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PEACE OF MIND, FRIENDS FOR $66,000

Ray Brooks was looking for an escape from escalating property taxes and a quiet place to write a book when he first moved from a house into a mobile home.

What he found was a community. And now, four years later, he has found a lifelong fight to help preserve that way of life.

He's still writing a book, but the topic has become evil developers.

"This is stable. I love it," Brooks said of his home at Serendipity Mobile Home Park at 29081 U.S. 19 N in Clearwater. "We all look out for each other here."

Brooks was a chief technical officer with Chase Manhattan Bank earning more than $100,000 a year in 2003. He had owned a house on Indian Rocks Beach and property in Pinellas Park.

Although he could afford them, the property taxes began irritating him.

"My taxes went up every year, every year," he said recently. "That's what drove me out to begin with - taxation. It drove me crazy."

He bought a mobile home at Anchor North Bay park in Oldsmar. The park was on the water and seemed to be a peaceful place that would give him a chance to write. He liked it so much that he bought other mobile homes as investments.

Brooks said he thought he'd found paradise. Problem was, he didn't own the land under the mobile homes, and a short time later, developers bought Anchor North Bay.

Brooks and other mobile home- owners fought the developers at every step. When the County Commission did not listen, Brooks decided to run against Susan Latvala. He lost but says he's not finished with politics as long as those without a voice are ignored.

The homeowners sued the developers and got a settlement. He said he is prohibited from discussing the terms but got enough money to buy another mobile home.

This time, he went to Serendipity, where he bought both the home and the land beneath it.

His new neighbors in the 55-plus park greeted him with brownies and friendship.

"That's what people did in the old days," he said. "I've got good friends here, and I enjoy the park. It's a nice place."

Residents, even lone women, walk around the park at all hours without fear.

"We all look out for each other," Brooks said.

The park has two pools and two clubhouses, one of which is being upgraded as a hurricane shelter that will be able to withstand a Category 3 storm. Garbage, lawn care and such are all taken care of.

Brooks got the peace of mind and the friendship for $66,000 - $34,000 for the share that gave him the land and $32,000 for the mobile home itself.

He has done some work in the past year, so now the mobile home "truly looks like a house."

"It can be whatever you can afford and whatever you make it," Brooks said. "It's truly, truly affordable."

And the taxes? $200 a year.

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