In March, a local developer announced plans to build an upscale development alongside Lake Eustis on the site where an old mobile home community now stands.

The announcement touched of a frightened reaction from the residents of Sharp's Mobile Home Park, many of whom are poor and fretted about where they would move and how they would pay for it.

There is a state fund that helps people like this, but the amounts the fund will pay are fairly modest — around $1,300 — unless someone has a double-wide mobile home to move. The fact is, few of the homes at Sharp's are in good enough condition to be moved, so most of the residents are faced with the difficult task of starting over.

Compounding their misery is that, in the months since the project was announced, the residents have been able to glean very little information about what might be available to them. The developer says there isn't much he can do or say until the purchase of the mobile home park is finalized, and city of Eustis officials keep insisting that, gee, it's a shame for the residents, but this is a private deal between the developer and the owner of the mobile home park, so there's nothing they can do.

Except, that isn't the case. Not even close.

You see, the city of Eustis has a good deal of actual ownership in this project — about $3 million in tax dollars it has pledged to the developer to get the marshy property ready to build.

The city struck a deal with the developer: Build the project, and as it starts producing tax revenues, we'll refund those tax dollars to you to offset the costs you incurred to get Eustis Lake Club off the ground.

At the end of the day, the city of Eustis won't be on the deed to Eustis Lake Club, but make no mistake, the city is a major investor in the project.

Yet Mayor Robert Morin repeats over and over that the city's hands are tied.

"The realization is that this is not the city of Eustis buying," Morin said in a recent interview with the Daily Commercial's Roxanne Brown. "It's actually a private seller, private buyer. So they are the ones that have ultimately the decision of what they can do."

Morin goes further. He waves off the notion that the city has any responsibility to the residents because the city isn't putting any "up-front money" into the project ... as if the $3 million it will refund to the developer in the coming years is Monopoly money.

It should be noted that this kind of arrangement is not all that unusual. Cities all over America cut these kinds of deals with developers, using the logic that, if we don't help, the land will sit there underutilized and producing minimal taxes, so this is an investment in the future.

Here's why this deal is different. Often, the properties slated for redevelopment are vacant, even derelict. They aren't occupied by real people.

In this case, Eustis hasn't just chosen to replace one low-income community with a higher-income community. It has chosen to replace lower-income PEOPLE with higher-income people. More to the point, it has chosen to spend public tax dollars to displace poor people for the benefit of wealthy people.

Morin reminded us that the city doesn't provide welfare services. In return, we remind him that it already has. It stuck its nose into a "private" business transaction and agreed to help fund a "private" development at the expense of 30-something poor people who are terrified they will find themselves on the street.

So while there is little question that this — legal, we argue — again, and more strenuously – that the city now has a moral and ethical duty to assist the residents of Sharp's Mobile Home Park in relocating.

They can start by assigning a case manager to see what is available to these people in the way of federal, state or county housing assistance.