graffiti – swastikas, pentagrams, 666 – adorn the walls of a few.
Some of the remaining tenants report that they've had to take over what little maintenance is still being done at the park, which is owned by major local landlord Ray Croxford, but which has gone into county tax foreclosure.
Now they have something else to worry about, as the county prepares to auction off the site's 42 parcels to pay its six-figure delinquent-tax bill. This has led to some uncertainty about the future of those still living there.
"We're all concerned in here," reported resident Curtis A. Roush, Jr., who lives in Pine-Aire with his wife. Sitting on his front step surrounded by a small pack of stray cats who frequent his home, Roush said he's most worried about the future of the senior citizens and residents with chronic health problems if the outcome of the auction means they have to move out.
"A lot of us are dependent on Social Security," he reported. "We've got elderly people in here. We've got a lady down here, she's on oxygen."
For some residents, he suggested, finding new places to live might be next to impossible.
"We're just hoping for the best," he admitted. "I'm more worried about the elderly people and the kids."
Resident Jeremy Cox suggested he, too, is uncertain about what the future holds for Pine Aire and its residents.
"All we can basically do is just wait and see what's going on," he suggested.
Resident Tom Young said he hadn't known of the pending sale before being told by a reporter.
"I didn't even know anything about it," Young said. He added, however, that he only rents a trailer site from the park, so he may be in better shape than some if he has to leave.
"We own this (trailer), so all we'd have to do is move it out," he said – assuming there's another park in the area that will take it. Many of the trailers at Pine-Aire appear very old and decrepit, and moving them might be a challenge.
All three men agreed that maintenance at the park has gone badly downhill; Roush said that residents themselves cut the grass, so as to avoid having a snake problem develop.
"It would look better, but (the management) doesn't take care of it," Cox said.
"They're not cleaning up nothing," agreed Young.
"Ray Croxford is the worst landlord I've ever seen in my life," Roush alleged. "And I don't want to be mean about anybody, but you can see the conditions we're made to live in here."
The Athens NEWS has been consistently unable, despite repeated efforts, to make contact with Croxford. A phone number listed for Pine-Aire has been disconnected, and two Athens County homes that were in his name appeared to be abandoned when the paper visited them. The county treasurer has said her office also has been unable to contact Croxford.
In April a judge in Athens County Common Pleas Court issued a default judgment against Croxford for more than $170,000 in back taxes for three different properties including Pine Aire.
Previously, Croxford had been facing foreclosure on another trailer park, Knollwood on U.S. Rt. 50 southwest of Athens. He managed to sell that park to an Athens-based property company, which as part of the deal also agreed to address a long-standing sewage-treatment problem at the trailer park. Croxford had been facing a $100,000 civil penalty from the Ohio EPA because of the sewage problems there.
The company that bought Knollwood, however, was reportedly not interested in buying Pine Aire, because of the amount of outstanding liens against the property.
Michele Williams, who handles sheriff''s sales for the Athens County Sheriff's Office, explained Tuesday that because this is a tax foreclosure auction, the minimum bid is not based on the appraised value of the property, but is simply the amount required to pay off the back taxes, sheriff's fees and court costs associated with the site. In the case of Pine-Aire, that amount is a little over $152,363.
The two other sites going up for auction are one on Bentbrook Lane off U.S. Rt. 50 west and a house on Dalton Avenue on Athens' east side.
The payoff amount/minimum bids on those two sites would be, respectively, around $20,675 and $16,485.
County officials said they can't predict who, if anyone, will be interested in taking over Pine Aire, which is obviously a problematic site, or whether any buyer would continue to operate it as a trailer park.
The site will be auctioned June 27; if it doesn't sell then, it will go on the block a second time July 11.
If it doesn't sell either time, it becomes the property of the county, which can then auction it off for whatever price it can get.
ATHENS COUNTY PROSECUTOR Keller Blackburn did not appear to relish the idea of the county owning a mobile home park. He noted that when the county began its foreclosure action against it, that effort hit a snag when officials discovered that many leases for parcels and trailers had not been properly recorded.
"There are no recorded leases," he reported.
One park resident who visited the county Courthouse earlier this week was inquiring about putting rent into an escrow account while the foreclosure sale is worked out.
Anne Rubin of Southeastern Ohio Legal Services, which provides civil legal assistance to lower-income people, reported that recently the agency has seen "a little uptick in calls from out there (at Pine-Aire)."
Rubin suggested there may not be much her agency can do en masse for the remaining population of Pine-Aire, but that individual residents with questions may wish to call SEOLS for advice.
"I guess we'd want to talk with people about their individual circumstances," she explained. "There are so many variations in how things have happened out there."