U.S. Sen. John Hickenlooper toured Durango on Thursday to hear the stories of Westside Mobile Park residents who rallied to keep their homes, learn about Durango School District 9-R’s electric bus program and view progress of electrifying homes at the Animas View Mobile Home Park in the Animas Valley.
Hickenlooper has pushed for rent and eviction protection for mobile home residents since he was Colorado’s governor. In 2019, he signed the Mobile Home Park Act Oversight into law, which granted mobile home owners more protections. It extended the time between notices of rent nonpayment and cancellation of rent agreements and extended the time between eviction notices and eviction dates.
Now, Hickenlooper is calling for the same protections at the national level. On Thursday, the senator told residents at Westside Mobile Park he is glad they stood up for their homes because they deserve “a fair chance rather than some investor in New York buying their home.”
“But now we have in Colorado protection against eviction,” he said. “We need to have that at a national level. So I think that’s the next step.”
Earlier this month, Hickenlooper joined Sen. Michael Bennet and 17 other members of Congress in a letter to Sandra Thompson, director of the Federal Housing Finance Agency, seeking stronger protections for mobile home park residents with federal backing, according to a news release.
The letter signers advocated for “first right of refusal,” or a contractual right for mobile home park residents to have a chance to buy their properties from an owner. They also asked that Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, federally backed mortgage companies, prioritize mobile home park properties that already support protections for tenants. Finally, they asked to strengthen protections for tenants with longer-term leases.
Westside Mobile Park residents were faced with possible eviction in December, but with help from Elevation Community Land Trust, La Plata County, the Local First nonprofit, Compañeros: Four Corners Immigrant Resource Center and other organizations, they were able to form a cooperative and secure the money needed to buy the mobile park property and save their homes in perpetuity.
Alejandra Chavez, Westside park manager, co-op co-founder and park resident of over 20 years, said it was a “true honor” to play a role in securing the mobile park for its residents. She was able to help her own family as well as other residents and ensure their place in the mobile home park.
“It wasn’t easy. But united, we made the effort,” she said. “And everyone supported us along the way. But I want to thank my neighbors, people from the county, Compañeros and other organizations that I’m not remembering right now. But thank you from the bottom of my heart.”
Mayra Gallardo, another park resident, recounted her experience facing eviction from Westside in December when she was pregnant. The eviction would have been her second eviction. She was also pregnant during her first eviction.
“It was a process where we had to pay for a hotel, we had to pay for storage for our things,” she said of the first eviction. “We didn’t have a place to live. It was a very difficult, very hard, very sad experience. And because of that I lost my baby.”
She said she remembered feeling the same dreadful sensation and thinking, “Here we are in this same situation again.” She worried for her baby.
“The thought that we could again be (stuck) without a place to live really devastated me and my family,” she said. “But thankfully, we all came together, all of the neighbors here, and we supported each other like a family.”
Tiana Patterson, public partnerships and legal director for Elevation, said just four days before Westside residents’ chance to purchase the mobile home park was set to expire, they managed to form a coalition of community members and state partners to assemble short-term loans to put toward a cash offer. It was risky business, but they pulled it off.
She said the whole experience was humbling, and Hickenlooper’s efforts as governor for rent and eviction protections for mobile home residents “set the stage for why we are here today, preserving mobile home parks for affordable housing.”
La Plata County Commissioner Marsha Porter-Norton said the county received $10.9 million in American Rescue Plan Act money and approved $3.3 million “for social and economic and health impacts” just last week.
“Sen. Hickenlooper and Sen. Bennet worked really hard for that money,” she said. “What is very important is they worked really hard to make sure that we could use it in a flexible way.”
Hickenlooper also visited the Animas View Mobile Home Park to observe how the homes are undergoing an electrification process – that is, shifting away from oil and gas energy sources to electrical ones.
Jon Kenney, energy management adviser at La Plata Electric Association, discussed implications of the electrification project with the senator.
The Inflation Reduction Act of 2022 championed by Democrats in Congress, including Hickenlooper, was signed into law earlier this week and dedicates $369 billion to fighting climate change by providing tax credits of up to $7,500 per electric vehicle and other credits to incentivize greener energy technologies, according to Colorado Newsline.
Hickenlooper called the multibillion dollar spending package a “good start” as he inspected Durango School District 9-R’s electric vehicle and charging station.
The bus emits zero fuel emissions, is battery powered and can discharge kilowatts back into a power grid when not in use, Superintendent Karen Cheser explained to the senator as his entourage rode the electric school bus to its charging station at the bus barn.
The bus uses “bi-chargable vehicle technology” that can intake and discharge kilowatts back into the power grid. The process is called vehicle-to-grid (V2G) technology and is provided by Nuvve Holding Corp., LPEA officials told The Durango Herald in January. V2G technology allows vehicles such as the electric bus to match power demand with available supply by returning power to the grid or adjusting its charging rate.
The electric bus is expected to save the school district thousands of dollars in maintenance costs annually. Dominic May, energy resource program architect with LPEA, said the plan is to line the bus yard with charging stations and one day convert all the school district’s buses to electric vehicles.