TRENDS Podcast: Mobile Home Communities Mobilize Around Land Ownership

The TRENDS podcast is a collaboration between the Community Foundation of Boulder County and KGNU. It dives deep into the community’s most pressing issues and explores the changes happening throughout Boulder County through the experiences of community members, especially those often rendered invisible by commercial media, to shed light on community challenges, solutions, and pathways forward for the county and the country.

 

Featured image: Doretta Knight Hultquist, a resident of Sans Souci.

 

“I am 77 years old and this is my home and I would like to stay here, but I want to be safe and I want to be comfortable like everybody else.” — Doretta Knight Hultquist

 

There are 4 manufactured home communities in the city of Boulder and about 25 overall in the county and they are home to thousands of families, single people, immigrants, working people and  seniors. People from all walks of life live in the mobile home communities and many have no other place to go.  77 year old Doretta Knight Hultquist, a resident of Sans Souci, a mobile home community in south Boulder, has been concerned about her future since a corporation bought the park over a year ago.

“We’re trapped because we, like I say, we can’t move them anywhere cause no one else will accept them. And because mobile homes older than 76 are not allowed to be moved…we don’t know if they will allow us to sell them on site and with this new ownership, we don’t know if people will want to buy here because everything’s up in the air. We don’t know what’s what’s going on.”


Listen to an extended conversation on issues facing mobile home residents in Boulder County with Crystal Launder, housing planner with the City of Boulder, Jesus Salazar, resident of Orchard Grove and an official Community Connector for the City of Boulder, Susan Lythgoe with Habitat for Humanity and Renée Hummel, resident of Vista Village and member of CMOB (Coalition of Manufactured-home Owners in Boulder.)

 


 

Doretta’s situation highlights the paradox of being a mobile home owner. You own your home, but you don’t own the land that it sits on, and that creates uncertainty. Carmen Ramirez, the Community and Neighborhood Resources Manager for the City of Longmont, says mobile homes have become the last affordable home ownership option, but the fact that people don’t own their land creates vulnerability.

“Historically this country has had that action of taking land and making it ownership of an individual and we own our individual homes. But if you look at back historically when we just how this country started, it started by taking the land of people that already lived on that land, which was our native American communities. They already lived there. And it, it they were not only were they killed, but they were taken from the land and forced onto other lens. And so I think that that has a lot to do with where we are in present, in the sense of we continue to do that.  Maybe not at a visible rate like when this country got started, but we continue to do that through gentrification [inaudible] through not allowing mobile home owners to really find ways to own the land themselves…so ownership of land then becomes the power of those that have resources. And in this case, it’s financial resources. It’s wealth. And that’s why corporations many times are the ones that own these mobile home parks. And again, it’s the basis of the land that gives the power.”

Owning mobile home parks is big business. It’s why so many corporations are buying up parks. Wagner Ribeiro’s family has owned the Weston Manor Mobile Home Park in Longmont for 5 decades. Every week he gets offers from corporations to sell the property.

Wagner Ribeiro

“That’s one of the most annoying things is like I have a least, two or three phone calls of people trying to buy this place from us every single week. And those are big corporations who want to come over here and, and just take those mobile homes.”

Ribeiro says his family takes pride in maintaining the park…he’s the handyman here and he has a good relationship with the residents.

“We do have tenants over here that’s been with us for 45 years. So we take this very personally. We like to accommodate their needs and help them and whatever they need, you know, and the difference with the corporations, (you’re) just another number it’s not an actual person who lives over there. It’s just one more number and just more money jumping into the account.”

One of the long term residents of Western Manor is Donna, who is concerned that a big corporation will buy up this mobile home park.

“I would be scared if he sold and we had a big corporation,  they’d probably want to move out a lot of these old trailers. Right. They’d probably want to raise our rent. They might let kids in. We have no kids.”

Sans Souci, south of the city of Boulder, is one local example of a locally owned mobile home community bought out by a corporation. In August 2018 residents found blue bags hanging on their door containing a package from RV Horizons, the new property management company. Doretta Knight Hultquist who has lived in the park since the 1970’s says the new ownership has left residents feeling uncertain for their future.

“I’ve lived here through five owners including, well we’re not sure who owns us right now because RV horizons when they came in, they came in like a gestapos and just started going after people’s plants and shrubs and trees and we didn’t know who they were or why they were here and we really would like to be able to buy the land. But our previous owner, he didn’t want to have anything to do with it. So we were stymied there. But I am 77 years old and this is my home and I would like to stay here, but I want to be safe and I want to be comfortable like everybody else.”

 

Doretta Knight Hultquist and her garden at Sans Souci

Residents of Sans Souci had hoped to purchase the park from the previous owner, but the cost was too prohibitive. However there is a trend of communities buying the parks. Earlier this year the residents of LMP park in Longmont purchased the land and formed a co-op. Mike King, the sitting president of the co-op board says they were able to do it with the support of other organizations like ROC USA (Resident Owned Communities) which works with manufactured home communities around the country and help them become co-operatives.

 

“If you’re speaking as a community, it speaks louder than just one or two homes speaking.” —  Mike King, Board President LMP co-op.

 

“The former owners of the park were looking to sell, so once we found out about the idea that we would possibly be able to purchase the park, we organized as a community and made a non-profit, a cooperative and secured a loan through ROC USA to purchase the park from the owners.”

A co-op board was formed with a manager, treasurer and a secretary. This is the second ROC or Resident Owned Community in Colorado. The first was established in Canon City in December 2018. City officials in Longmont were supportive of the idea, recognizing the role mobile homes play in providing affordable housing. The City Council approved a $300,000 loan in January that helped the residents purchase the community.

Longmont isn’t the only city that is working to support mobile home residents. In 1985 Boulder was one of the first communities in the nation to establish mobile home zoning. This year the city adopted a Manufactured Housing Strategy. Crystal Launder, a Housing Planner with the City of Boulder, says that creates a guiding set of principles for the city in how to deal with the mobile home communities. They began by surveying the residents of the four mobile home communities within city limits.”

 

Mike King, president of the co-op board at LMP in Longmont.

“What we learned from that survey was that there is a really high rate of home-ownership in these communities and there’s also many more people that are Latino, many more families with children,many more people who are retired.”

In other words, the residents of the mobile home parks are diverse and come from a wide range of backgrounds. Residents of four parks were surveyed by the city: Boulder Meadows, Mapleton, Orchard Grove and Vista Village. Crystal Launder says another park that’s just outside of city limits has an even more diverse demographic.

“Ponderosa I would say is even more diverse than those communities…we have a lot of people who have lived for decades in Ponderosa.”

Ponderosa Mobile Home Park on North Broadway in Boulder has 68 homes, many of which suffered extensive damage in the 2013 floods. In August 2017, the City of Boulder purchased the park with plans to preserve long-term affordability, replace outdated infrastructure, and reduce flood risk to the community. But some of the residents are fearful of what all these changes and upgrades will bring says reporter Shay Castle.

“A lot of them are really old, so they’re smaller than mobile homes today. And so if they replaced them… first of all move them far apart enough so that they are safe for fire standards, they would lose like almost half of them mobile homes. It would go from 68 to like 30 some mobile homes, so 30 some people would have to leave, so they don’t obviously don’t want to do that. So what they’re doing is instead of just moving the mobile homes farther enough apart, they’re going to replace them with fixed foundation homes that are like pre-manufactured. So like some carriage homes, which is a home over parking or like a single story house or like a duplex.”

Boulder City Council Member Mary Young says the city is partnering with Habitat for Humanity on the project.

“People who wish to buy one of the new homes will be able to do so. People who want to rent until they can buy, we’ll be able to do so as well. It’s a partnership with Habitat for Humanity and habitat is developing a rental program as a result of this partnership, which they’ve never done before and they will work with each resident and carry a second mortgage, a silent second mortgage that will make up the gap between what the house costs and what the resident can afford. So it will be able to serve residents with an income as low as $17,000 a year. They will be able to buy a home and all of the homes in the park will be permanently deed restricted. That means that there will be affordable housing in perpetuity. And the hope is that the vast majority of the current residents will remain.”

But some of the residents of Ponderosa are anxious that they will be excluded from the opportunity to purchase these homes because they are undocumented. Victor Lemus is a long time Ponderosa resident. He’s a community organizer in the park and he is most concerned for his neighbors who like him, are undocumented immigrants.

“Some people can qualify and some cannot qualify, why? The first point (is that) social security number. If you don’t have a social security number you can’t qualify, but you can rent or you can stay in your mobile home, but I don’t know in the future, I don’t know what’s going on later in the future.”

But Boulder City Council Member Mary Young says the partnership with Habitat for Humanity is taking into consideration the needs of those who are undocumented.

“Part of the reason that Habitat for Humanity developed the rental program is so that households that are ineligible currently because of their documentation status will be able to buy a home as soon as someone in their household becomes eligible.”

Jason Legg, an attorney that volunteers with the Colorado 9to5, says new state legislation protects all mobile home residents, regardless of documentation.

“The Mobile Home Park Act and the protections that affords mobile homeowners in mobile home parks, that does apply regardless of that information. So people shouldn’t be, you certainly shouldn’t be misinformed about that. They have these rights, they should be confident that they do.”

Habitat for Humanity and the City of Boulder are working to help residents of Ponderosa regardless of their immigration status. But for residents of other parks, having documentation can make a difference, not just in home ownership, but in the ability to speak up for your rights.

Liza Smith is a resident of the Vista Village mobile home park in Boulder. She’s a community organizer and a liaison between the white English speaking and Latino Spanish speaking communities in the park.

“We have to keep in mind for mobile home parks and so many Latino residents that are in mobile home parks that the risks they run to step forward and speak out and take leadership on what mobile home owners need in terms of protections and legislation. The risks that they face to take that leadership are much more than any of the white residents. And you know they could be deported. They could be evicted from their homes. So there’s so many kind of stresses on their daily lives that some of us white residents don’t have, which really makes it a barrier when it comes to organizing and pushing on the things that we want to change for ourselves.”

Smith has been leading a series of community dialogues with the residents of Vista Village.

“Part of the thinking around the community dialogues, you know, we have this HOA, the homeowners association, that really wants to connect with the Latino residents and wants Latino residents to be involved in the organizing and potentially be board members or HOA members . But there’s this language divide. The members on the HOA don’t speak English. Most of the Latino residents speak a little bit of English, but not a lot to get into the nitty gritty of what the organizing needs to look like.”

But organizing is happening in mobile home parks around the county and in particular there is increasing recognition of some of the cultural and language barriers facing many residents.

Megan Carrier is a lead community organizer with together Colorado, a statewide nonprofit, multi-race, multi-religious organization that does grassroots based community organizing in institutions, specifically congregations, schools and neighborhoods.

“Pretty quickly we found a large portion of our folks in the congregation live in mobile home parks, particularly in Lafayette, but then some other counties as well. And there were several issues coming up around retaliation and abuse and just lots of issues that the residents couldn’t get resolved on their own, or are afraid to figure out how to get them resolved. And so that’s what we’d be. That’s when we began to focus on the mobile homes, parks, organizing effort.”

Megan Carrier found that many residents of mobile home parks are worried about retaliation for speaking out and see ownership of the parks themselves as a way forward.

“You know, standing out or saying something or asking or complaining about a legitimate issue and then having retaliation come back on them. And so that I would say is what keeps some folks back from, from being part of an organized collaborative. I think where folks are really excited and find hope is that there could be a possibility if they’re organized and united, that they could potentially purchase the land that they live on. So there’s an example in Longmont where, a mobile home park where the owner was, was selling the land and the, the residents organized and with the support of the city and another nonprofit, and then the community putting money forward, they were able to purchase their own land.”

For those communities that are interested in buying the mobile home parks, Mike King, President of the co-op board at the LMP park in Longmont, has the following advice.

“You need to come to come out together as a community. You need to decide, Hey, this is what we want. You’re gonna have to come with bylaws and, and things to live by as a community. Secondly, you, you know, we were fortunate here where we had a willing seller. Some communities haven’t had a willing seller. I’ve spoken to a couple people in other communities. Some communities won’t have a willing seller. However, if you’re organized, maybe, maybe, maybe you don’t own it just yet, but if you’re speaking as a community, it speaks louder than just one or two homes speaking.”

 

Find out more about the City of Boulder’s Manufacturing Housing Strategy.

Find out more about the City of Boulder’s Plans for Ponderosa.

Find out more about ROC’s efforts to support co-operative ownership of mobile homes.