Pilot project to put Glenwood Springs mobile home park in resident hands among local efforts to preserve last bastions of housing affordability
Felix Jimenez is fond of the little slice of paradise he and his neighbors have maintained on the southern fringe of Glenwood Springs, and he’d like to see it preserved.
Jimenez is a 35-year resident of the 20-unit 3-Mile Mobile Home Park, located just up the narrow canyon off Midland Avenue, adjacent to The Hideout RV Park.
The wooded setting with 3 Mile Creek running through the middle of it has been a playground and home for his own children and now his grandchildren.
Over the years, he and his family secured three leased spaces in the park and erected mobile homes for the extended Jimenez family.
“The kids just love playing up in the woods along the irrigation ditch, and there’s a nice little trail up there,” Jimenez said, pointing up the steep ridge that rises just to the south of the park.
“It’s cool how the trees kind of cover it, and it’s just a nice little walk sometimes. It’s been a great place for them to grow up.”
Now 65 and still running a small property management business, including taking care of the mobile home park for the owners, the Ben Krueger family heirs, Jimenez is hoping to retire happily right where all those memories live.
Working with the new Roaring Fork Community Development Corporation — an arm of the Carbondale-based social justice nonprofit organization Manaus — that dream now has a good chance of becoming reality.
As first reported by Aspen Journalism, the group on Nov. 30 put the mobile home park under contract for $2.4 million, with the idea of eventually transferring ownership of the land to the resident mobile home owners.
The sellers are the adult children of the late Ben Krueger, a longtime Vail Valley resident who had owned the park since the early 1980s. The sale is slated to close April 30, with a timeframe of three to five years to sell it to the residents at a reduced price.
Krueger had already been in conversations with Jimenez and other residents about trying to find a solution. Sons Bern, John and Karl Krueger and daughter Celynn are now on board to try to make something happen. John Krueger said in the Aspen Journalism article that it would be hard to do without backing from an organization like Manaus.
Manaus Executive Director Sydney Schalit said the “intervention” or “bridge” model could serve as a pilot for possible purchase/resale of some of the other 55 mobile home parks that exist between Parachute and Aspen.
Many of those parks, which range in size from less than 20 spaces to nearly 300, are threatened with the potential of future redevelopment if they are sold to out-of-state private equity companies, or significant increases in space rents if the parks are maintained.
A new state law gives mobile home park owners first dibs whenever a park goes on the market, but free market pressures can make that impossible, Schalit said.
“Whenever a park goes up for sale, the residents might be able to pull it off, which is incredible when it happens,” she said. “But that doesn’t mean they’re not going to have really stiff free-market competition, which of course is what they run up against.
“Our thought was, why don’t we try to leverage our nonprofit capacities and go to the owners of these parks before they go to market and ask them to sell it to us at a fair value. Then we get to control who we sell it to.”
Manaus is also working with the Aspen Valley Land Trust to turn the seven acres of undeveloped hillside land into a conservation easement, which could help lower the sales price back to the residents for the park spaces.
Jimenez said park residents are still learning about the details of the proposal and some of the potential regulatory hurdles.
“A lot of the neighbors are really excited about it, but some are still leery,” he said. “We all want to be real clear about what the steps are and what it’s going to look like in terms of the price. So, we’re still hashing that out.”
But the prospect of being able to secure a reasonable lease-hold on their park spaces for the interim, and to eventually have ownership of the land beneath their mobile homes is attractive, Jimenez said.
“I know that there are some large entities coming around and looking at these parks, and swallowing them up,” he said. “So I wanted to try to prevent that.”
Mobile home parks in the Roaring Fork Valley and extending along the Colorado River Valley in Garfield County are home to an estimated 15,000 to 20,000 residents living in some 3,000 homes, said Jon Fox-Rubin, who now heads up the housing innovation project for Manaus.
For the past several months, another Manaus spinoff, the Mountain Voices Project, has been working with Kaiser Permanente and its Partners in Evaluation and Research (PiER) to evaluate the state’s 2020 and 2022 legislation aimed at preserving mobile home parks in Colorado.
Three of Garfield County’s larger mobile home parks — Cavern Springs near the CMC turnoff south of Glenwood Springs, Apple Tree Park near New Castle, and Cottonwood Park outside Rifle — are part of a case study to determine the potential for future resident ownership, or to maintain them as affordable housing options long term.
“Some of our community leaders have been out working to conduct surveys and start some conversations with the people who live in those parks,” Fox-Rubin said in an interview earlier this fall. “A lot of the people who own the trailers feel like it’s a stable, long-term place to live, but they often don’t know how vulnerable they are to a new investor buying the park and trying to jack up the rents.”
Two of those parks, Apple Tree and Cavern Springs, have come under new ownership in recent years, and along with the change in management have come new rules and regulations, as well as significant increases in the space rents.
“We know there are market ways to solve this puzzle, but we’re just not there as a state yet,” Fox-Rubin said. “So the idea is to start to raise awareness, and come up with other models to help out these residents before their parks get put on the market.”
Manaus had attempted to facilitate a deal for residents to make a $12 million offer on the Cavern Springs Park, but they were ultimately outbid.
Larger parks can tap into financing organizations like Thistle ROC (resident-owned cooperative communities), based in Boulder. Smaller parks, such as 3 Mile, do not qualify.
That’s why having a nonprofit like Manaus serve as an intermediary may be the wave of the future for it and other smaller parks across Colorado.
Another attempt at facilitating a $6 million resident purchase at the Roaring Fork Mobile Home Park in Basalt, using Thistle ROC, didn’t come to fruition due to issues with it being located in a floodplain, and prone to flooding, Fox-Rubin said.
“Despite the town of Basalt trying to move forward with a flood management plan, the only way they could have financed it is if they mitigated all the floodplain issues, which was going to be incredibly expensive,” he said.
Plus, 17 of the trailers would have had to essentially be eliminated due to being situated in the floodplain, and because there was no space to accommodate them elsewhere in the park.
The park ultimately sold to a private investor, but through a deal with Pitkin County the park space rents are at least capped, Fox-Rubin said.
Without such restrictions, though, rents can easily become unaffordable. And, because many of the mobile homes are too old, they can’t be moved to another park, even if a space were to become available.
“Despite all these new laws in Colorado, there is nothing that limits how quickly the landlords raise the rent, or that it be reasonable,” he said.
Manaus has a goal to try to preserve five parks in the area in five years, and the planned 3 Mile Park purchase could be the model, Schalit said.
The key is to have willing sellers, like the Kruegers who wanted to honor their father’s wishes to someday hand the park over to the residents.
“They’re all really interested in preserving the community, and they come from a family that does work in different levels of development and construction and real estate,” Schalit said. “So they had a really good concept of what that property could be and how a developer might look at it.”
To be successful, it does take buy-in from both the park owners and the residents who would ultimately become the owners, Schalit said.
The transition period could also buy some time to address some of the issues with 3 Mile and other parks, which often have infrastructure concerns. For instance, at 3 Mile, while the irrigation ditch that flows above the homes is a nice amenity, it can also be a concern if it blows out, she said.
In addition to needing to raise $250,000 in financing over the next four months to secure the deal, there are also bound to be other challenges in piecing it all together, Schalit admitted.
Manaus is looking to secure two loans, including one from the Colorado Housing Finance Authority, and will be turning to donors to help secure the financing, she said.
Fox-Rubin said that transactions involving individual homes would still be allowed during the interim period after Manaus would take ownership, but that they would try to work with existing residents to stay and be part of the ultimate transfer.
“It’s a little bit risky, but it’s less risky than buying into any mobile home park that might sell to a free market buyer,” he said. “I think we can also explore some different things while we own it, such as working with other nonprofits to look at other issues that might be valuable to the residents, like energy efficiency upgrades, fire mitigation … those sorts of things that often get deferred when you don’t know what your future holds.”
Jimenez said he would hate to see anything but his neighborhood of 35 years be developed on the site.
“I realize there’s going to be some regulations and all those things you have to deal with,” he said. “But we’re going to do whatever it takes to make this happen.”
Post Independent interim Managing Editor and senior reporter John Stroud can be reached at email@example.com or at 970-384-9160.
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