Historically, mobile home or manufactured home communities have been an important source of low to middle income housing in the West. But nowadays, residents of these communities are often subjected to rent increases and buyouts without much protection. And in some cases, that means park residents are displaced.
Lisa Bloomquist is the Executive Director of Homes Fund, a nonprofit housing organization that works with some mobile home parks in southwest Colorado.
“When the rents in these communities go up, you know, 40% a year,” Bloomquist explains. “It’s just what people have to pay or they get foreclosed and abandon their homes entirely. “
But a number of manufactured home communities have found a way to counter this trend – by becoming their own owners. In Colorado, a state law that was passed in 2019 gives park residents the first right to purchase their park if it goes on sale. This is exactly how the Animas River View Park in Durango was purchased by its residents.
The 120-unit park is on the outskirts of town along the meandering Animas River. A sign at the entrance reads the quote “We own it” with an exclamation mark. John Egan is the chairman of the park board and has lived in the park for about a decade. When the park was purchased by business owners in 2016, rents began to rise at a rate that was simply not sustainable for some members of the community.
“There are a lot of people who have lived here for twenty, thirty years who would have ultimately been kicked out of the park simply because of the continued rent increases,” Egan explains.
This is one of the reasons he and other residents worked together to buy the park from the owner of the business earlier this year. Now the park is a cooperative. This means that it is run by a board of directors elected by the residents. And the council has a mandate: to keep prices affordable for residents and to ensure that the purchase of the park does not result in residents leaving.
The board is also made up of people who actually live in the park, like Egan. This creates both community buy-in and responsibility for the management of the park.
“The community aspect is essential,” he says. “Our residents are really proud of the property. It cleans up. People know each other now. People have a certain respect for the property and are proud of it.
But organizing the residents and finding the money to buy a stock of manufactured homes is by no means easy. George Cheney lives about 40 miles west of Durango in Montezuma County. He’s looking at how the cooperative model might work for the manufactured home parks out there. And he says there are challenges, starting with getting everyone in a park on the same page.
“There has to be a sustained effort from a group of people that would include an owner, whether it’s an individual, a business or a family, whatever,” Cheney says.
Cheney also says the resident-owned model is not without risks.
“It could be that a mobile home park turns into a resident-owned community for a while, and they find that they can’t cut costs as they hoped,” he says.
The costs of purchasing and maintaining a park are usually too high for residents to afford on their own. The price of Animas View, for example, was $ 14 million.
This is why financial partners are an important part of the process. Lisa Bloomquist’s organization, Homes Fund, was one of the many organizations that helped Animas View residents finance the initial purchase. But these loans have to be paid back one way or another. And repayment costs can translate into higher rental costs in the short term.
“Funding of $ 14 million, even on favorable terms,” Bloomquist says. “Land rents did not drop immediately.
In fact, when the residents formed the co-op, the rents first went up. But Bloomquist also says she’s convinced they’ll go down over time. For Animas View board chairman John Egan, however, the results are worth the expense and coordination required to make the resident-owned model work. And for other parks that are considering following a similar model, Egan has a few tips:
“Don’t wait, don’t wait a minute,” he said. “Get organized now, make the connections you need, be ready to move as soon as the park goes on sale. “
He also says it’s important to remember that the job doesn’t end with buying the park. Now that the resident has purchased Animas View, they need to run it, which also takes a lot of time and resources. But despite its limitations, the model seems to be catching on in other parts of the states. Resident-owned parks have already established themselves in communities from Colorado Springs to Leadville.
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This story is part of a collaboration between Rocky Mountain Community Radio and the Solutions Journalism Network. The reports will highlight housing solutions across the West Mountain. Listen throughout the fall for more stories from our partner stations, including KSUT.