What do you suppose we do with the mobile home parks of Western Colorado? The same ones with majority Latino populations living within them. Like Cotton Springs in Rifle, the park where all my friends used to play basketball on the public courts until it got too dark to catch rebounds. We’d walk each other home under the light of the streetlamps, except for on my street that had none and still has none a decade later. The same park where I could buy a hotdog from the tan home on the corner for 75 cents that housed a miserable German Shepard that would chase you on your BMX bike on your way to buy some soda and candy from a lady that sold them a few streets over.
When a young bear cub got into Leo’s yard and his Chihuahua chased it around for 30 minutes before animal control showed up, Don Javier stopped during his daily morning walk to take videos on his iPhone 6. A crowd of neighbors gathered outside the fence watching the shivering dog that yapped them awake every morning at 6 am on the dot chasing the bear around in circles.
Young Ricky cheered on the dog from the front row of the crowd. He had gone missing a few weeks prior when he didn’t come home from playing in the street like he usually does. His mother calling Ricky’s name caught the attention of the neighbors who went out even at dusk, with flashlights in hand, to find Ricky. After seven hours of searching, they found him playing monster trucks at the old waterfall up the hill where hooligans hung out. No one dared to call the police.
My grandma lived across the street from me. Her watchful eye guarded our street through the blinds of her single-wide. If a kid vaulted our fence on their way to the bus stop or if solicitors knocked on our door while the family was at work or school, my grandmother knew and she’d report to us daily. In return, we’d watch her house while she was gone through the film of our screen door.
It wasn’t that everyone was in a rush to know each other’s business. After all, we all had our own troubles to worry about. But we all knew what each neighbor was struggling with, even if no one said it out loud. That’s what living in close proximity does. It makes you worry about those around you.
Favors were bartered for another at a later time. Acts of kindness were given out freely as we all knew it would eventually come back our way. Thinking back on my humble mobile home park today, it’s one of the only places in my life where I felt like I belonged.
I visit my mobile home park during holidays and breaks. I see the same homes from my grade school days lining each street with the same cars parked in front of them. The same street lamp flickers at night as I walk the same route I did as a child. The same grassy field I played soccer on is the same one where a new generation of friends now plays football.
A gazebo was added at the bus stop, and speed bumps were raised about two inches, but the basketball court still doesn't have nets. Some houses got a new coat of paint, and the tree in my backyard that shaded my family and me as we ate papaya in the summer evenings is now gone, but the kids in the neighborhood still pull the garbage bin onto the street on Tuesdays for collection. My father has more than a few new gray hairs, and the neighbor’s dog is now dead after a decade of the neighborhood wondering when it was finally going to kick the bucket. My grandmother’s blinds remain open.
Despite all the years that have gone by and the lives lived in the mobile homes in Cotton Springs Park, nothing has truly changed. The aesthetics have shifted here and there, but the guts of the park move all too familiar.
In this sameness, I am both gracious to have felt something so genuine, a community able to stand the test of time, but also crushed that our reality is this sameness means my community is left in the past.
A trend perpetuates
It is no secret that Western Colorado is in a housing crisis. The wealth and resources of cities like Aspen and Snowmass, which benefit from the luxuries of outdoor recreation, are job sites for the working class of the Roaring Fork Valley.
It’s standard for working-class individuals to travel two hours to get to work every day. In the winter months, this time can easily double in dangerous weather conditions. Relocating closer to a job site is a near impossibility as the housing market has effectively priced out working families from the ski resort towns and into the far west region of the valley like Rifle, Parachute and New Castle. Rent prices are comparatively cheaper even after fuel and transportation are calculated.
With the cost of living being so high in the more mountainous parts of Colorado, mobile homes provide an affordable opportunity for those seeking to live and work in the state. Still, a volatile housing market causes the lot rent prices in these parks to increase, subjecting tenants to the aggressive housing crisis of the state. The prospect of affordable housing is soured once park owners are tempted to sell by the increasing land value, thus forcing families and individuals that need affordable housing to suffer the consequences of the hostile housing market. Although they own their mobile homes, they don’t own the land their home sits on.
In fact, when held under a microscope, mobile home park living can be one of the most exploitative housing situations in the state.
A Root Policy Research memo regarding prices and issues facing mobile home residents sheds light on the issue.
“Mobile home households are [...] more likely to be low income. In 2019, the median annual household income of those living in a mobile home was just $39,800. This is substantially lower than the median income of renters ($51,400) and homeowners ($97,500),” the memo states.
Within the last two decades, the income disparity between the two groups has only increased.
“From 2003 to 2019, the average incomes of those renting and owning other types of homes saw increases in their median nominal incomes by 71%, while the median nominal incomes of mobile home residents only increased by 37%,” the memo continues.
The increase of rent prices across the state, and especially in the Roaring Fork Valley, has not been met with a proportional increase in income for lower-income families. With stagnant wages and a near-fixed income over 20 years, compounded with an increase in housing prices eating at said income, the working-class individual is not prepared to survive this continued trend.
Yet, when we speak about affordable housing in the Roaring Fork Valley, we need to be speaking about affordable housing for the working class. Although housing costs have increased for all types of housing situations, the mobile home has been subject to the most aggressive of pricing abuse.
Root Policy Research studied costs mobile homeowners contend with like, “the average annual lot rent and fees associated with mobile homeownership over time. To be precise, these costs include land or site rents, registration fees, license fees, and personal property taxes.”
The study found that “From 2003 to 2019, these prices have increased by 71%. The average annual increase in mean lot rent between 2003 and 2019 was 3.6%, though in some years it was as high as 14% from year to year.”
In more densely populated parts of Colorado, those having more than 3,000 people per square mile, average lot rents have increased by over 170% during the same aforementioned period.
Put simply, mobile homeowners have seen at best a 71% increase in lot rent while only having a 37% in income growth. At worst, their lot rent’s price growth outpaces their income growth fourfold. At the same time, non-mobile home renters and owners have seen a median income increase of 71% while their rent increased a median of 84%.
Despite the stressed housing market affecting all types of homeowners and renters, there exist two realities in the Roaring Fork Valley: You can either afford to live near the amenities Colorado proudly hails like outdoor recreation and have your housing costs reflect your access; or you can only afford to live in the margins of the region and be subjected to price hikes in housing to reflect the amenities that you don’t have access, time or funds to enjoy.
This legislative session, I plea to anyone that is willing to listen: something must be done to preserve our mobile home communities. Legitimate legislation must be introduced and be given serious time in the state capitol.
As it stands today, the mobile homeowner is vulnerable to a critically damaged housing market. These communities are susceptible to the fluctuations of the crisis while remaining tied to a stagnated wage. In no situation in the future of the Colorado housing market does the mobile homeowner win. In every outcome, the mobile homeowner is stuck with their personal property on land they cannot own, floating helplessly through the crashing waves of a housing crisis they have no voice in.