Trailer residents get outside help
December 19, 2013
An effort by some residents of the Pan and Fork Mobile Home Park to convince the Basalt town government to provide replacement housing is picking up steam among community residents.
The internal dissent over the eviction of mobile-home-park residents has existed for months. Now people from outside the mobile-home park are speaking up.
As of 4 p.m. Tuesday, 110 people had signed an online petition circulated by the Colorado Immigrants Right Coalition to "keep Pan and Fork residents in the community."
The petition reads, in part, "The town of Basalt needs to honor its commitment to relocating residents into housing of a similar size and price within the boundaries of Basalt, to stop forcibly removing people until a plan has been agreed upon and to honor the financial assistance agreements already negotiated and continue to provide that option. Stop the forced removal of Basalt students from our schools."
Sophia Clark, a Basalt native and Rocky Mountain regional organizer for the Colorado Immigrants Rights Coalition, said the effort is meant to send a message.
"The petition is attempting to show the council this isn't just isolated to people in the trailer park," she said.
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As someone who grew up in Basalt and graduated with classmates from the Pan and Fork, Clark said she is concerned about Basalt losing its diversity. The mobile-home park provides cultural diversity because most residents are Latinos and it provides socioeconomic diversity with low-income housing, she said.
"Losing the trailer park is like losing what Basalt has meant to all of us, like losing a longtime friend," Clark said.
Pan and Fork residents are being relocated because of safety and redevelopment issues. The 38-unit mobile-home park was bought by the nonprofit Roaring Fork Community Development Corp. with the intent of finding replacement housing for residents and redeveloping the neighborhood. The town bought half the property to convert it into a park on the banks of the Roaring Fork River.
Community Development Corp. couldn't make its vision work in a timely way, so the town took over relocation efforts. The town is offering households between $15,000 and $22,000 to help secure other housing. Roughly two-thirds of the residents have been relocated or are negotiating. Another 10 families formed Workers for Justice and Diversity in Basalt to give them a voice. They claim Community Development Corp. didn't keep "promises" to provide replacement housing of a similar size and at a similar price to what they have. The town's financial packages aren't enough to allow them to remain in Basalt, they claim.
The residents submitted demands to the Town Council on Dec. 10 asking them to make good on Community Development Corp.'s promises. The council gave Town Manager Mike Scanlon a green light to explore other options.
Workers for Justice and Diversity in Basalt is keeping the pressure on with the petition drive and a candlelight "demonstration" outside Basalt Town Hall on Thursday at 6 p.m.
A notice of the meeting that was emailed this week to "allies" of the group read, "As folks in Basalt are getting excited to celebrate the Christmas holidays, many families in the Pan and Fork Mobile Home Park are instead worrying about whether they will have a home once they are forced to leave Basalt in search of affordable housing as a result of the town of Basalt's failure to provide replacement housing in the community."
Clark claimed the effort is grabbing attention among a diverse set of community members. A former councilman, a pastor and numerous teachers and school administrators have joined to try to help the Pan and Fork residents remain in Basalt, she said. Between 40 and 70 kids in the Basalt schools live in the Pan and Fork, according to Clark. Many parents are concerned they won't be able to keep their kids in the schools where they have friends and bonds with teachers.
Jon Fox Rubin, a former town councilman and businessman, and Julie Fox Rubin, who is actively engaged in Basalt civic issues, wrote a letter to the editors of local papers urging the council to help the residents find replacement housing.
Marie Gasau, pastor at the Basalt Community United Methodist Church, said she supports Workers for Justice and Diversity in Basalt.
"My interest in this is just what Jesus calls me to do. It's that simple," she said.
She is concerned about low-income residents being displaced and potentially unable to find a place to live in Basalt. She noted that Joseph and Mary and baby Jesus were refugees because of government action.
"I just keep thinking, 'Where would they stay in Basalt?'" she said.
She questions whether Basalt community members really want to retain a diverse community or pursue a path that promotes economic gain.
"Sometimes we can lose sight of what's really important," she said.
The town had a chance years ago to approve the creation of housing by the Catholic archdiocese that would have provided Pan and Fork residents with an alternative, but it was turned down, she noted. Now the council and community must work together to keep the residents in Basalt, she said.
Gasau was instrumental in advocating Basalt's inclusion in the International Campaign for Compassionate Cities in March 2011. Council members at that time signed a charter vowing that compassion would guide their actions. Gasau said she prays that the officials remain true to that pledge.
Thursday's candlelight vigil is open to the public. For access to the online petition, email Sophia Clark at email@example.com.