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Syosset Mobile Home Park set to close as last residents gather belongings

Inside the last trailer park in Nassau County, a tight-knit community has dispersed after a spirited 9-year legal battle that the residents were never equipped to fight. Many of the 80 families lost hope and moved away long ago. Newsday followed the last remaining family as it struggled against a deadline to find an alternative to becoming homeless. (Credit: Raychel Brightman)

The handful of Syosset residents in the last remaining mobile home park in Nassau County packed their belongings Sunday, hours ahead of a deadline to leave.

At least five mobile homes were still occupied Sunday when the owners extended a midnight deadline for the residents to leave until 8 a.m. Monday. The extension came after management spoke Sunday morning with some of the residents who fought a lengthy legal battle to remain.

When the last tenants leave the five-acre Syosset Mobile Home Park — at least one having lived there for more than 40 years — it will mark the end of a nine-year fight to preserve an island of affordability in the county and Syosset, where the median home value is more than $600,000, according to U.S. Census Bureau estimates.

Snow covered vacant spaces where some of the approximately 80 mobile homes once stood and had already been torn down.

Some of the remaining residents, who typically own their homes but rent the land, are unemployed or live on fixed incomes. They say the closure of the park will force them to leave Long Island.

Resident Theresa Walch said Sunday morning that she was told she would have an hour to leave. When a woman identified by residents as Antonina Genova approached Sunday, Walch told her that she expected to have all day to pack.

Genova, listed in a state filing by her married name, Grazioli, is the daughter of Jerome Genova, a partner in STP Associates LLC, which owns the mobile home park. Her brother, Leonard Genova, is the Oyster Bay town attorney and a former partner in the company. Residents say she has been one of their main contacts with the owners.

“We’re all trying to get out, we had a snowstorm,” Walch said. She added, “You can’t keep stressing us like this because you’re killing us.”

Grazioli declined to comment but told Walch that if she needed more time, “You can finish and I will meet you tomorrow morning.”

She said she would meet Walch and the other residents at 8 a.m. Monday to give each who agreed to leave a $2,500 check, the amount reached in a settlement.

STP filed lawsuits last year against at least nine tenants of the mobile home park, alleging they ignored a Jan. 31, 2013, eviction warrant and illegally kept living at the park without paying rent. The suits asked for more than $150,000 in combined back rent from the nine tenants. Judges ruled against the tenants in at least six of the cases. Some tenants said they had tried to pay rent but STP wouldn’t accept it.

On Dec. 10, Nassau state Supreme Court Justice Arthur Diamond ordered Walch to pay STP $18,645, plus additional rent if she continued to live at the park. Walch said that under the settlement, STP agreed to forgo the back rent.

Jeffrey Miller, an attorney for the company, did not return phone calls or emails. In 2007, a company spokeswoman said the mobile home park would be razed to make way for condominiums, apartments and commercial businesses.

District Attorney Madeline Singas’ office looked into complaints from residents about the evictions, but they were “determined to be civil in nature,” spokesman Brendan Brosh said in an email.

Dawn St. Clair, 36, moved to the mobile home park eight years ago to take care of her mother, who was severely injured in a car accident. She helped her mother move to North Carolina recently.

“I believe we got everything out,” St. Clair said of her mother’s belongings, as two workers boarded up the mobile home Sunday. “I always held out hope that we could save the park. . . . Seeing everybody packing up and moving, it’s hard.”

She and her fiancee were packing their belongings Sunday into plastic bins and a mobile storage container. They plan to move with their two children to Schenevus, a rural upstate hamlet, but she said they still needed two or three days before they could leave.

“I just found a place yesterday,” St. Clair said. “I can’t afford Long Island.”

At least one resident, Marcy Rappaport, 48, is still fighting eviction in court, though she has moved out.

As residents packed up, some looked for ways to help each other.

“My wife had an oversized wheelchair before she passed away, would you like it?” Phil Schmidt, 63, an electronic technician, asked Betty McCauley-Garrett, 80, who moved to the park in 1975.

McCauley-Garrett accepted the wheelchair as her son packed up her trailer. She said people in the park had always minded their own business but also looked out for each other.

“We had a good time,” she said. “And they all moved away.”

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