Lawyer hired for trailer residents
February 5, 2014
An immigrants' rights group has hired an Aspen law firm to try to negotiate the best possible deal for the hold-out residents at the Pan and Fork Mobile Home Park in Basalt.
Colorado Immigrants Rights Coalition hired RKV Law to represent nine families that are pressing the town government to provide replacement housing, according to Sophia Clark, a field organizer for the coalition. The families have banded together in a group called Workers for Justice and Diversity in Basalt.
The coalition is a Denver-based nonprofit that works on immigrant issues throughout Colorado.
Attorney Ryan Kalamaya said his clients want the town to put commitments made by Mike Scanlon into writing. Scanlon pledged at a Jan. 23 meeting that an affordable-housing project would be built in Basalt by February 2015. He said Pan and Fork residents would have a preference for renting units.
“We’re definitely in the investigative phase. We’re not committed to filing a lawsuit.”
Attorney Ryan Kalamaya
When pressed by Workers for Justice to put the promise in writing, Scanlon said he couldn't because there was no specific plan he could act on. However, he stressed he was "on the hook" with the pledge and was putting his professional standing on the line.
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Kalamaya said the residents have heard what they perceived as promises before, only to have them fall through. He said it's only reasonable that they want assurances.
"These people are losing their homes, and they were told they would be offered alternative housing," he said. "There's zero trust with these people."
The town staff has negotiated financial relocation packages with roughly two-thirds of the mobile home park residents. Households were offered between $15,000 and $25,000 once they committed to leave. The nine families in Workers for Justice want a better deal.
The remaining residents would be much more motivated to relocate if their long-term housing was secured, according to Kalamaya.
He said Town Attorney Tom Smith rejected the request for a written commitment for housing.
Smith said it was legally impossible for the town to sign a contract to provide housing for Kalamaya's clients at this time. There is no project on the table right now, and it's not known if Kalamaya's clients would be eligible, he said. Scanlon was expressing a goal, "but a goal is not a contract," Smith said.
In the meantime, the town has made "very generous offers" to the residents for financial relocation packages, Smith said. Numerous residents of the Roaring Fork Valley have experienced getting leases voided by landlords and being forced to move without receiving financial aid, he said. Smith said that happened to him.
"Did I get paid? Not a chance," he said.
By any measure, he said, the residents are getting a better offer from the town than is required, he said.
"What Kalamaya has told me is that's not good enough for his clients," Smith said.
The town is unwilling to change the rules after negotiating in good faith with the other Pan and Fork residents, he said, adding that it wouldn't be fair to those who reached a settlement.
The town served the remaining families in the Pan and Fork with eviction notices last weekend. They were told they must vacate by April 1. The town is undertaking a project to reduce flooding potential, restore a riverbank, replace part of the trailer park with a riverside park and make the other part developable. The trailer park is in a floodplain.
Kalamaya said he and his partner, T.J. Voboril, will make sure the town is following the legal eviction process against any residents who try to stay. In addition, they will make sure any residents who sign a settlement know the terms.
"We're definitely in the investigative phase," Kalamaya said. "We're not committed to filing a lawsuit."
The Town Council huddled with Smith on Tuesday night in a closed session to discuss "potential litigation." The issue of concern wasn't disclosed.