NEWPORT NEWS — Ivory Kurek and her boyfriend Alex Garza grew up around the trailer park at Newport News/Williamsburg International Airport — and once expected to raise their fledgling family there.
Instead, the couple spent the past week completely gutting their mobile home, including ripping out a large bathtub and salvaging wood from their living room floor.
Tenants must be out of the Patrick Henry Mobile Home Park by midnight Saturday. The Peninsula Airport Commission, which owns the property, is closing the park and kicking everyone out.
While the move-out date has been set for months, the encroaching deadline set off a last-minute scramble this week for dozens of remaining residents.
The residents try to figure out what to do next, there’s widespread sadness about what’s being lost.
“Somber is probably the best way to describe it,” said Kurek, 24. “It’s a village that’ll never be replaced easily, if at all.”
People were hard at work Thursday, loading pickups and rented moving trucks with what they could from their trailers — the wood from outdoor decks, refrigerators, bathroom fixtures, ceiling fans and more. Some homes have been stripped down to the insulation.
“It was a great home,” Garza, 34, lamented of his trailer. “I grew up in it and was gonna raise my kids in it.”
With a tight housing crunch these days, residents said it’s not a great time to find a new place to live.
Many are moving in with relatives and friends. Some have found apartments. One man plans to stay at a homeless shelter — not wanting to impose on friends. While most of the trailers are too old to move — and a few were damaged in such attempts — some homes were successfully relocated.
Kurek, Garza and their toddler son, Jessie, are now moving in with Garza’s mother in the Deep Creek section of the city. “We’ll just see where things take us,” Kurek said.
Airport officials announced the trailer park’s closure in May after they determined that the park — which began on 75 acres of airport-owned land in the 1950s — was bleeding money.
Executive Director Mike Giardino said the costs were created in large part by years of neglect of the trailer park’s aging infrastructure. The financially struggling airport, he said, could no longer afford the Band-Aid fixes that were increasingly required. It would cost millions, he said, to fix old water lines and stormwater drainage systems.
Giardino wrote to remaining tenants this week, saying that while the airport has treated them “in a more than fair manner” many of them have “made insufficient progress” in getting out.
Sixty-six trailers remained standing Thursday, including roughly 15 that appeared to still be occupied. That’s down from 77 trailers on site when the closing was announced, and far less than the 250 the park had in 1995.
The airport gave the tenants six months rent-free between early May and November, as well as modest incentives of a few thousand dollars to leave early. The airport, Giardino said, will “aggressively pursue its legal rights against holdover residents” who don’t move.
Tenants said they have enjoyed living at the park, where they said there was little crime, where children played freely, and where neighbors helped each other. When Kurek had her son a couple years ago, she said, neighbors were always there to give her “a 5-minute break” or a ride to the store.
One longtime resident, Emmanuel “Manny” Aguilar, said his family moved to Newport News from Mexico in 2003, when he was 10. Later, he bought his own trailer with his own family, and he and his father pumped ten of thousands of dollars into their trailers to improve them.
“We’re more than a trailer park,” Aguilar said. “We’re a community. This is where we grew up, this is where we started, and it’s all going to be become down to rubble.”
But he’s moving on — a few days ago, he landed a new apartment for his family.
Aguilar’s parents, however, weren’t as lucky. His father’s spent more than $2,000 to weld the aging trailer’s chassis in hopes it could be moved. But that did not work, Aguilar said, and his parents of him have instead moved into his brother’s one-bedroom apartment in downtown Richmond. They took what they could salvage from the abandoned trailer.
Facing removal earlier this year, about 17 tenants pooled their money to hire an attorney to challenge the evictions and fight for a better deal. But several residents said this week that those tenants didn’t land a better deal than anyone else.
Neighbor Kenny Allan, 38, is considered one of the lucky ones. He was told his 1980′s-era trailer is intact enough to move to a trailer park near Langley Air Force Base, and he’s still crossing his fingers on that.
But he said he’s disappointed the new trailer park won’t have the down-home atmosphere of his current home.
“This one has like a country feel, it’s sort of a relaxed area,” Allan said. “Of all the trailer parks, this one has the most space between the yards.”
Another longtime resident, Amy Prichard, who’s lived in the park for about 16 years, said she’s always loved drinking her morning coffee on her deck while reading her Bible, with the birds chirping in the background.
“Sad to see this go,” Prichard, 58, said Thursday, seemingly near tears. “It’s been a beautiful place for a long time, and it’s home. Hoping God has a better plan.”
But the closure of the park, Prichard said, spurred her and a longtime friend — a man from a couple of streets over — to take a major life step: They got married in June. “The thought of never seeing each other again kind of spawned it,” she said.
It’s not all bliss just yet: They planned to have her new husband’s double-wide trailer moved to another park, but that fell apart two weeks ago when they learned it wasn’t in good enough condition to be transported.
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Given that they couldn’t afford a mortgage for a three-bedroom home, she said, the joint family of five is moving in Saturday with her new husband’s parents.
“Ohhh, it’s gonna be an adventure,” Prichard quipped. “Three teenagers. But they’re angels for taking us in.”
Several stray cats roamed the mostly empty neighborhood Thursday afternoon. One kept wandering in and out of Mary Marshall’s moving pod as she filled it with years of her belongings.
Marshall, 62, has lived at the park for 27 years. Her home dela was successfully yanked out from its long-standing spot last week — and is now ready to be towed to York County.
The fact that the airport covered half the roughly $7,500 moving cost “was a blessing,” she said.
“I have no complaints,” Marshall said. “I’m just gonna move on. I got a place to go, so I’m fine. I got a job, and I’m still living … Sometimes when stuff happens like this, it makes things better in your life.”
Peter Dujardin, 757-247-4749, firstname.lastname@example.org