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Sovereignty

Mobile home community finds stability in self-government

One sunny, cold January morning, John Egan joined other residents of the mobile home park on a neighbor’s porch. They needed to organize. But how?

“I had to go to the bathroom, and when I came back from the bathroom, they said, ‘Hi! You are president! ‘ Mr. Egan recalls.

The half-dozen people had gathered to think about how to buy their Durango, Colorado park from the private owner – a move Mr. Egan and others saw as a blow in the dark. But now they had at least a president for what would become an interim board. With advice from a non-profit housing organization and majority support from the community, residents were able to purchase the approximately 15-acre property in five months. They celebrated with a picnic, as the new Animas View MHP cooperative joined a few thousand other resident-owned communities across the country.

Their achievement is unusual. The resident-owned market represents only 2.4% of prefabricated housing communities nationwide. According to industry experts, it is important to strengthen the health and longevity of mobile home fleets, as they are a vital source of affordable housing. Recent Colorado legislation provides certain provisions for communities like Animas View who hope to secure their future by governing themselves.

“Everyone sleeps better at night,” says Steve Boardman, here for 20 years, pulling out his refresher.

“We are in control. “

Affordable homes with a view

River, mountains, blond grass bleached in autumn – Durango mobile homes have a million dollar view. Largely motionless and expensive to move, these prefabricated units have been commonly referred to as “manufactured homes” since 1976. They are estimated to house between 18 and 22 million people in the United States.

“It’s one of the biggest sources of affordable housing in our country, and it’s very affordable without any federal subsidies.,Explains Associate Professor of Sociology Esther Sullivan at the University of Colorado at Denver.

The median annual household income of these owners – $ 35,000 – is half that of built-in-place owners, according to Fannie Mae. Manufactured homes occupy 6.3% of the US housing stock, with more than double that share in rural areas.

Many residents own their homes but not the underlying land, for which they pay “land rent”. This model can stimulate financial insecurity: these homeowners are “more likely to see their homes depreciate and have less protection if they fall behind on payments,” reports the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

Media reports have increasingly highlighted private sector purchases of these parks which often result in rent increases, which housing advocates deem predatory.

Mobile home park investor Frank Rolfe says: “When we buy these properties, they are often in terrible shape, and [we] bring them back to life. … You can’t bring old properties back to life without increasing rents.

Mr. Rolfe estimates that he and a partner are the fifth largest owners of mobile home fleets in the United States. “There’s this conception, I think, that park owners are kind of hostile to residents buying their own communities, and that’s completely irrelevant,” says Mr. Rolfe, co-founder of Mobile Home. University, based in Colorado, which trains investors to buy parks. Three parks he co-owned have been sold to residents.

More owners

Mr Egan and his wife, Cate Smock, bought their trailer here in 2012 – an affordable move to Durango so their son could attend a better school. But subsequently, they saw the rent for their land, which includes utilities, increase every year, or even twice a year.

“You’d dread the piece of paper with the black electrical tape on your door,” she said. Residents of Animas View also complained about the previous owner’s lack of attention to their needs and delayed repairs.

Shortly before Christmas 2020, residents learned that the last owner, Strive Communities, intended to sell. Residents began to organize almost immediately. (The monitor was unable to reach Strive for comment.)

“We don’t tell people that it’s easy” to become resident owned, says Mike Bullard, communications and marketing manager for ROC USA, a New Hampshire nonprofit that, along with its affiliates, reports. having helped nearly 300 prefabricated housing communities become resident-owned. (ROC stands for Resident Owned Communities.)

With 430 households, the Halifax Mobile Home Estates Association in rural Massachusetts is the largest in the ROC USA network, owned by residents since 2017. The budget is tight due to the size of the community, the board chair said. administration Deborah Winiewicz, but at least the members have a say. on how these funds are spent by voting at an annual meeting.

“We have also found that people are more proud of the community because it is theirs,” she adds, noting that their sales office is run by resident volunteers.

In Colorado, the subsidiary of the Thistle ROC network helped the Durango Co-op raise the funds necessary for their purchase. But to afford the funding, the co-op increased the land rent by $ 80 this fall (the rent ranges between $ 755 and $ 825). While the hike may seem counterintuitive, it’s not uncommon, says Bullard.

“These groups are not only buying the real estate, but the business as well,” he says, adding that land rents for new resident-owned communities will generally drop at or below market rate within five years.

The sale, first reported by The Durango Herald, closed in June for a purchase price of around $ 15 million, according to Dan Hunt, a former Animas View board member who sits. now on the operations and finance committees.

Learning about the local community organization helped convince Kevin Miller to rent land there for his motorhome. Now chairman of the board, Miller, who moved in last year, says he likes the idea of ​​keeping money in a community.

“I’m proud to tell people where I live now,” he says.

Progress since failure

Among legislation to strengthen protections for mobile home dwellers, Democratic Governor Jared Polis signed a bill in 2020 that requires homeowners to provide residents with at least 12 months’ notice of a possible change in land use. It also gives residents 90 days after being notified by the owner of a potential park sale to make an offer to purchase and arrange funding. Homeowners should respect this “opportunity to buy” window before selling to someone else.

But the model belonging to residents remains the exception and not the rule. Animas View is one of three parks to become owned by Colorado residents in 2021, out of a few dozen that have changed ownership.

However, the new legislation “gives [residents] the opportunity to be able to compete with an offer they would not have seen before, ”says Andy Kadlec, Program Director at Thistle ROC.

Advocates say this legislative momentum was born out of activism and the unsuccessful attempt by residents of another Colorado mobile home community, Denver Meadows, to buy their park ahead of its scheduled closure as the owner considered a redevelopment . Despite help from advocacy group 9to5 Colorado and Thistle ROC, the Aurora-based community’s offer to purchase in 2017 was reportedly rejected. Although some landlords received relocation assistance, many ended up paying double the rent elsewhere, says Cesiah Guadarrama Trejo, deputy state manager of 9to5.

The Denver Meadows saga was featured in the 2021 mobile home documentary “A Decent Home” by filmmaker Sara Terry, a former Monitor reporter. His team hosted an event in Colorado in November that connected manufactured homeowners from across the country with activists, policy experts and former residents of Denver Meadows.

Reflecting on when she started the film about six years ago, Ms. Terry notes, “I had to talk about the ‘underreported’ affordable housing crisis. … [Now] people pay attention. I think popular activism is flourishing, and that gives me hope. “

Mr Hunt, one of the few Animas View residents who attended the rally, said he approached a displaced man from Denver Meadows and thanked him.

No threat of eviction

Just beyond the boundaries of Durango Park, a train slices through the mountain view with a harmonic blast. Current and former board members are keen to keep this community intact and, so far, residents report that no one has moved since the sale.

“One of the first things we decided when we got together as a board of directors was that we would not allow anyone to be forced out of the park due to an inability to pay rent,” former board chairman Mr Egan said in his home, where Christmas stockings hang above an electric fireplace.

To make sure people can afford to stay, the community is developing a rental fund. In addition to seeking outside funding, some residents plan to make cash donations themselves. Lindie Hunt, treasurer to the board of directors and wife of Mr Hunt, recently started the fund with a check for $ 60 – money she received for inspecting a neighbor’s home while she was away.

“It wasn’t my money in the first place,” she reasoned in her kitchen, getting ready to go to work one morning.

Beyond the repayment of the initial five loans, the community of 120 lots is faced with infrastructure projects, such as the wholesale replacement of the water and sewer system. To help reduce maintenance costs, many residents volunteer their time and skills. Mr. Boardman sometimes wields a weedkiller.

Needing to collaborate, residents also began to get to know their neighbors better. Surrounded by sawdust and screws, Kirby MacLaurin and Doug Harris voluntarily demolish a duplex that the co-op hopes to renovate for rent.

Although they’ve been overlapping at Animas View for a few years now, the men have just met.

“Since we created the cooperative, we have met for the first time. Isn’t that amazing? Mr. Harris said.

“That’s right,” said Mr. MacLaurin, hammer in hand. “Best friends… what a find. “

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Teresa R. Cabrera

The author Teresa R. Cabrera