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South Florida Sun Sentinel - February 26, 2009
As Palma Nova mobile home park in
Davie closes, it's a ghost town for last residents
Life at the Palma Nova community in Davie winds down
in sorrow and squalor
By Susannah Bryan
DAVIE - Vultures circle overhead, searching for prey. On the ground,
bulldozers crush home after home, creating a mountain of metal that
eventually will make its way to the junkyard.
Six months ago, this was a bustling community, filled with 940 mobile
homes and more than 3,000 people. Today, it is more like a ghost town.
Fewer than 100 stragglers remain.
On Saturday, the Palma Nova mobile home park, a fixture in east Davie
for decades, will close in one of the largest evictions ever in Broward
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The notices arrived by mail in August, giving Palma Nova residents six
months to leave. Although about 200 angry residents marched to Town
Hall, Davie officials told them there wasn't much they could do.
Since then, the community has been in turmoil. Enrollment at nearby
Davie Elementary has plummeted to 850 from 1,000. Some mobile homes
have burned, neighbors are scavenging through abandoned trailers and
dozens of pets have been left behind.
Most residents have already moved to other mobile home parks. Some
landed in apartments and homes. Those who remain still are not sure
where they will go.
Mobile home parks have been closing throughout the region in recent
years to make way for more expensive homes or commercial development.
Florida lost 27,769 mobile homes from 1998 to 2008 because of park
closures, according to state records. Broward County lost 1,977 mobile
homes, Palm Beach County lost 301 and Miami-Dade County lost 2,860.
Sonja Borrero, whose 1971 single-wide is too old to move, helped
organize the Town Hall protest.
It seems a lifetime ago.
Since then, she has had a heart attack, undergone triple bypass
surgery, lost a favorite cat to leukemia and feared for her own life
when nearby mobile homes went up in flames. She thinks they were
torched by distraught owners or bored kids.
But the most painful blow hit last week, when Jenna, her 22-year-old
daughter, died during a seizure.
"I've been crying for three days," Borrero said outside her mobile
home, one of the few left on her street. "It's just all this at once. I
don't have anywhere to go."
Borrero, 45, had planned to move in with Jenna. Now she is planning her
Susan Anderson, 62, moved to nearby Everglades Lakes Mobile Home Park
soon after getting the eviction notice.
She still comes back now and then to look through the belongings some
families have left behind. Last week, she rescued a few parched potted
Joining her was Brenda Ortman, who lives in a duplex next to Palma
Nova, formerly Silver Oaks mobile home park.
"It's like going shopping," said Ortman, who has collected lamps,
ceiling fans and kitchen cabinets made of oak. "You wouldn't believe
the stuff people have left behind."
Residents forced to leave their mobile homes behind collect what they
consider a pittance from the state to help defray the cost of moving:
$1,375 for a single-wide and $2,750 for a double-wide. Those who move
their mobile homes collect $3,000 to $6,000, depending on the home's
In November, Legal Aid Service of Broward County filed a lawsuit
accusing the town and park owner Austin Forman of violating state law
by not ensuring the residents had other affordable housing options. The
lawsuit aims to win more than $15,000 in damages apiece for about 500
families who were living at the park when the suit was filed.
Forman has not said what plans he has for the property, located on the
east side of Davie Road across from Broward College. No site plan has
been filed with the town.
Forman could not be reached for comment despite three calls to his
office and cell phone. Paul Figg, one of Forman's attorneys, declined
Mayor Tom Truex declined to discuss specifics, but noted the land is
zoned for mixed-use development.
Today, the park looks more like a hurricane zone than a parcel destined
for future growth.
"It's like any place in transition," Truex said. "A lot of [the homes]
have been abandoned."
Hope amid squalor
Jan Dove, who has lived in Palma Nova since 1972, compares it to a war
A baby's shoe sits forgotten in the middle of the street. Abandoned
cats search for food. Davie police patrol on bikes and a cruiser sits
near the entrance to the park. Not far from the bulldozers are other
traces of lives left behind: a sunny-yellow candle, an ocean-blue
brush, an oatmeal-colored couch.
In the past few months, Dove, 69, has watched family after family leave
the park and their friends behind.
"I've been working and working trying to figure out where to go," said
Dove, who owns a bird, dog and cat.
She holds out hope, but her anxiety grows with each day. "It's terrible
to be stuck in limbo."
Rosa Fraas, 42, moved in two years ago and lives with her mom, three
sons and four chickens. She hopes to move into an apartment in
Hallandale Beach by Saturday.
She will find out this week whether the apartment complex has accepted
At 50, Eriberto Roman finds himself in the position of having to move
in with his 24-year-old daughter in Pompano Beach.
Roman moved to Palma Nova a year ago after losing his job. His ex-wife
took him in, along with Luis, his 6-year-old son from another marriage.
His ex-wife, her pit bull and four chihuahuas are moving in with their
27-year-old son, who has an apartment in Hollywood. "We've helped them
enough, so I guess they can help us now," Roman said.
Still, he worries about Luis and how he'll take yet another move. Last
year, Luis' mom sent him to live with Roman after she lost her home in
Pennsylvania to foreclosure.
Roman is in no hurry to pick up and move out.
"We're waiting for the last day."
Susannah Bryan can be reached at sebryan@SunSentinel.com or