River View mobile home park in north Durango is for sale – for the third time in almost six years – but this time, residents are looking into making an offer themselves.
Residents in manufactured housing communities own their homes but not the land underneath. It’s a setup that created tension between park owners and residents even before the coronavirus pandemic heightened concerns about rent increases, continued homeownership and evictions.
In June 2020, Colorado passed a law, House Bill 1201, that gives mobile home owners an opportunity to purchase park property when it is for sale. River View residents are considering the option as a possible step toward housing security.
“We residents are pursuing forming a co-op to buy the land and manage it ourselves, which would stabilize the monthly rent,” said resident Karen Pontius during a public meeting Jan. 5 with city staff and community members.
“But if that can’t come together soon enough or if Strive Communities, the current owner, doesn’t accept our offer, the park will be sold and our futures will be uncertain,” she said.
River View residents, including Pontius, declined to comment further out of concern for future real estate negotiations.
More than 100,000 Coloradans live in manufactured housing, including mobile homes, which are effective ways to meet Colorado’s affordable housing needs, according to the 2020 bill.
Park owners can wield significant power over housing security, while the scarcity of vacancies in other parks and the high costs of relocating make relocation “nearly impossible,” the bill said.
“Clearly, harm is occurring in manufactured housing communities,” the bill said, citing a 2018 state Department of Regulatory Agencies report. “The harm largely stems from the lack of enforcement of existing laws, bad actors exploiting a relatively loose regulatory structure, and the inevitable tension that arises when the house belongs to one person but the land beneath it belongs to someone else.”
Under the new law, mobile home park owners have to give residents 14 days notice if the land is going up for sale and 12 months if they plan to redevelop the property. Residents then have 90 days to make an offer, with approval of at least 51% of the homeowners in the park.
In a letter to city staff, Pontius said Strive Communities, which owns mobile home parks in 13 states, notified residents around Dec. 24 that the 117-home park near Oxbow Park in north Durango was for sale.
A receptionist with the park owners confirmed the park was for sale and residents were interested in forming a co-op to purchase it. Strive Communities spokespeople did not respond to multiple requests for comment.
In her letter, Pontius said the going rate for the 15.4-acre property along the Animas River was $13.9 million; she said Strive Communities bought the property for about $9 million in 2018.
MHP Funds bought the park in 2015 for about $7.7 million from Wilma and Ted Cooper, who owned it for 35 years.
Residents, concerned about increasing rent for lots at the park, are in the beginning stages of a multistep process to form a co-op.
Thistle, a Boulder County housing nonprofit, might be able to assist. Thistle has helped to create three resident-owned cooperatives in five mobile home parks in the state of Colorado. For example, residents in Sans Souci mobile home park in Boulder County, owned by Strive Communities, also pursued ownership in June with the help of Thistle, according to The Colorado Sun.
In her public comment, Pontius also stated concerns that a new owner might decide to develop the land because of its riverside location and access to the Animas River Trail and other amenities.
“There are state statutes that would require a public process in order to convert a mobile home community to something other than that,” said Kevin Hall, assistant city manager. “Any redevelopment of that would require owners to complete substantial development requirements to do something different there.”