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After gutting local newspapers, hedge fund Alden Global is going after mobile home parks

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

You might have heard of Alden Global Capital's purchase and evisceration of several American newspapers. Now, the New York hedge fund has added mobile home parks to its portfolio with adverse consequences for many of the people who live on those properties. We're joined now by investigative journalist Julie Reynolds. She's co-founder of the nonprofit news site Voices of Monterey Bay. She's written about Alden for the Nation, Newsweek and other national publications and joins us from Monterey Bay, California. Thanks so much for being with us.

JULIE REYNOLDS: Oh, my pleasure, Scott.

SIMON: You've been focusing on Alden's media acquisitions. What drew your attention to their purchase of mobile home parks?

REYNOLDS: Well, I did a piece about Alden and its media activities, and it very briefly mentioned a mobile home park in North Carolina they had bought. And reporters from communities around the country started contacting me and saying that was going on in their towns. And I realized this was much bigger than I first thought. And so I'm working on a piece right now for the Columbia Journalism Review that hopefully will run soon about this. I heard from a woman in Appalachia named Sarah Rupe (ph) who said she was an elementary school aide and that her school could lose a quarter of the students there because there was no other low-income housing.

SIMON: And Alden uses other companies to buy up these properties, according to your reporting.

REYNOLDS: Yeah, I have discovered scores of these around the country. I'm still counting. And they were bought up last year by a company called Homes Of America LLC. It's an Alden affiliate. In all of these communities, I saw the same pattern. There were stories in local media. They were raising the rents 40 to 60%, putting up eviction notices. They were even evicting people in quite a few cases where the rent had already been paid. And I've seen the bills. I've seen the proof of payment. And these park managers are also refusing to do repairs. And a couple of weeks ago, the water was shut off at Massie's Mobile Home Park in Virginia because they didn't pay the bill.

SIMON: Does Alden want to be in the mobile home park business, or do they have another plan, best as you can tell?

REYNOLDS: It's a little hard to tell. They bought most of these parks in 2021 using these LLCs that belong to other LLCs. They're all under Homes Of America, and its financing arm in turn is actually owned by an entity called Tribune 2 Finance 1 LLC. And this led me to wonder if they're actually using the Tribune newspaper money to pay for all of this. This follows Alden's pattern of buying distressed businesses.

SIMON: Their interest is real estate, not the actual business.

REYNOLDS: Well, it's also ringing out the cash until the business itself gets to the failure point, and then they can also profit from the real estate. I worked for an Alden paper for 10 years, the Monterey County Herald, and it was a similar situation. The hot water went off, they never fixed it - things like that. So this is a pattern for them.

SIMON: And can you tell how many properties, mobile home parks, they've purchased?

REYNOLDS: My count is up in the 80s, but I'm still counting. So I wouldn't be surprised if it's more than 100.

SIMON: What sort of individual stories stand out?

REYNOLDS: Sarah Rupe told me that they've got a 20% vacancy rate now. People are leaving in fear in the middle of the night. And many of the people in these parks are already struggling. They are disabled, they're on fixed incomes, and a couple hundred dollars rent increase - it really isn't something they can handle. I talked to one man who wanted - he and his family wanted to leave Massie's, but they have no place to go.

SIMON: And is there any legal recourse for people who live in these homes and have paid their rent? Or...

REYNOLDS: Yeah, Southwest Virginia Legal Aid has been helping some individual tenants there. There have been protests. The North Dakota Manufactured Housing Association, which would normally take the side of owners, is pretty upset about this. And they have said that Homes of America is actually breaking the law by not responding to the tenants' issues. Alden has always skirted the edge of the law. So it's not that surprising.

SIMON: Well, they presumably have the benefit of high-powered legal advice, right?

REYNOLDS: Absolutely. And so far, they've been able to get away with this. In some communities, legal experts have said, what they're doing - it may be immoral, but it is legal.

SIMON: Investigative journalist Julia Reynolds. Thanks very much for being with us.

REYNOLDS: Oh, thank you for having me.

SIMON: We contacted Alden for a response and were referred to Byron Fields (ph), the chief operating officer of Homes of America. He asked for examples of the issues residents are facing, adding, quote, "The dedicated team at Homes of America is committed to creating safe, well-maintained communities that our residents are proud to call home." We provided reported examples. Fields did not address the specific instances, but said it was, quote, "inappropriate" for NPR to use its platform to speak to Reynolds, whom he called a newspaper union activist. Reynolds, who is a member of the Freelancers Guild, denies this characterization. She also says that Alden has not responded to her in the six years that she's reported on them. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Scott Simon is one of America's most admired writers and broadcasters. He is the host of Weekend Edition Saturday and is one of the hosts of NPR's morning news podcast Up First. He has reported from all fifty states, five continents, and ten wars, from El Salvador to Sarajevo to Afghanistan and Iraq. His books have chronicled character and characters, in war and peace, sports and art, tragedy and comedy.