ATTLEBORO, Mass. (WPRI) — U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren brought her crusade against the private equity industry to Attleboro on Wednesday, spending an hour with residents of a manufactured-home park who’ve been battling out-of-state ownership for years.
Many residents of Sandcastle, a 55-and-older home park near the Cumberland line, told Warren they are on fixed incomes and have been struggling with rising rents since the previously family-owned complex was bought by a company called Legacy Communities LLC in 2019.
“I was paying approximately $450 a month,” said Leon Begin, who like others at Sandcastle owns his home but rents the land it sits on. “I still had another year on my lease, so they couldn’t touch me. But as soon as the lease was over I got another five-year lease and they went up over $100 a month.”
“It’s unbelievable,” he said, adding, “We’ve really got nowhere to go from here.”
Sandcastle has been bought and sold multiple times just in the last four years, after nearly a quarter-century under the ownership of Shannon Family Properties Inc., which had purchased it for less than $3 million back in 1996.
County land records show Shannon Family Properties sold Sandcastle to an LLC with a New Jersey mailing address in January 2019 for $13.4 million. Three years later, in January 2022, that LLC sold Sandcastle for $18.9 million to a a limited-partnership corporation with a Texas address. (The property’s current assessed value is just under $10 million.)
Joe Feroce, president of the Sandcastle homeowners association, said residents tried on both occasions to buy the park on their own, but couldn’t come up with enough money at a price they could afford.
Official corporate names aside, Sandcastle’s website describes its owner as Legacy Communities, and Warren said the company has ties to private equity. The second-term Democrat argued housing is only the latest sector of the economy being harmed by the industry.
“Private equity moves in one industry after another and buys up, raises prices, reduces service, rakes out a bunch of profits and then moves on to eat the next industry,” Warren said.
“We’re watching this for example in the nursing home industry, watching it in buying up medical practices,” she said. “They’ve already mowed their way through lots of retail outlets – some of you may remember Toys R Us, and other stores that were once good stores that got eaten up and sold for parts.”
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Warren isn’t the only member of the Senate Banking Committee scrutinizing the effect of private equity on the housing market. The panel’s chairman, Ohio Democrat Sherrod Brown, sent a letter to Legacy Communities last December seeking answers about the company’s operations after fielding complaints about rent hikes and service cuts.
“As a national company doing business from Delaware and Florida and with leadership in Arizona, Legacy Communities will be far removed from the consequences of its decisions,” Brown said in a statement at the time. (A spokesperson for Brown on Wednesday declined to release Legacy Communities’ response to his letter.)
In an unsigned statement sent Wednesday to 12 News, Legacy Communities defended its management of Sandcastle, saying it aimed for “affordable” annual rent increases and is grappling with the effects of higher interest rates and rising costs.
“When establishing rents, we review operating expenses, necessary infrastructure repairs and upgrades, planned improvements, and we carefully analyze the local market to ensure our rates are competitive and not above the in-market rate,” the statement said.
Others who spoke at Wednesday’s roundtable told Warren the issue goes beyond Sandcastle. Dawn Quinlan, who lives in a manufactured-home park in Taunton, said she and her neighbors have struggled to contact the company that bought their property a few years ago.
“We’ve had a tough time communicating with our management and park ownership,” she said. “They’ve been very closed off to the idea of a homeowners association.” However, she added that the company appears to be making more effort recently.
Local officials in attendance included state Rep. Jim Hawkins, who has been seeking to help the Sandcastle residents for years and is currently pushing a bill on Beacon Hill that would allow cities like Attleboro and Taunton to set up municipal boards with oversight authority over the owners of home parks.
Warren thanked the residents for participating in the roundtable, saying she would use their stories to make her case for legislative changes back in Washington.
“We need to make the investments in housing, but we also need to protect the housing that exists from these corporate investors who are just here to wring as many profits out of it as possible,” she said.
Ted Nesi (email@example.com) is a Target 12 investigative reporter and 12 News politics/business editor. He co-hosts Newsmakers and writes Nesi’s Notes on Saturdays. Connect with him on Threads, Twitter and Facebook.