Some residents of the Pan and Fork Mobile Home Park in Basalt claim they won’t accept the town government’s financial-aid packages to relocate and are demanding replacement housing instead.
A group calling itself “Workers for Justice and Diversity in Basalt” submitted an opinion piece to local newspapers Monday for publication. It outlines their position and demands. (The full opinion piece is on page A10.)
There have been opponents of the town’s actions since the beginning. The difference now is some of them claim they won’t accept the financial packages.
Sophia Clark, a field worker with Colorado Immigrants Rights Coalition, is assisting the group “to make sure their voices get heard.” She said there are nine families living in nine mobile homes in the group. They total 30 residents, she said. The Aspen Times requested a meeting with the group this week to verify the size and their demands.
Basalt started relocating residents in the fall so that work could be undertaken in the Roaring Fork River to ease the flooding threat. Part of the Pan and Fork site will be redeveloped as a riverside park. Some of it will be available as a potential redevelopment for housing or commercial uses.
There are 38 trailer spaces in the park, but one home burned and two were abandoned. Of the remaining 35, Basalt officials have negotiated relocations with residents of 17 trailers, according to Town Manager Mike Scanlon. Ten mobile homes have been moved to create a staging area for the river work, he said. Seven other trailers are empty. Relocation negotiations are on with several other residents and owners of mobile homes, Scanlon said.
The new coalition of residents didn’t contact the town with its demands before sending the opinion piece to the newspapers, according to Scanlon. “I wish they would have called us,” he said. He offered to meet with the group, and would provide a professional who can translate for Spanish-speakers and try to address their concerns.
Clark said the residents feel they get a better response when they voice their concerns in a public forum.
Scanlon said the town would not change its policy with Pan and Fork residents. That would be unfair to those who have reached a settlement, he said. Everyone in the trailer park is getting the same financial offer to help ease the expense of relocation. The town 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.
Most residents have received between $15,000 and $22,000. The town was under no legal obligation to offer aid.
Scanlon said the town also has assisted some residents to find new housing. Some of them have ended up in trailers that are “two or three times better,” he said. The town has also helped every family that has children in the Basalt public schools to remain in the school district, according to Scanlon. The group in the Pan and Fork disputes that claim.
Scanlon said the town’s best estimate is that there are 275 people in the mobile home park. “I would say we have 240 or 250 on our side,” he said.
There have been persistent critics, as well. About 25 residents of the mobile-home park attended a meeting with Scanlon and Assistant Town Manager Judi Tippetts on Oct. 30. They were unified in a claim that promises were made by the Roaring Fork Community Development Corp., a partner of the town’s in the purchase of the mobile-home park. They claimed that they were told they would be offered housing of the same size and at the same price as their living conditions in the Pan and Fork. The residents pay $650 in rent space.
Officials with the Community Development Corp. said no promises were made. Scanlon said the town government stepped in and did the best it could to help the residents once it was clear the Community Development Corp.’s plan wouldn’t work.
Workers for Justice and Diversity in Basalt contends the town’s effort isn’t good enough. “The quantity of money being offered will not keep us in this community,” its letter said. “There is not enough affordable housing in Basalt to accommodate the families of the Pan and Fork.”
The group wants the removal of remaining residents to cease until agreements have been negotiated with all of them. It wants to reserve the right for some to accept the financial packages, but also demands new housing rather than the financial aid.
The demands create a potentially sticky challenge for the town government if residents defy orders to vacate their residences. “I guess the last resort is some sort of legal action,” said Basalt Mayor Jacque Whitsitt.
Scanlon said the town needs to clear the entire Pan and Fork site by late April. All residents have been and will continue to be treated the same, he said.
The financial aid packages will be available until mid-March, he said. Then the town would have to pursue eviction actions.
When asked if the new group is bluffing about rejecting the financial aid, Scanlon responded, “I don’t know.” One resident had claimed he would erect a tent and stay on the property rather than leave, he noted. That resident accepted the town’s financial aid and assistance in finding another trailer in Lazy Glen Mobile Home Park, Scanlon said.
He said the town would continue to work on solutions with all residents who want to talk.
Clark said the residents in Workers for Justice and Diversity in Basalt realize they might be giving up financial settlements.
“These folks are taking on this risk knowingly,” she said. They have “faith” that Basalt residents will rally to help them because they value the diversity the residents bring to the community, she said.