Some residents of the Pan and Fork Mobile Home Park fear the aid being offered by Basalt town government won’t allow them to stay in the community and falls far short of promises that allegedly were made.
In a meeting with a reporter from The Aspen Times, four residents of the trailer park said this week they feel like they’ve been kept in the dark about the town’s direction. They were also critical of the Roaring Fork Community Development Corp., a nonprofit organization that initiated the purchase of the trailer park in 2011.
Ralph Vasquez, a 1999 graduate of Basalt High School who spent much of his youth at the Pan and Fork and still makes it his home, said Community Development Corp. officials Colin Laird and Michael McVoy told residents in neighborhood gatherings that they would be given aid to relocate within Basalt. They told trailer-park residents that they would replace all the units being removed with residences elsewhere in the midvalley, he said.
“Now they just mysteriously and conveniently disappear,” Vasquez said. “Somebody needs to hold (the Community Development Corp.) and Manaus (Fund) accountable for lying to us.” The Manaus Fund, which is affiliated with philanthropist George Stranahan, provides financial support for the Community Development Corp.
Consuela Arias, who is raising her family at the Pan and Fork with husband Ricardo Gonzales, said Laird told her the Community Development Corp. was attempting to find property where Pan and Fork residents could relocate their trailers or haul in different ones. Speaking through an interpreter, she said she was told specifically that the space rent would be similar to the $650 per month rent they were paying at the Pan and Fork.
No replacement units are being provided by the Community Development Corp. or the town, although town officials are offering financial settlement packages to trailer owners and renters and offering them assistance in seeking new accommodations. (See related story for the response of town and Community Development Corp. officials to the allegations by the trailer-park residents.)
The town is using a payment formula that considers whether a person is a renter or owner, how long they have lived at the Pan and Fork, household size and whether they are removing their trailers. Irma Diaz, a resident there for 18 years, received an offer for $17,000, according to Vasquez, her son.
“What can she do with $17,000? Nothing — pay rent for a couple of years,” Vasquez said.
Diaz said she doesn’t know where she and her husband will live. They don’t have many options, she said. She is particularly distressed that she will be required to leave their house during the winter.
“It’s not relocation. It’s eviction,” Vasquez said.
Diaz and a female neighbor watched earlier this month when the first trailer was removed from the Pan and Fork to make way for Basalt’s riverbed- and river-bank restoration project. The town says the project is vital to ease the flood threat of the Roaring Fork River. Diaz said the sight brought them to tears because it signaled they also would have to move soon.
State law requires landlords to give tenants 60 days’ notice to move, and in the case of mobile-home-park tenants, they can be required to remove their property. Vasquez scoffed at the idea that the town was going beyond its legal responsibility.
“I appreciate their efforts, but that’s not what we were promised,” he said.
Promises were made by the Community Development Corp. that the residents would be provided units for relocation, he said, and the town government had a 100 percent replacement-housing ordinance in place when the mobile-home park was purchased.
That ordinance requires that 100 percent of affordable-housing units that are torn down for new development must be replaced elsewhere in Basalt. The rule was adopted in 1999 to preserve Basalt’s diversity.
Current elected and staff officials said the ordinance was flawed because it fails to deal with people. It only requires units to be replaced. It doesn’t make a property owner assist the specific residents who are being displaced. It was also so expensive that no developer would touch the 38-unit Pan and Fork. The town wants the trailers moved because of the flood threat the site faces. The mobile-home park is located along the banks of the Roaring Fork River, right below its confluence with the Pan and Fork.
Vasquez questions the reality of the flood threat.
“The trailer park’s been here for 30 years. There hasn’t been a flood,” he said.
Without directly suggesting an ulterior motive, he noted that the property is “very valuable.”
The town intends to convert about half of the property into a riverside park. The Community Development Corp. has an agreement to sell most of its half of the property to a hotel developer. No land-use approval has been acquired yet.
The town has concentrated on working with the mobile-home park owner closest to the river in Phase 1 of the relocation effort. Trailers are being moved for staging for the river work, scheduled to start this month. While neighborhood meetings were held early on, recent negotiations have been one-on-one.
Arias said she and Gonzales have no idea how much they will be offered for their home of 15 years. They have four children, at least one each in Basalt’s elementary, middle and high schools. They want to remain part of the community but don’t know if that will be possible.
Arias said they like living at Pan and Fork because of its central location. They are close to the schools, the Catholic church and the bus stops.
Gonzales said many residents would face hardship relocating because of lack of documentation or low income. The stressful time is made worse by the lack of information, he said.
Gonzales said Laird was holding meetings regularly with the residents and telling them about the Community Development Corp.’s plans. That ended three of four months ago.
“We never see his face again,” he said.
That coincides with when the town and the Community Development Corp., partners in the trailer-park ownership, shifted their strategy and the town took the central role in relocating the residents.
Vasquez said many residents are “confused and scared.” Some renters who normally would be at the Pan and Fork only for a couple of months have stayed longer because of the promise of a payoff from the town, he claimed. Some owners are accepting the town’s offer because they don’t want to deal with the issue, he added.
Vasquez said he wants “justice” for the longtime residents. It’s not enough for the town to say, “Sorry, it didn’t work out. Here’s some money,” he said.
The Colorado Immigrants Right Coalition is listening to the residents and monitoring the proceedings with the town government, according to Sophia Clark, a Rocky Mountain regional organizing fellow with the nonprofit organization. She said coalition representatives are working with residents facing eviction all over Colorado. When asked if the Pan and Fork residents are being treated more fairly than residents elsewhere, Clark responded that the real issue is whether the community is treating them “the right way.”
The coalition has concerns about the transparency of the process and accountability, Clark said.
Vasquez said he was speaking out about the Pan and Fork situation in the hopes that someone would intervene and provide land where the Pan and Fork residents can relocate.
“I hope people open their eyes and their hearts and they change something,” he said.