Is resident ownership realistic? Some organizations see need for mobile-home-park rent control
Voces Unidas-backed bill stalled at Capitol; Roaring Fork Valley’s 3-Mile residents forge ahead
Editor’s note: This is the closing installment of a story by Aspen Journalism that has been published in two parts, beginning on Sept. 25. Visit aspenjournalism.org to read the story in its entirety.
A key policy goal stated in a recent study of local and statewide mobile home parks is to give residents the opportunity to purchase their parks before owners decide to list them.
But that opportunity is very limited under legislation intended to help residents become owners, which first passed in 2020 and mandates a 120-day timeframe for residents to put together a competitive offer. Confusion among park residents about how to organize an association to serve as the purchasing entity, difficulties obtaining financing and inadequate notice from owners despite the law’s provisions are impediments, concludes the study, undertaken by the Mountain Voices Project, a community advocacy organization launched by the Carbondale-based social justice nonprofit Manaus, and the Partners in Evaluation and Research (PiER) Center at Kaiser Permanente Colorado’s Institute for Health Research.
The location of a park can also have ramifications.
Manaus in 2021 partnered with Colorado-based Thistle ROC, which assists in financing resident-owned acquisitions, in an effort to organize residents of the 50-space Roaring Fork Mobile Home Park, located off Basalt Avenue near the confluence of the Roaring Fork and Fryingpan rivers.
Jon Fox-Rubin, who works Manaus as its Housing Innovation Project lead, noted that 98% of residents there were on board to try to buy the park and the owner was willing to sell. But floodplain issues arose that impacted their ability to obtain financing and would have resulted in the elimination of several homesites that are in the floodplain.
The plan fell through.
“So, the sad news is the process created false hope that they would be able to purchase it,” Fox-Rubin said.
The Roaring Fork park, which straddles the border between Pitkin and Eagle counties, does have some level of protection from rent increases on the Pitkin County side through a condition of approval that came with a 1996 rezoning of the property, limiting space rent increases to no more than 3% per year, Pitkin County Community Development Director Suzanne Wolff confirmed.
There are critics of the push for resident ownership, including from within the Latino community, which represents a large percentage of mobile home park residents in the Roaring Fork Valley and Garfield County.
Alex Sánchez, president and CEO of local advocacy group Voces Unidas de las Montañas, believes the resident-owned model can be a “false choice,” especially for working families in the Colorado high country where real estate is extremely expensive.
“Many of these folks are living on a very tight budget, and a lot are retired people or senior citizens, some with disability or mobility challenges who are on some sort of government assistance,” Sánchez said. Challenges with immigration status can hinder efforts to obtain loans, he added.
Also this year, Colorado Gov. Jared Polis created the new Mobile Home Park Acquisition Fund, to be administered by DOLA’s Division of Housing, which will make $28 million in loans and technical assistance available through three different entities — ROC USA, the Impact Development Fund and Thistle ROC — to help facilitate resident ownership.
But, as Sánchez points out, that overall amount is less than what it would take to purchase one or two big mobile home parks, limiting its viability to some of the smaller parks, if all the pieces fall together.
Voces Unidas has been on the front end of lobbying efforts at the state Capitol in Denver to get some of the recent mobile home park legislation passed.
Sanchez noted that Voces was instrumental in getting the opportunity-to-purchase laws drafted and passed, and fought to expand the notice requirement from 90 days to 120 days. The model can work, Sanchez said, “if we have the right mix of incentives and reduce the barriers.” He added that the group is trying to get more funding into the loan program to help residents buy parks. This next session will probably bring a renewed focus on adding rent stabilization to the mix.
“We went out and polled 1,500 Latino voters last year, and overwhelmingly, regardless of whether or not they lived in a mobile home park, they supported some type of rent control or rent stabilization,” Sánchez said.
An effort last session to get such a measure passed — co-sponsored by Rep. Elizabeth Velasco, D-Glenwood Springs — was struck down when Polis indicated he would veto the bill.
Sánchez vowed to keep plugging away in the 2024 legislative session on gaining rent controls as a stronger protection than what he believes the resident ownership model can provide, saying the latter often leads to false hope for residents and other unintended consequences.
3-Mile pilot project
Manaus last year resurrected the previously dormant Roaring Fork Community Development Corporation (RFCDC) and in April was successful in purchasing the 20-space 3-Mile Mobile Home Park outside Glenwood Springs for $2.5 million. The organization intends to manage the property under the existing lease-hold arrangement, while working to organize residents so they can eventually buy the land.
“While we are in the game to ensure community preservation, we now intimately understand the hoops and red tape residents of mobile home parks must navigate to buy the land beneath their homes,” Sydney Schalit, who directs Manaus and the RFCDC, said at the time of closing.
“We’re more steadfast than ever in our support of resident ownership opportunities in our valleys and across the Western Slope and hope other entities like RFCDC will step in to be the interim owners while the residents coordinate their collective efforts,” Schalit said.
The deal was made possible only through the willingness of the longtime owners of the 3-Mile park — the Krueger family of Eagle-Vail — to sell to Manaus instead of going with what probably would have been a higher bid from a private investor.
“My dad had owned the park for something like 40 years and had gotten to know the people who live there very well,” Bern Krueger said of his late father, Ben, who died in 2021. “When you get to know the people a little bit, there’s a desire to enable them to stay where they are without having to move out.”
“When he died, we knew this was what he would prefer to do,” he added. “And we didn’t want someone coming in and pushing out 20 families.”
At the time of closing, the RFCDC partnered with Common Good Management, a nonprofit that works specifically to help manage community-owned mobile home parks in Colorado, and hired Brianda Cervantes as park manager and community organizer. Cervantes was formerly a community liaison and organizer for the Roaring Fork School District and helped to start the English-Spanish dual language K-8 Riverview School in Glenwood Springs.
She has since received additional training as a community organizer through the Mountain Voices Project.
“It’s been a shift for me, of course, but I feel very supported in this role and ready to learn a lot about how to get this accomplished,” Cervantes said in a June interview. “In my first two weeks, I was there at the park pretty much every day, seeing what the needs are and just getting to know the people.”
In late June, residents showed their appreciation by teaming up with volunteers from Manaus for a community cleanup day, clearing brush and getting rid of some of the clutter that had accumulated outside their homes.
“By doing this, I get to know some of the neighbors that I didn’t know before,” resident Elizabeth Vega said. “We’re building relationships and making it a better place to live.”
Resident Felix Jimenez, who has lived at the 3-Mile park for 35 years, has been the semi-official on-site park maintenance supervisor for most of that time.
“It’s nice to have a reason and to get everybody to come out and talk to each other,” he said of the cleanup day.
Although residents are still getting their heads wrapped around the idea of pooling their resources to buy the park, it’s little things such as working together to spruce things up that help.
“If people feel a little more glued together, we can work to make this happen,” Jimenez said.
Cervantes said it’s that kind of community-building that needs to happen first, before biting off the much larger task of organizing to buy the property.
“Everyone is so excited to see the park changing in a better way,” Cervantes said. “This is just one of the examples of everybody coming together for the same purpose, and to help see this park flourish.”
This story was updated to clarify Voces Unidas’ position as it relates to support for resident-owned models.
John Stroud is a freelance writer based in Carbondale and a veteran Roaring Fork Valley journalist of 35 years. Aspen Journalism covers social justice, water, environment and more. Visit http://aspenjournaism.org.
Editor’s note: Rob Pew, board chairman of Manaus, is a funder Aspen Journalism in his personal capacity. Aspen Journalism is solely responsible for its editorial content.
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