Guest commentary: Pan and Fork residents deserve better | AspenTimes.com

Guest commentary: Pan and Fork residents deserve better

Facing forced removal from our homes and our community, a group of concerned Pan and Fork Mobile Home Park residents have come together to form Workers for Justice and Diversity in Basalt, a group committed to the spirit of compassion and inclusivity that the town once held sacred.

We would like to state the following: From the start of the Pan and Fork redevelopment project, Roaring Fork Community Development Corp. made public commitments to keep Pan and Fork Mobile Home Park residents in the community, many of whom have lived, worked and raised families in Basalt for over two decades.

The town of Basalt was excited to work with a social justice-minded development nonprofit for this very reason. Roaring Fork Community Development Corp.'s own website lists "Relocating all current residents to other housing within the community" as a primary goal. Even before Community Development Corp.'s purchase of the Pan and Fork Mobile Home Park, Executive Director Colin Laird and Community Development Corp. board President Michael McVoy held meetings with Pan and Fork residents where they presented such relocation options as parcels of land and detailed outlines of possible new housing. Community Development Corp. committed to relocating us within Basalt, into housing of a similar size and price to what we were paying, regardless of any changes to the town code or the immigration status of residents. We were assured that we would not have to leave our homes, that our children would not have to change schools and that we would remain close to our workplaces. Let it be clear, this was a promise that was made and then broken.

In his editorial in The Aspen Times on Nov. 8, Laird said, "The strategy has changed, but the goals remain the same."

However, both have changed significantly. Community Development Corp. and the town of Basalt's commitment to relocate Pan and Fork residents within the community has been forgotten. It has been replaced with a formula for cash "relocation" assistance and, supposedly, support from the town to find new housing — not necessarily within Basalt — so the park will be empty by April. The residents of the Pan and Fork were not included in the process of changing the commitment, and the communication informing us of the changes was gravely inadequate. The town made a new plan without our approval, claiming along with Community Development Corp. that it is the best thing for us, without our consent or input. They do not speak for Workers for Justice and Diversity in Basalt.

The quantity of money being offered will not keep us in this community. There is not enough affordable housing in Basalt to accommodate the Pan and Fork families. The town of Basalt and Roaring Fork Community Development Corp. have said that they are removing us from flood danger; they actually are forcibly removing us from Basalt with no place to go. The 40 or more children currently attending school in Basalt are forcibly being displaced from their homes and their schools in the middle of the school year. This is not compassionate. It is a crisis for our schools and the future of diversity in Basalt.

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We, the Workers for Justice and Diversity in Basalt, do not accept the town's cash-assistance plan and make the following demands:

1) Uphold the original promise of providing interested Pan and Fork Mobile Home Park residents with replacement housing within Basalt of a similar size and price to what we currently pay. All discussion of relocation plans henceforth must ensure that the voices of the residents are central to any decision making.

Relocation planning with residents must be held in collective public forums, in addition to any individual conversations.

2) Immediately cease the removal of people and their homes from the Pan and Fork Mobile Home Park until agreements have been negotiated with all residents who are being expelled by the town of Basalt.

3) Provide professional interpreters at all meetings that involve Pan and Fork Mobile Home Park residents, including future discussions on redevelopment plans for the Pan and Fork property.

4) Honor the financial-assistance agreements that have already been negotiated with removed Pan and Fork Mobile Home Park residents and continue to provide this option for any removed residents who want to accept monetary assistance in lieu of replacement housing.

The town and the Roaring Fork Community Development Corp. need to act immediately to honor their commitment to compassionate, inclusive and humane relocation of the Pan and Fork residents, and we ask the community for support in keeping and valuing diverse working families in this community.

Ralph Vazquez is a Pan and Fork resident and member of Workers for Justice and Diversity in Basalt.