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OpinionColumnistsMichael Dobie

Dobie: Mobile park residents on the ropes

The Frontier Park mobile home park as seen

The Frontier Park mobile home park as seen on March 20, 2011. A State Supreme Court justice has ruled against residents of the North Amityville mobile home park facing redevelopment, setting the stage for evictions possibly beginning as soon as May. Credit: Nancy Borowick

He makes his way slowly past rows of mobile homes, wrapped in a worn winter coat and leaning heavily on two canes. The road is potholed, the breeze chilling.

Kwasi Nsiah, 79, is on his way to find a new place to live. The expiration date on his residence is approaching.

"We have to move," he says, with a mirthless laugh. "There's nothing you can win if you're poor."

Nsiah owns a trailer in Frontier Mobile Home Park, a hardscrabble community on Route 110 in North Amityville. All of the park's 500 or so owners have been told they have to leave. Coming soon: a new development with 500 apartments and some retail space.

You want to find a villain but it isn't that kind of story. The park had to be closed. Unsanitary and unsafe conditions led the Suffolk County health department to order it be connected to sewers or shut down. The cost was prohibitive for a place where residents struggle to pay around $600 a month for the land on which their trailers sit. So the park was sold.

What's coming is better than what's there and it needs to be built. But there's pathos here, too. As society moves ahead, some get left behind.

Nsiah moved into Frontier Park in 1989, when the rent was $200. He's battling spinal stenosis and lives on Social Security, disability and food stamps. His options are limited. In a region where affordable housing is way too scarce, a well-run trailer park can be a good fit.

"A lot of people don't have a place to go," says Joe Stevens, 54. He worries most about the families. "I'm not in their shoes . . . You know, just me and my dog. I can't imagine having a wife and kids, the stress that they must be under."

The park is not much to look at. Most of the homes have seen better days. The color schemes are dated, the paint fading. Some are vacant. Fences tilt precariously.

But the place has personality.

Icicle lights dangle from porches, gnomes play on a gravel lawn, a saxophone hangs on a white stockade fence. And every afternoon, school buses pull up on the street outside and kids scatter to all corners.

"I didn't want to be here originally," says Stevens, a Navy veteran and carpenter who moved in seven years ago after two bad marriages. He's been out of work for more than a year, and is studying for a commercial driver's license.

He likes the sense of community here. But he knows it's all coming to an end. Like many, he's resigned to that.

"It's a question of when," he says. "How much longer do we have on the clock."

Residents who have tried to fight the development have nearly exhausted their legal options. Nsiah is among 100 or so who must vacate by April 30 to make way for the first phase of construction. Like all residents, he is eligible for $20,000 from developer R Squared Real Estate Partners of Plainview, for relocation expenses. It's a good offer. If they file for it, they'll get it. The money is to be paid in installments, though some have gotten the full amount upfront.

But some residents living on the margins need help to avoid falling into the cracks. The Town of Babylon has arranged for counselors from the nonprofit Adelante of Suffolk County to provide advice. That's a good step.

Nsiah says he's put in applications for apartments but was turned down. He's worried. He re-grips his canes and works his way out to Route 110 to catch a bus to check another place.

It's eerie to walk through a community that's been given a death sentence.

Stevens scans the trailers around him, and shrugs.

"It's progress," he says.