Step up for our mobile-home park residents before it’s too late
As a child, I lived in #A20 in the Aspen Basalt Mobile Home Park between Basalt and El Jebel, off of Willits Lane. The community we created there made a lasting impression on residents like me. It gave us a sense of belonging and a stable place to grow up.
As an adult, I realize the cost pressures on my family then weren't dissimilar to what families are experiencing now. But the rate at which costs are escalating is unprecedented and unsustainable for families trying to make ends meet.
Most people who live in mobile-home parks own their home, but not the land underneath. As a result, they are subject to steep increases in lot rent and fees even when there are no upgrades to park infrastructure. In some cases, people are being displaced from their communities or left homeless because of a lack of protections. For example, residents of the D&D and Cottonwood mobile home parks in Silverthorne are being forced to relocate this summer because their park is going to be developed to make way for houses. The lack of affordable housing is reaching crisis levels in our mountain communities. Displacing mobile home residents to make room for other residents does little to solve the problem.
Peter Bakken, Executive Director of Mountain Dreamers in Summit County, said housing options for the people whose hard work helps keep vital businesses running are almost non-existent: “To see the limited amount of truly affordable workforce housing that still exists disappear -- or to see it priced to the point where people are forced to move -- is devastating for the families who live here and tears at the fabric of our community."
Mobile home parks are increasingly eyed as targets for purchase or redevelopment because they deliver a strong return on investment (in the form of higher rents and fees that create additional burdens for working-class Coloradans).
That could change under House Bill 1287, the Mobile Home Park Resident Protection Act sponsored by Reps. Andrew Boesenecker and Edie Hooton; and a Revolving Mobile Home Fund as recommended by the Legislative Affordable Housing Task Force that will help residents with the technical assistance and financing they need to have a shot at purchasing their parks.
Of particular interest for mountain communities desperate for more affordable housing is a provision allowing residents to assign their right to purchase the park to a public entity. That is not an unheard-of arrangement -- having been accomplished in Aspen and Steamboat -- but the bill would make that outcome a priority option if residents are not able to purchase the park themselves.
Another provision would help keep mobile homes affordable by establishing lot rent stabilization, — which would be calculated by the State Department of Local Affairs — to ensure residents can stay in their homes and a fair return for park owners. It also would give the Attorney General the ability to investigate and bring legal action for violations of mobile home park protections, ensuring that vulnerable residents have a voice.
Latinos account for 29 percent of mobile-home park residents in Colorado, according to Root Policy Research. In the 73 parks in our service area of Garfield, Pitkin, Eagle, Lake, and Summit counties, the percentage is higher because mobile homes are among the only remaining affordable-housing options. Root Research also found average annual lot rent and fees associated with mobile homeownership increased statewide by 71% between 2003 and 2019, and in more densely populated areas, average lot rents have increased by over 170%. In resort communities of the Roaring Fork Valley and the I-70 corridor, the average monthly rent for a lot in some mobile home parks has skyrocketed to as much as $1,300.
That is why Voces Unidas strongly supports these measures. They will increase stability for residents, protect housing affordability and create greater accountability in the last segment of affordable housing left in the market.
Let’s protect affordable housing and put basic resident protections in place before more Coloradans are uprooted from the homes they’ve built their lives -- and communities -- around.
Alex Sánchez is the president and CEO of Voces Unidas de las Montañas and Voces Unidas Action Fund, two Latino-created, Latino-led advocacy organizations working in Summit, Lake, Eagle, Pitkin, and Garfield counties. This was first published as a guest column on March 23, 2022 in The Denver Post.