Basalt’s efforts to relocate residents of the Pan and Fork Mobile Home Park are progressing well in nine out of 11 cases in the first round of negotiations, Town Manager Mike Scanlon said Thursday.
Residents of the mobile homes are being offered cash settlements and assistance in finding new places to live. Scanlon said the town approached the residents and owners of eight mobile homes closest to the Roaring Fork River that need to be relocated this month for river-restoration work. Residents of three additional residences approached the town with offers to relocate and requests for assistance, he said.
The remaining two trailers involved in the first round of negotiations demonstrate the challenges of the situation. In one case, the owner and occupant of the mobile home said he would not accept the town’s relocation offer. Juan Alvarado said the amount of money he can collect for his home isn’t enough to secure his family a suitable place to live.
To the town, the residence might be a worn-out trailer, he said, but it’s been home for his family of five for 17 years.
“It’s my palace,” he said.
Trailer owners at the Pan and Fork don’t own land. They rent their spaces for $650 per month.
The second difficult case also has ties to Alvarado. The town has had trouble determining who lives in trailer No. 2 in the Pan and Fork. Scanlon said Alvarado has warned residents of the mobile home that Alvarado will turn them in to Immigration and Customs Enforcement if they talk to town officials. Alvarado denied the claims when Scanlon presented them to him Wednesday night.
Alvarado claims he sold Unit 2 to a friend four years ago, and the friend just recorded the transaction in May, when the town announced its intent to relocate the residents. Alvarado said he manages the unit for his friend. The friend was unable to tell Scanlon how much rent revenue he receives each month from money collected by Alvarado.
Scanlon said he suspects that Alvarado sold Unit 2 at the eleventh hour when he realized how the town was approaching payments for the residents.
“It’s Juan gaming the system, trying to get the maximum amount of money out of (Unit) 2,” he said.
The biggest payouts go to families that own and occupy trailers. Alvarado repeatedly denied any wrongdoing Wednesday and pledged to try to help the town determine how many residents there were in Unit 2. By Alvarado’s count, there are 10 renters. They come and go, he said, so the number is always changing.
Scanlon said some of the renters approached town officials Thursday. The best guess now is that there are 17 renters there. One woman lives in a shed with a hose supplying the only running water, he said. Scanlon alleged that Alvarado didn’t want the town to determine the number of renters because he didn’t want it known that he exploits them. When asked if he felt Alvarado was a predatory landlord, Scanlon replied, “I would say so.”
Town officials intend to work with each of the renters and provide a payment determined by a formula that factors in size of family, years at the Pan and Fork and the need for assistance in a down payment on alternative housing or a deposit on an apartment.
Alvarado said he doesn’t believe that the town is living up to its obligations to assist the residents.
“There was supposed to be 100 percent replacement housing, and look what happened,” he said.
The town had a regulation that required any property owner who pursued redevelopment to replace 100 percent of the free-market, low-income housing on their land. The rule was passed in 1999. The Town Council is easing the rule because officials say it is too onerous.
Alvarado’s interpretation of the replacement housing would have the town find a parcel of land, supply it with utilities and allow residents to move their trailer there. He said he believes Basalt could find a way around federal regulations that prohibit moving mobile homes of a certain age.
The town’s alternative position shows “these guys don’t have a heart,” he said. “It’s like an embarrassment for the town of Basalt to do this.”
Basalt Mayor Jacque Whitsitt countered in a separate interview that the town doesn’t have an obligation to provide any cash settlement to the renters. Legally it only has an obligation to provide 60 days’ notice to vacate. The cash settlements and relocation help are being offered for “humanitarian reasons,” she said.
Whitsitt said the replacement-housing ordinance is misunderstood. If applied to the Pan and Fork, it would do nothing to help the existing residents. It just requires that the 38 units in the mobile-home park be replaced somewhere in Basalt.
The aid the town is offering “is a far cry better than the 100 percent replacement-housing ordinance,” she said.
Scanlon estimated that Alvarado would receive a cash settlement offer of about $22,500. The town also has offered to help Alvarado secure a mobile home with the land at Lazy Glen Mobile Home Park. A unit is available for $170,000. Scanlon said Alvarado has a Social Security number, so he is eligible for a federal-backed mortgage.
The offer will be finalized this week, he said.
Alvarado said he wouldn’t leave his space.
“I’ll stay out there with a tent,” he said.
Scanlon said the town will “follow Colorado state law” if Alvarado and other mobile-home residents don’t vacate when needed. The town plans to remove the trailers for construction staging and storage.
“He can say all these things he wants to, but eventually he has to make a choice,” Scanlon said. The choices are to accept the town’s settlement offer and relocation assistance or face eviction and no payment.