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March 27, 2014
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Pan and Fork saga ending without evictions

The town of Basalt has reached resettlement agreements with all but one family in the Pan and Fork Mobile Home Park, according to Town Manager Mike Scanlon.

“I don’t think we’re going to have to actually evict anybody,” Scanlon said, referring to an April 1 deadline.

The town government served eviction notices on all remaining residents roughly two months ago with the goal of having everyone moved out in the first week of April. The town staff completed settlement packages with occupants of 11 mobile homes on March 20 and Friday alone, he said.

About 10 families had resisted relocation efforts and formed a group called Workers for Justice and Diversity in Basalt during the winter to provide a unified voice. Members of the group hired an attorney and contemplated a lawsuit, but ultimately they chose to negotiate. They were assisted by the Colorado Immigrants’ Rights Coalition, a Denver-based nonprofit.

“They started off at a disadvantage because it was so late in the process,” said Sophia Clark, Rocky Mountain Region organizer for the coalition. Members of the 10 families she worked with felt it was unfair that they should settle for a fraction of the dollar amount they invested in their trailers, she said, but they negotiated because they felt they had no choice.

Scanlon said he sensed that when some members of the Workers for Justice group talked to town officials, they were pleased with the result.

“For some, there was a fear that there wasn’t help, but there is,” Scanlon said.

An anonymous good Samaritan provided a $1 million loan pool for low-interest mortgages to Pan and Fork residents who qualified. Most of that fund was used, Scanlon said.

“Without that, it probably would have been hard” to find alternative housing for many of the residents, Scanlon said. The private funding eliminated residency issues. Many of the Pan and Fork residents are originally from Mexico or El Salvador. Scanlon acknowledged throughout the relocation process that some residents had trouble qualifying for bank loans because they couldn’t prove they were in the country legally.

The town budgeted an additional $1 million for relocation packages for renters and owners of the trailers. The town paid between $15,000 and $25,000 per household, using a formula that considered the number of family members, years living in the park and whether they rented or owned the unit.

About $750,000 of that fund has been spent so far, Scanlon said. In addition, Town Assistant Manager Judi Tippetts spent countless hours working with families to find alternative housing to buy or rent, he said.

The town staff assisted residents of 38 trailers — probably 100 individuals or families of different sizes — in six months, Scanlon said. That’s a feat that couldn’t easily be pulled off by a large organization, let alone a small one, he told the Town Council on Tuesday night.

“We have really good people that work for the town of Basalt,” Scanlon said, adding that they often are underappreciated.

He estimated that one-third to one-half of all residents were able to buy new residences and roughly 90 percent of those buyers found housing between Lazy Glen Mobile Home Park and El Jebel. That is important because it kept them in the Basalt school system.

Clark said at least three families she worked with didn’t find housing within the Basalt school-system area, she said. One of the families she assisted moved to the Aspen area, while another moved to West Glenwood Springs.

“One family — they basically don’t have a home,” Clark said. “They’re couch surfing.”

Another family is trying to relocate its mobile home elsewhere in the valley. They have $100,000 invested in the residence, Clark said. They are seeking flexibility from the town so they can find a place to move their trailer.

After the experience at the Pan and Fork, all of the families Clark worked with are trying to buy a home rather than rent and risk eviction again, she said.

Scanlon said that all of the trailers will likely be off the Pan and Fork site by April 15. That will allow a town contractor to advance to the next phase of a project designed to reduce the flood risk of the Roaring Fork River in that stretch. The contractor will tear down a makeshift berm that has protected the Pan and Fork and stabilize the riverbank. The town also will work on a riverside park and is raising the level of part of the site out of the floodplain so it is eligible for development.

Scanlon said significant progress would be made on the site in April and May.

scondon@aspentimes.com


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The Aspen Times Updated Mar 27, 2014 11:43AM Published Mar 29, 2014 05:23PM Copyright 2014 The Aspen Times. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.