By Jessie Wagoner
McPherson News-Ledger Staff
McPHERSON—With the clock ticking, residents of an unlicensed McPherson mobile home park are desperately looking for a new place to live. After years of code violations, the city of McPherson filed suit against a mobile home park located at 707 W. Kansas Ave.
The city filed action in McPherson County District Court against the defendants, who are the owners of the property, Cornerstone Home Buyers, LLC, a forfeited company, and its owner/operator, Derek Walden. The occupants of the property and the owners of vehicles, trailers, campers and mobile homes located on the property are also named in the suit.
The filing was made on Sept. 2, giving residents 30 days to vacate the property. When McPherson News-Ledger staff toured the property this week, several vehicles and campers had been moved from the location. However, several residents still remain, unable as of yet to find alternative housing.
A woman, who resides at the mobile home park with two children, is one of those still looking for a residence. She says she has contacted local agencies and community members and has a few leads but nothing solid as of yet.
“I still don’t know for sure where we are going,” she said. “People want to help and that is great. But I don’t know how this can happen. How come he [the owner] doesn’t have to deal with this stress? How come he doesn’t have to pay for us to move? He ain’t done anything to help us for all these years and let this happen.”
In the suit, years of code violations and attempts to work with Walden to correct the violations are outlined. Letters to Walden from the city date back to 2016. Additionally, in a 2013 article published in the McPherson Sentinel regarding code violations at McPherson mobile home parks, Walden is quoted as saying he was working alongside code enforcement officials to clean up the park.
“I think Edye’s [code enforcement officer] approach to take the time to contact the owners and invite them to come alongside to help clean up the city is very effective,” Walden said at the time. “We’re working at obtaining financing so we can re-plumb the whole park. This will eliminate a lot of problems, including leaking problems we’ve had, and it’s encouraging.”
He also indicated he would continue to improve the conditions at the park. “My interest,” Walden said, “is to continue improving the park.“
Walden’s interest in the park and willingness to comment have waned since that time. The McPherson News-Ledger has made repeated attempts to contact Walden by phone, email and social media. Walden has made no response to those attempts.
Currently, the situation is considered a civil matter rather than a criminal case. In the suit, the city is seeking the closure of the park and payment of back taxes and fees. As of press time, the delinquent real estate tax on the site sits at $2,717.88. Walden was ordered by the court to not accept rent payments and to return any pre paid rent to the residents by Sept. 10.
The McPherson Housing Coalition has advised the City of McPherson has not adopted minimum property standards. As a result, it is difficult to condemn a piece of property and allows situations like this to drag on for years. If the city adopted minimum property standards and enforced them, landlords could be criminalized for not following the law and incur fines and penalties.
Another option is for residents to file a civil suit themselves to seek damages, though that could be problematic.
“People keep saying we should sue him,” one resident said. “Yeah, with what money? We don’t have money to move, how we gonna get money to hire a lawyer to sue this guy? That isn’t gonna happen.”
According to property records, Walden owns a home in Wichita appraised at $146,400. He is currently employed as a realtor with At Home Wichita and has several active listings. Though he has not replied to questions from the McPherson News-Ledger, he has corresponded with city officials. In an email to city officials, he advised he purchased the property for $130,000 and would like to find a buyer for the property. He is attempting to sell the property for $97,000.
“My intention is to not contest the action taken by the City of McPherson,” the email states. “I take full responsibility and understand completely the reasons that brought us here.”
Those interested in assisting the residents of the mobile home park can contact the McPherson Housing Coalition or the McPherson County Community Foundation.