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December 9, 2013
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Trailer park residents get Basalt’s attention

Residents of the Pan and Fork Mobile Home Park earned a potential concession Monday night as the clock ticks toward their eviction from the Basalt neighborhood.

Town Manager Mike Scanlon told members of a faction of trailer park residents that the town government and partners hope to have an affordable-housing project constructed in about one year. Some of the residents might be eligible to purchase a unit at that housing project, he said.

Scanlon was careful to note several challenges exist to get the project built and for residents to qualify for financing. In addition, they will have to find temporary housing for several months between their eviction and completion of the new housing.

“I’m not going to make you a guarantee I can’t deliver on,” Scanlon said.

He raised the possibility of replacement housing after about 20 adults and at least that many children from the Pan and Fork met with him and Assistant Town Manager Judi Tippetts to express their displeasure about the forced relocations. The residents formed a group called Workers for Justice and Diversity in Basalt to provide them with a unified voice. The group members are exclusively Hispanic.

The group demanded last week that the town government stop the evictions and explore alternatives, such as relocation opportunities in housing of similar price and size.

For the first half of a 75-minute meeting, members of the group vented their frustration that Roaring Fork Community Development Corp. CDC allegedly broke promises about providing affordable housing where they could relocate. The nonprofit development corporation teamed with the town in August 2011 to buy the Pan and Fork.

Colin Laird, CDC’s executive director, acknowledged the plan had been to find replacement housing, but no land could be found at a reasonable price within a reasonable time frame. The trailer park residents had to be moved before a replacement project could be built, he said. In addition, some residents would have faced trouble getting financing and providing documentation showing they are in the country legally.

“We were up against a number of challenges. Whether we could have resolved all of them, I don’t know,” Laird said.

The town government looked at CDC’s plan earlier this year and determined it wasn’t going to work. The town took over the relocation and has started negotiating financial packages with owners and renters of the trailers to help them relocate.

The change is probably better, Laird said, because there is no guarantee the existing residents of the mobile home park would have been able to move into replacement units, if any were eventually built.

Laid acknowledged that the transition from the plan to provide replacement housing to the town’s plan to offer financial aid packages “didn’t go well.” CDC left it to town officials to explain the new plan.

The explanation didn’t quell the anger among park residents over CDC’s role. Various members tried in different ways, speaking through an interpreter provided by the town, to press Laird about the perceived broken promises.

The mistrust among the park residents has grown to the extent that Workers for Justice and Diversity in Basalt organizer Ralph Vazquez submitted a Colorado Open Records Act request to the town seeking contracts and financial obligations between the CDC and the town government; financial disbursements made by CDC; the original letter of intent by CDC to the town; and emails between CDC and town officials.

Some trailer-park residents have expressed suspicions about how the revenue from the rents was spent. CDC collected $650 per month from the park. There are 38 trailer spaces but only 35 had renters.

Scanlon shifted the focus on the meeting away from CDC’s alleged promises. “(There is) more than enough blame to go around between CDC and the town,” he said. But trying to assign blame doesn’t solve the issue, he added.

Scanlon urged the crowd to attend the Basalt Town Council’s regular meeting tonight and express their desire to remain in Basalt and demand for concrete help relocating to alternative housing.

The residents vowed to turn out tonight. Isabel and Gerardo Martinez stressed the need for the town to provide an opportunity for housing the residents can buy.

Ricardo Gonzales said it was important for him and his wife, Consuela Arias, to find housing where their children can remain in the Basalt schools.

Several residents stressed that the town’s financial-aid packages don’t do enough to help them stay in their town. The town is paying between $17,000 and $22,000 in many cases. It depends on factors such as years in the park, size of family and whether they own or rent. Scanlon noted that some Basalt residents are opposed to any taxpayer dollars going to people who aren’t in the country legally.

The residents pointed to the example of a woman identified only as Margareta, who was present. She sold her trailer to the town under duress, she said, because her eviction deadline was looming. She was unable to find alternative housing to buy and now rents a trailer elsewhere that is too small for her family, she said.

Tippetts and Scanlon acknowledged the process isn’t perfect and that not every family will be eligible to buy new housing, from lack of credit history to lack of legal documentation. But Tippetts vowed to spend her time working with anyone that wanted help seeking a loan. She said three loans have been completed for parks residents and three are being processed.

Workers for Justice and Diversity in Basalt wants to keep the option open for members to strike a financial deal with the town, but they also want replacement housing opportunities.

The group members also asked the town government last night to provide $10,000 so they can hire an attorney to provide them with legal advice. “We understand that this is a big request from the town of Basalt,” their demand said. “As the City Council realizes, there can be no suitable conclusion to this situation until the residents of the ‘park’ feel as if the basic commitments of the deal promised to them is investigated.”

Scanlon indicated the council would have to decide on the $10,000 request.

Following the meeting, Vazquez said the meeting was a “good start” for the group achieving its demands. “We got this far by pushing,” he said, adding that it didn’t make sense to stop pushing now.

Scanlon said the meeting went “as good as it could go.” He said the situation of each trailer owner is different, so group negotiations are difficult. However, he held out hope that housing can be provided for some of them.

“The hill looked a lot steeper” a few months ago, he said.

scondon@aspentimes.com

“We got this far by pushing.”
Ralph Vazquez
Workers for Justice and Diversity in Basalt organizer


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The Aspen Times Updated Dec 9, 2013 10:39PM Published Dec 10, 2013 04:49PM Copyright 2013 The Aspen Times. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.