About 25 residents of the Pan and Fork Mobile Home Park vented their frustration Tuesday night over “broken promises” about new residences they were supposedly going to receive when they were evicted from the Basalt neighborhood.
Several speakers told Basalt officials through an interpreter that representatives of the Roaring Fork Community Development Corp. promised them they would provide new housing at a comparable cost to the $650 they are paying per month for space rent at the Pan and Fork.
Irma Diaz said the promises amounted to “castles in the sky.” Her comment brought snickers from most of the residents attending the meeting hosted by Basalt Town Manager Mike Scanlon and Assistant Town Manager Judi Tippetts.
Several residents said the Community Development Corp. should be held accountable for the broken promises and the bind the residents are in.
“The first thing they said is they were going to buy land,” Gerardo Martinez said. The residents were led to believe the rent they were paying to the Community Development Corp. would be used for that land purchase, he said, and the residents would be able to move there.
Isabel Martinez, his wife, said Community Development Corp. officials knew many residents of the trailer park didn’t have Social Security numbers to prove legal status. They were told that didn’t matter because the Community Development Corp. would provide loans for them to acquire housing.
People who cannot show they are in the country legally cannot get into housing where state and federal money is used.
Gerardo Martinez acknowledged that the town government stepped in to help the residents with relocation, but he expressed concern about continued support.
“What if you guys aren’t here tomorrow?” Martinez asked Scanlon and Tippetts. “What are they going to be telling us then?”
Crowd members asked where the money has gone that they have paid for space rent since the Community Development Corp. and the town bought the 38-space trailer court in 2010. Scanlon said a portion goes to the Community Development Corp.’s creditors and a portion went to the Community Development Corp. for managing the park.
“What managing?” resident Ralph Vasquez asked. “They didn’t even remove the smell.” He was referring to a sewage-leak problem that plagued the trailer park.
Scanlon said that when he took over as manager of Basalt last fall and started working with the Community Development Corp., he realized its plan for relocation of the residents and redevelopment of the site wasn’t going to work. The numbers didn’t add up because the Community Development Corp. figured it would cost only $500,000 to relocate the residents, he said. The Town Council authorized spending $1 million.
“(The Community Development Corp.) didn’t understand what they were doing, exactly,” Scanlon said.
Minutes later, he added, “I’m sorry for what they promised. I wasn’t here. If I had been, I would have said, ‘Stop.’”
Scanlon told the residents the town government is doing “the best we can” to help them. Tuesday’s meeting was an effort to improve communication. The town staff has reached relocation financial settlements with occupants of 11 trailers. It applies the same formula in every case: It provides $100 for each year of residency in the park, $500 per family member up to $3,000, one year of rent at $7,800, and $5,000 for deposits, and for owners, it provides $7,500 if they remove the residence. Many trailers cannot be moved because of their age.
Tippetts said she also is helping families try to find alternative housing. She has met with some families 30 times to offer aid, she said.
Scanlon said Basalt is working with partners on affordable-housing projects. They could be built within two or three years, he said. Residents who were removed from the Pan and Fork will have priority for renting.
Despite the government’s efforts, several residents said they feel they are getting squeezed out of the town they love.
“Where are your feelings for our families?” Diaz asked while touching her heart.
She said she and her husband worked hard to raise the money to buy their trailer.
“Now you just take it away,” she said as many others in attendance nodded in agreement.
Diaz said she has lived in the Pan and Fork for 18 years and has a Social Security number. Her husband is 74 years old. The amount of money they will receive from the town, which she estimated at $17,000, will not secure other housing, she said.
“What are we going to do?” she asked, adding that witnessing what is happening to her neighborhood makes her “cry, cry, cry.”
Cecilia Corona credited the town with helping, but she said more must be done to make sure families with children can remain in Basalt, where they go to school with their friends. They don’t want to move farther downvalley, she said.
Corona and Diaz said people with mobile homes for sale in the midvalley are taking advantage of the situation and boosting their asking prices because they know Pan and Fork residents are in a bind.
One man said he has three kids. He wants to move his trailer to different land within Basalt. When told the town government doesn’t have other land where he can relocate, he replied, “You want me to take my kids all the way to Rifle?”
There were 35 occupied trailers in the Pan and Fork. The town is relocating the residents because it is undertaking a flood-mitigation project. The trailer park has been identified as in harm’s way of a major flood event.
All the trailers must be vacated by April, when the makeshift levy that’s protected the park from the Roaring Fork River for decades will be removed. The town will turn the half of the site that it owns into a riverside park. The Community Development Corp. once entertained thoughts of selling its half to a commercial developer, but its plans are up in the air.
Scanlon and Tippetts were in a tough position explaining the whole situation to the residents. No members of the Basalt Town Council attended.
One young mother who said she rents her trailer was shocked to learn she must be out by April. Her landlord provided her with a lease through August 2014.
Diaz seemed to sum up the sentiment of most of the attendees.
“There’s all this land, and you guys can’t find any land for us?” she asked.