Basalt cracks barrier with Latinos facing displacement
Basalt officials believe they scored a “breakthrough” last week working with Latinos who could eventually lose their homes when two trailer parks are redeveloped in the heart of town.
About 25 Latinos participated in community planning sessions on Monday and Thursday that will help decide how land along the Roaring Fork and Fryingpan rivers in Basalt will be developed or redeveloped.
“For them to come and participate is overcoming a fear factor of 1,000 percent,” said Jim Kent, a consultant hired by the town to get citizens involved in the planning process. “It’s a breakthrough. It represents a change in the paradigm.”
They were able to overcome those fears because the stakes of the discussions are so high. The planning process will help settle the fate of the Roaring Fork Mobile Home Park and the Pan and Fork Mobile Home Park. They could also help determine where residents of the mobile home parks will be relocated.
The mobile home parks have been threatened by floods in the past, and they could be wiped out by a 100-year event, according to studies conducted for the town. The government has made relocation of the residents a priority.
Kent estimated that about 80 percent of the 90 families that live in the two trailer parks are Latinos. Many of them immigrated here from Mexico.
Before last week, the Latinos’ participation in talks about the redevelopment of the land was almost nonexistent because of cultural barriers.
Kent and town government officials credited Yanina Toranza with sparking interest among Latinos residents. Toranza, a native of South America who helps teach English to Latinos through a program at the Basalt library, was hired by the town to go door to door in the mobile home parks the weekend of July 12-13 to discuss the planning meetings and their importance.
The key to drawing Latinos to the meeting, said Kent, was working through informal networks and making them comfortable with the process. The goal, he said, is to empower them to help determine their fate.
“There’s a lot more trust now because of the intensive work over the last two weeks,” said Kent.
Toranza said residents of the trailer parks expressed numerous concerns to her. They don’t know what is going to happen to them when the trailer parks are redeveloped, she said.
A former consultant for the town also sent a warning to Basalt officials about the alienation of Latinos in the mobile home parks. In a July 8 letter, social ecology consultant Luis Ibanez Dalponte wrote that residents of the mobile home park were worried they were going to lose the equity they have built up in their property. Many own the trailers but rent their spaces.
They also expressed concerns about being able to acquire loans to buy other housing in Basalt because the legal status of many is in “limbo” while they wait for approval of citizenship applications by the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service. Without legal status, bank loans are unattainable.
Dalponte said many residents of the Basalt trailer parks fear they will be forced to pick up their belongings and relocate once again.
“The Latino residents of the Roaring Fork and Pan and Fork mobile home parks are suffering a triple jeopardy in their mental health status,” he wrote. “Not only do they have to face the stress of surviving in a different culture with a different language, laws and traditions, but compounding this is their fear of losing their home and equity, and risking to lose once again everything which has become known and familiar to them.”
Kent said Basalt officials don’t intend to let market forces simply displace the residents. The community planning process will tie together three interlocking components that could help relocate them in town. First, the citizens’ work on the “vision” for the community was completed last week. More than 200 residents overall, including the 25 or so Latinos, helped create the vision for how remaining lands along the river corridor can be developed or redeveloped.
Second, zoning will be crafted this fall to correspond with the vision of citizens. Basalt Town Manager Tom Baker said one criticism of Basalt is that it takes too long these days for developers to work through the land-use process. This planning work is designed to speed the review process. If a developer comes in with a plan that matches the vision and zoning for a property, the process becomes simpler and less costly.
Third, the community planning process will also determine where in town the residents can be relocated from the mobile home parks. The town is hoping to use leverage and incentives with developers who want property annexed into town. A condition of annexation could be providing help with relocation of the mobile home park residents.
Kent said he believes it would be a success story if 70 percent of the mobile home park residents can be relocated in Basalt, assuming they choose to do so.
Town regulations require developers to replace affordable housing units that are displaced by redevelopment. However, there is no guarantee that the residents displaced will be provided with new homes in town or that they receive equity for their homes.
Baker cautioned against reading too much into the participation of the Latinos in the community planning process. While their participation is important, it doesn’t ensure that replacement housing can be provided for them, he said.
[Scott Condon’s e-mail address is email@example.com]
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