Basalt trailer park purchase could open thorny issue
December 17, 2007
BASALT ” Basalt officials acknowledged Friday they might face a thorny issue if voters approve their plan to buy the Pan and Fork Mobile Home Park and relocate the residents.
Some residents of the trailer park might be in the country illegally and, therefore, ineligible for aid such as subsidized housing. Ironically, the town government’s intent to help people relocate from a dangerous location because of flood potential could end up eliminating housing altogether for anyone who is an illegal immigrant.
“That’s going to be the can of worms with this whole deal,” Basalt Mayor Leroy Duroux said. “There are going to be some people that are going to get hurt, one way or another.”
Here’s the dilemma: The town’s intent is to purchase the trailer park and eventually relocate residents to replacement housing that developers will provide in future projects. Current Colorado law requires entities that use public funds to check the legal status of people receiving benefits.
The Aspen-Pitkin County Housing Authority interpreted the state laws that went into effect in August 2006 to mean it must check the legal status of prospective tenants or buyers of its subsidized housing. Information, such as a Social Security number, is checked with the Department of Homeland Security’s Systematic Alien Verification of Entitlements program.
Checking the legality of clients coincided with a doubling in the turnover of apartments in the housing authority’s system, according to director Tom McCabe. “There were, in our case, a lot of people who didn’t come back,” he said.
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In theory, Basalt also will be required to check the legal status of participants in its affordable housing program, although town officials cautioned that they aren’t far enough along in the process with the Pan and Fork to know their legal obligation yet.
“We’re going to have to do whatever the state law says,” said Duroux.
Councilmen Chris Seldin and Gary Tennenbaum agreed in e-mail interviews.
“The Town Code’s replacement housing requirement does not distinguish between people on the basis of their immigration status, and I think the Town should follow that law just like any other property owner,” Seldin wrote. “State or federal laws may provide otherwise, and if they do we will follow them.”
Tennenbaum said: “The town is going to work through the legal issues of relocation as there might be many. It is far out of my realm of expertise.”
The town government has signed a contract to purchase the Pan and Fork for $4.5 million. The deal is contingent on getting voters to approve funding at an election in April.
The Pan and Fork Mobile Home Park is in the heart of Basalt. It stretches from the intersection of Two Rivers Road and Midland Avenue west to the Tacqueria el Nopal restaurant. It is home for about 38 families, many of them immigrants from Mexico.
A study commissioned by the town said the trailer park and adjacent Roaring Fork Mobile Home Park face a serious threat of flooding. Both are located on low ground that is protected from the Roaring Fork River by levees.
Pan and Fork owner Renee Ritchie approached Basalt Town Manager Bill Efting about the town’s potential purchase of the trailer park. The council liked the idea and unanimously approved the contract last Tuesday. They also confirmed they will send voters a ballot question.
Once replacement housing is found for tenants, the trailer park will be removed. Town officials said they want to preserve part of the 5.3 acres along the river as open space. The section fronting Two Rivers Road may be redeveloped with a mix of residential and commercial property.
Duroux said many of the details will be worked out over the next two months as the council prepares wording for the ballot question. The town government must also research its obligations for checking the legal status of citizens it assists, he said.