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Housing crisis isn’t a crisis. It’s capitalism.

The Other Side

Absent a shift in our moral compass, our current form of free-market capitalism will transform U.S. society into a largely unrecognizable system defined by extreme inequality and rising poverty.

Take our local housing crisis, for example. Since 2018, home prices have nearly doubled, while inventory has fallen, and the working and middle class have been forced into smaller and smaller dwellings to accommodate the demands of elite buyers from other parts of the country and world.

I’ve watched this cycle my entire life. Born in Telluride and raised in Norwood, I’ve witnessed housing crises unfold in Southwest Colorado across multiple decades. But I’ve never seen anything quite as acute as the current situation. Few things exemplify this crisis as well as the international commodification of trailer parks.

Earlier this year, I closely followed the story of Westside Mobile Park, which was placed on the market for $5.5 million in December of 2021. By the time residents realized their community was for sale, New York real estate tycoon Neal Kuzner was already negotiating to sell Westside to a corporation out of California named Harmony Communities.

Fearful of rent hikes and displacement, residents formed the Westside Co-op, and partnered with Elevation Community Land Trust out of Denver to put together a competing offer. Miraculously, behind widespread support of local officials and the Durango community, Westside succeeded.

Westside’s story resonates with national trends. In recent years, corporate brass has literally flown from coast to coast in search for mobile homes. For example, when Harmony Communities CEO Matthew Davies flew out to look at Westside and nearby Triangle Park, he chartered a private jet out of Stockton, California, at a cost of $15,000. The image of Davies descending from a private jet to purchase a trailer park, where many of our town’s most vulnerable residents live, is reflective of rising inequality in our country.

Ultimately, Davies was unsuccessful in buying Westside. Still, his company received $185,000 from the proceeds of the park’s sale for agreeing to terminate its initial contract with former owner Kuzner. Davies also tried, although unsuccessfully, to pass the bill from his private jet on to the residents of the park!

Westside’s story reflects a corporate takeover of America’s last pockets of affordable housing. Across the past 10 years, mobile home parks have returned an astounding 470% on investment, making them one of the hottest assets in the world.

But for residents, corporate ownership is a nightmare. Last year, Harmony Communities bought Golden Hills in Golden. Since then, they’ve raised lot rents by over 40%. Residents have attempted twice to purchase the community back from Harmony but thus far, have been unsuccessful. As resident Arthur Erwin told Rocky Mountain PBS earlier this year, “They’re talking about getting us to market rate.”

And while “market rates” may make corporate sense, they’re typically not in keeping with the reality of local economies. Back in Durango, for example, Elevation Community Land Trust has committed to freezing lot rents because otherwise, they’d displace the very residents they aimed to save.

People often refer to our housing situation as a “crisis.” But it’s not. It’s capitalism. Free-market capitalism is designed to devour profits wherever they may be found, regardless of who suffers. Wall Street doesn’t report on our nation’s collective well being. It reports earnings.

The challenge that faces us today is to come to terms with the fact that markets have no moral compass, which leaves us with a simple question: Do we?

Ben Waddell is an associate professor of sociology at Fort Lewis College and serves on the board of Compañeros, a Durango-based immigration rights nonprofit.