Residents of the Westside Mobile Home Park in west Durango face an uncertain future after learning the park may be sold.
They are now exploring whether it is possible to purchase the park themselves – something other mobile home park residents have done in recent years across Colorado – in an effort to keep rent prices fixed, build personal equity and avoid having to move.
The owner of the park, IQ Mobile Home Parks, notified residents Dec. 20 that it intends to sell the property. Since then, residents have formed a cooperative to work toward purchasing the mobile home park.
Residents at River View, a mobile home park in north Durango, were able to purchase their park last year. The monthslong effort was undertaken to stabilize lot rents, which had increased from $350 per month in 2015 to about $730 in March 2021. A park co-op was able to secure financial assistance from multiple sources, including the HomesFund and the city of Durango. The park was eventually purchased for $14 million.
Colorado state law requires owners of mobile home parks who intend to sell the property to notify residents and give them a 90-day period to make an offer to purchase the park themselves.
Westside Mobile Home Park, which has about 60 lots, is situated along the south side of U.S. Highway 160 within walking distance of downtown Durango. It has a large Hispanic community, with some residents who have been there for two decades or more.
Alejandra Chavez, who was involved with forming the cooperative, said most residents received notice about the upcoming sale, but a number of people living in rent-to-own trailers did not receive notice.
Park residents have been working with Elevation Land Trust based in Denver to assist them in purchasing the park, she said. Elevation Land Trust did not return phone calls this week seeking comment.
Chavez said Elevation Land Trust will be facilitating some sort of offer with the owners.
“I hope the owner accepts Elevation’s offer so we can go from being a park to being our own community, she said. “But we don’t know what's going to happen.”
The park is just outside Durango city limits. Compañeros, a local immigrant advocacy and resource center, is assisting residents in their efforts to purchase the park and work with La Plata County officials.
“The county has been responsive, and have very much been a part of the conversations we’re having, but it’s really limited what they can do within the 90-day period,” said Compañeros board member Benjamin Waddell. “They’ve been clear that if Elevation can get the park into a position where they form a cooperative and own it, then they can probably do more.”
Chavez has lived at Westside Mobile Home Park for more than 17 years, and her parents have lived in the park for more than 20 years.
Like many residents at the park, Chavez’s mother, Juanita Chavez, said if the park changes ownership and she’s forced to move, she has nowhere to go.
Juanita said the Westside is her home, she watched her children grow up there, and now her grandchildren growing up there.
“We want a future for our grandchildren, and all of us want a future for the children who live here,” she said.
One resident, Mayra Gallardo, said she went through a similar scenario six years ago. Before living at Westside, she lived at a trailer park where the Goodwill in Durango is now located. She was kicked out of her home when a new owner took over, she said.
“When we received this information in December, the anxiety and stress really overcame me because we are in the same situation again,” Gallardo said, speaking through a Spanish translator who works with Compañeros. “I don’t know what we’re going to do. I feel like if this sells, all of our dreams and investment in this community is going to be lost.”
Many of the mobile homes at Westside are too old to be moved. Residents would likely have to abandon their trailers if the park sells to someone who wants to develop the property.
“Our oldest mobile home in the park was built in 1958, and the most recent one was built in 1982,” Chavez said.
Ophelia Temoltzi, a Westside resident, said her trailer was made in 1977 and no other parks will take it because of its age.
“I’ve called around before to see if we can have it moved, but with the year (it was built), it’s impossible,” she said. “There’s really no place we can go.”
Temoltzi said she and her family used to live in downtown Durango, but rent prices became too high and they had to find a more affordable option with Westside.
Residents pay anywhere from $400 to $1,200 depending on whether they’re renting to own or own their trailer.
“We like it here, and we’d like to keep it as affordable housing,” Temoltzi said. “This is the only affordable place we could find.”
Of the 58 family/tenants of Westside Mobile Home Park, 46 responded to a survey from the grassroots organization Construyendo, which was created by members of Durango’s Latinx community to focus on the emotional, physical and mental health needs of Latinx people.
Construyendo’s survey results showed that 84% of the park identify as Latinx.
“The community itself is a survivor of the pandemic,” said Wendolyne Omaña, project director of Construyendo. “Many of the people there are undocumented, and as undocumented people, there were no benefits from the federal government through the pandemic.”
Omaña said through the pandemic many undocumented residents in the park came together and supported each other when times were tough.
“What I observed during the pandemic is that if somebody had COVID-19 all of the neighbors would organize to deliver food and services, and take care of children,” she said.
Omaña said nearly all of the residents she spoke with are “essential workers,” but not all of them have transportation to their jobs. The central location of Westside, just off Highway 160 and near downtown Durango, is integral for many of the residents being successful at work, she said.
“These families serve in the tourism industry as cooks and servers in restaurants, housekeepers in hotels, and in construction,” she said.
Juanita said residents at the trailer park are hardworking members of the community and just want the opportunity to continue to be a part of it.
“We’re united for a solution,” Juanita said. “We’re not looking for a gift, we just want an opportunity. We want the community to know that we’re here, and we want the support of the community. We want people to see that we are Mexican people and we want to work hard, and that we’ve been here and want to be part of this community.”
Although there is a lot of concern among residents about what will happen to the park, there is also a lot of hope. Many residents feel that if the co-op can take ownership of the park, the knowledge and resources in the community will allow them to build the park up and make it better.
“Little by little we will resolve the problems in the park and little by little we will work together to improve things,” Juanita said.