The last place to get a nice-sized home on a quiet, leafy street for less than $150,000 in the GTA—Twin Pines trailer park
On a bright morning in August, Judi Lloyd drove through Twin Pines with the air of a visiting dignitary. The preternaturally cheerful 57-year-old real estate broker was on her way to list a home. The Mississauga trailer park is located just off Dundas, one of the city’s main arteries. Like all of Lloyd’s visits to the park, the trip quickly turned into a mixture of socializing and networking as she waved to and chatted with residents from the driver’s seat of her black Ford Escape. She gestured at the mobiles we passed, noting the histories and special features of each. “You wouldn’t even know that’s a trailer,” she said, pointing at a 48-by-24-foot mobile on a spacious, pie-shaped lot. “If someone dropped you in there and you didn’t see the outside, I swear you’d think it was a little bungalow.”
1| Bob and Ena Barclay, paid $8,000 for their mobile home 45 years ago
The home Lloyd was putting on the market that day was a beige “double-wide,” mobile-home lingo for a model that’s the size of two typical trailers. Inside, Stephen Plume—a transport truck driver in a black baseball cap with a “Got beer?” slogan—good-naturedly signed and initialled a stack of papers while Lloyd kept up a steady patter. “This is one of the widest master bedrooms in all of Twin Pines,” she said authoritatively. She was going to list the home for $139,900. When the papers had been completed to her satisfaction, Lloyd went out to the front lawn and drove a “For Sale” sign into the ground with a few quick jabs of her pink-toenail-polished foot. “See you on Facebook!” she yelled as she rolled down the leafy street.
Lloyd didn’t set out to become the “Trailer Park Queen,” as her colleagues call her. A decade ago, when she was still relatively new to the business, she sold her first mobile home in Twin Pines. Then she sold another. Then, somehow, she sold 83 more. Now she’s the community’s patron broker, the agent responsible for the majority of the transactions in Twin Pines, and the woman you need to speak to if you want to live in the GTA’s last big mobile community.
As Lloyd tells each of her potential buyers, Twin Pines is a unique neighbourhood. In a city of subdivisions and high-rises, a trailer park is an anomaly. In the centre of Mississauga, one of North America’s fastest-growing cities, its continued existence on 23 acres of valuable land defies the laws of real estate.
Although 200 families live in the park, it’s easy to miss. The entrance is a thin, tree-lined driveway adjacent to a Mr. Sub and across the street from a strip club that advertises “HOT GIRLS COLD BEER/AMATEURS EVERY MONDAY.” Inside, however, the park is an oasis of disarmingly bucolic small-town charm. The streets are lined with carefully tended beds of foxgloves and sunflowers. Towering cedars and pines dwarf the collection of 219 modular homes—buildings without the wheels and hitches that come to mind when you think of a trailer.
Indeed, the question of what to call the houses in Twin Pines is a source of some disagreement among residents. “Mobile home” is the preferred term, but it’s a bit of a misnomer. With their porches and extensions, the homes in Twin Pines are far from mobile. Some long-term residents still call them what they’ve always called them—trailers—but many feel the words “trailer park” have been irredeemably sullied, used too often as a modifier for trash. And everyone agrees that the popularity of Trailer Park Boys hasn’t helped. Lloyd remembers when she first saw the TV comedy about the frequently drunk and consistently stupid residents of an east coast trailer park. “I just put my head in my hands and said: ‘This isn’t going to be good.’ ”
One of her most difficult challenges is convincing people to even consider a mobile home. When Stephanie Miller and her husband, Larry Lynch, began looking for a new house two years ago, mobiles weren’t on their radar. Miller is a lifestyle blogger, and her husband works for the Communications, Energy and Paperworkers Union. They started their search in Etobicoke and gradually extended it further and further west as they realized they didn’t have the funds for something so close to Toronto. “In the end we had enough for a down payment for a small home in a neighbouring town like Brampton,” says Miller.
When Lynch’s co-worker suggested a place in Twin Pines, Miller’s answer was an emphatic no. “You think of the stigma attached to trailer parks,” she says. “You think of drugs and booze.” When they drove through the community, however, they quickly changed their minds. They’ve been there a year and a half now, and they’ve kept a tally of the wildlife they’ve seen. There have been rabbits, possums and groundhogs, blue jays, cardinals and even a peregrine falcon devouring a pigeon on the lawn. “We call it Mississauga cottage country,” Miller says.
Living in Twin Pines is one of the cheapest ways to own a roof over your head in the GTA, so it attracts people looking to simplify. There are residents who have lived there for decades, watching new subdivisions and strip malls pop up as the city crept toward them. There are recent empty-nesters who have given up big houses to spend their retirement in Twin Pines. There’s also a growing group of young couples like Miller and Lynch, first-time homeowners eager to get out of the rent cycle but lacking the ever-increasing sums required to buy property in the GTA.
The mix has resulted in a quiet, peaceful community. Part of this is because of age—about half the park’s residents are retirees—and part of it is because the residents’ association has introduced rules and regulations to prevent any influx of Ricky, Julian and Bubbles types. Inhabitants must own their homes; renting isn’t permitted. Major car repair operations are also prohibited so the park doesn’t become overrun with Pontiac Trans Ams up on cinder blocks.
The distinguishing characteristic of the community is an insistent, even aggressive friendliness. Twin Pines attracts families from the surrounding subdivisions, who like to walk their dogs through the park’s safe, quiet streets and chat with the people on their porches. It’s the kind of neighbourhood where, if you happen to be a strange reporter walking around with an untied shoelace, multiple people will call out to you from their front stoops, anxious for your safety.
In the 1950s, Twin Pines was a stretch of farmland owned by a couple named Fred and Jean Pallett. The first trailer on the lot appeared when a construction worker travelling with his family needed a place to plug in for the night and the Palletts let him use the electricity from their barn. Soon after, they allowed a work crew to park their trailers in the field. The Palletts installed a bathroom, and a rough mobile home park was born. Over the years, the park, which was called Cedar Grove until 1996, slowly expanded. When Hurricane Hazel destroyed a trailer park near Lake Ontario in 1954, the displaced community moved onto the Palletts’ land. Roads were installed, and the collection of haphazard trailers became a permanent neighbourhood.
The Palletts began selling mobiles right on the property. A prospective owner could drive up to the entrance and inspect an array of shiny prefab homes, lined up like cars at a dealership. At the time, there were four or five trailer parks in the area. As Mississauga grew, however, most were sold off to private developers who built subdivisions and office buildings. (Today there’s one other mobile home community in Mississauga. It’s called Malton Mobile Homes, and it’s much smaller than Twin Pines.)
In October 1992, the residents found a letter in their mailboxes telling them they had to move. The Palletts were selling the park to developers who wanted to create high-density housing on the land. The people who lived there, some of whom had been there for decades and had invested thousands of dollars into their homes, were given a year to leave.
That week, residents held a meeting to figure out what to do. Hundreds of people, including representatives from each family on the lot, crowded into a small nearby church. They decided to form a committee, and May Stewart, a cashier at the local Food City who had an easy way with people, was elected media liaison. “There was a consensus at the meeting,” says Stewart. “We decided we had to fight.” The developers, wary of a prolonged dispute, chose to back out of the purchase. For the next four years, the committee looked everywhere for new owners willing to buy the park, without success. They hired a lawyer fresh out of law school, sent press releases to the media and petitioned Mayor Hazel McCallion, who was sympathetic to their cause.
In 1996, Peel Living, the region’s non-profit housing company, agreed to step in and buy the park, provided the residents came up with a million dollars. Each family was asked to pay $7,500, which many of the residents couldn’t afford. “We didn’t want anyone to get evicted, so we subsidized anybody who couldn’t afford the fee,” says Stewart. “They put in whatever they could, and those who could give more balanced it out.”
Newcomers to Twin Pines pay $5,500 to join the residents’ association (they get it back if they move out). Homeowners also pay between $350 and $450 a month for the land lease, depending on the size of the lot. In 2016, the park’s first 20-year lease with Peel Living will be up, but Stewart is hopeful they’ll be able to renew. No one wants to be responsible for evicting a couple hundred angry homeowners.
A few months ago, on a hot day at the tail end of summer, an enormous truck pulled up to a mobile home on 10th Street and began unloading. The place belonged to Debi Little. She had been searching for a new condo, but the results were discouraging. “I wouldn’t want to live in the units I found in my price range,” she says. She saw an online listing for a mobile home and was intrigued. She called Lloyd, and soon the agent was driving her through the neighbourhood. The home Little settled on is a 700-square-foot two-bedroom on a plot of land big enough for a barbecue, a patio set and a bubbling fountain. The mobile was $105,000. With her mortgage and her monthly land lease combined, Little is paying only $125 per month more than she paid to rent her old one-bedroom.
At Twin Pines, a moving truck is a beacon for neighbours, and soon Little was surrounded. A man wandered over from his house across the street to share a few tips about parking. A couple to the east invited her over for lunch, but she had to decline. “I feel bad, but I’ve just gotta finish these boxes,” she said.
Little is Judi Lloyd’s latest convert to Twin Pines. Lloyd has five homes up for sale in the park, and she’s anxious to move them. She’s had some nibbles on Plume’s place but no offers yet. “In the end, the mobiles always sell,” she explained. “They’re affordable, and people always need an affordable place to live.”