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Waddell: Affordable housing shouldn’t have to take a miracle

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Benjamin Waddell

Benjamin Waddell

Residents of the Westside Mobile Home Park in Durango, in southern Colorado, called it a miracle: They are under contract to buy the land their homes sit on, their rent will not go up, and they proved that the housing cooperative they’d founded had staying power.

Westside’s fate was hardly a given. The New York-based owner, Neal Kurzner, rejected their first offer, saying he had a corporate buyer who owned many trailer parks and was ready to pay $5.5 million in cash. He gave the community just seven days to come up with a cash offer.

“We knew what was at risk,” resident Darcy Diaz, told me. “But how do you raise $5.5 million?”

Diaz, who grew up in Colombia and moved to Westside in 2018, knew their only hope was to organize. With a group of other determined residents, Diaz helped start the Westside Mobile Home Park Cooperative.

It launched a GoFundMe account, opened a Facebook page, and prepared tamales, posole, and empanadas to fundraise for the cause. Then Local First, which supports development initiatives in La Plata County, granted Westside $140,000 in cash plus a $395,000 zero-interest loan, while the Durango community turned out in force, helping Westside raise just over $50,000 in less than a week.

In the meantime, Stefka Fanchi, who heads up Elevation Community Land Trust, shored up support from county officials, banks, and a handful of non-profits. Westside Co-op’s relationship with Elevation, which advocates for housing solutions for working-class people, provided the collateral needed to support the project.

The result: In just five days, Elevation and Westside pieced together $5.56 million in cash plus closing fees. On March 25, they submitted their offer.

For nearly a week, the community waited to hear back, with many residents saying they could hardly sleep.

Then, on March 31, Fanchi said she had news. Diaz and her fellow organizers gathered around a single computer in a neighbor’s kitchen. “It’s been a really tough week,” Fanchi began over Zoom. “And I do have an update, and that is that we are buying the Westside Mobile Home Park!”

“They accepted!” residents screamed, crying, and turning to each other in joy. Diaz hugged her 2-year-old daughter, and on the screen, Fanchi and her colleagues wept.

Westside’s success provides hope in a housing market where mobile home parks are frequently sold on short notice followed by large rent hikes or eviction.

But Westside’s success is an exception. Since 2020, when Colorado began requiring mobile home park owners to provide their residents with notice of their intent to sell, over a hundred trailer parks have been placed on the market and only four have successfully bought the land beneath them.

Now, Colorado needs to pass additional legislation that would grant first right of refusal to park residents, give them more time to submit an offer, and cap the percentage that parks can raise rent. A bill to do just that has been introduced by State Democratic Rep. Andrew Boesenecker.

Westside Mobile Home Park residents needed a miracle, and they got it. But access to dignified housing shouldn’t come down to miracles. It should simply be the way things are.

Benjamin Waddell is a contributor to Writers on the Range, writersontherange.org, an independent nonprofit dedicated to spurring lively conversation about the West. He is an associate professor of sociology at Fort Lewis College in Durango, Colorado.

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