Colorado’s mobile home parks are disappearing, but a proposed bill would try to save them
February 3, 2017
Mobile home parks can be integral components of a community's affordable housing mix, but they also carry an element of instability: Residents typically own the pre-fabricated, rectangular houses they live in, but not the monthly-rented land underneath.
That means that if the owner of the park decides to sell — as has increasingly been the case in some parts of Colorado — residents are forced to either pay tens of thousands of dollars to move their homes or abandon them, sometimes after years of interest payments.
And as parks continue to be sold off for redevelopment, fewer and fewer spaces are left, particularly in areas of the Front Range.
"The housing squeeze is so intense. People have been looking at parks all over the metro area and they have two-year wait lists or the rent is $900, which goes on top of people's mortgage payments," said Andrea Chiriboga-Flor, a housing organizer for advocacy group 9 to 5 Colorado.
"This version offers incentives to park owners, so if they choose to sell to homeowners and preserve this critical stock of affordable housing, they get a tax benefit."Kris GrantPublic affairs fellowColorado Center on Law and Policy
She had been helping residents of a Denver mobile home park organize for better services when the property owner sold the land to make way for a development, leaving residents in the lurch.
The story is much the same in Fort Collins, where five parks have closed in the past two decades, displacing 461 families, the Coloradoan reported.
That trend has led Democratic State Senator John Kefalas, whose district includes Fort Collins, to along with House Rep. Joann Ginal introduce a bill that would use tax incentives to encourage park owners to sell to homeowners' associations, housing authorities or other nonprofits that would preserve them.
"Manufactured housing is an important component of housing, but over the past several years this form of unsubsidized, affordable housing is being lost," he said. "We're trying to focus on the voluntary preservation of mobile home parks and advance resident-owned communities."
The bill, Kefalas stresses, isn't intended to limit the rights of property owners, who he says should be free to sell their land for redevelopment. Rather, it seeks to encourage manufactured home owners to form associations and offer incentives to park owners that in turn sell the property to them. The profits would be tax-exempt for properties with 50 or fewer lots, and those with more would be taxed at 50 percent.
Previous iterations of the bill have met resistance, primarily from lawmakers who feared impinging on the rights of property owners.
"Past efforts put more restrictions on the owners by effectively giving residents a right of first refusal," said Kris Grant, a public affairs fellow at the Colorado Center on Law and Policy, a nonprofit think tank that supports the measure. "This version offers incentives to park owners, so if they choose to sell to homeowners and preserve this critical stock of affordable housing, they get a tax benefit."
"If an owner wants to sell or redevelop, that's obviously his or her choice," Kefalas said. "But if they wish to sell to another entity to maintain a mobile home park, we want to encourage that."
The concept has proven effective in other parts of the country. Homeowners in a park in Minnesota, for instance, recently formed an association and bought the land with the help of a nonprofit that secured financing.
County commissioners in neighboring Pitkin County agreed in December to purchase a mobile home park from its owners, who could no longer afford to maintain it. They did so without the help of tax incentives.
"What this acquisition does, principally, is keep 60 people in their homes," County Attorney John Ely told the Aspen Times. "There's no way our current affordable-housing inventory could accommodate them. They would be in dire straits."
Summit County used to have many mobile home parks, a holdover from the dam-building days when hundreds of workers needed affordable housing. That number has declined over the past several decades; in 2006, the Peak 8 Trailer Park just north of Breckenridge was demolished to make way for a development.
Since then, however, the county's stock of roughly five parks has held steady, and it appears it will stay that way for now.
"Mobile home parks are certainly an important component in the overall affordable housing mix in the county," said county manager Scott Vargo.
If a park went up for sale, "we probably would be at least interested in taking a look at it for fear of what might happen if a property were just left to the market," he said.
Lori Cutunilli, whose family has owned the 32-lot park at Farmer's Korner since the 1970s, said they don't have plans to sell or redevelop any time soon. She said that the park rarely has vacancies, and people tend to stay for years until they can afford to buy a lot-built home somewhere.
"It might make a difference that our park is family-owned — with all the building going on in Denver I wouldn't be surprised if they're going after parks," she said. "Most of the people that live here are service workers, and they keep the county turning."