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Our View: Council takes a big step toward humane housing

Last week, the city of Durango, through its elected City Council members, took a first step indicating the seriousness of the city’s commitment to deal with the seemingly intractable problem of affordable, humane housing.

On a 4-1 vote, the council approved a unique transfer of funds that will offer $500,000 in support to the residents of River View Mobile Home Park, who are buying their park after years of struggling to meet rent increases by successive corporate owners.

According to Herald reports, in March, the 116 households at the mobile home park were paying an average of $708 in lot rent, a 102% increase from the 2015 average rent of about $350, when the family that had owned the park sold it to a corporation. When the mobile home park recently was put on the market again, residents feared another round of rent increases would force some to move away and perhaps be without housing altogether. About 81% of residents have a household income that is less than 80% of area median income – $46,850 for an individual and $66,900 for a family of four.

Residents of mobile (or manufactured) home parks own their homes – on which they may still be making payments – and also pay rent for their lots. And despite the term “mobile home,” they aren’t easily moved: The cost of moving and setting up a single-wide mobile home is $5,000 to $8,000; moving a double-wide costs $10,000 to $13,000. Even if a resident can pay for a move, they could still face ever-rising rents in a new location, as more and more mobile home parks are now corporate-owned.

Residents organized with the help of a national nonprofit called Resident Owned Communities that helps mobile home parks buy their land. The new Animas Mobile Home Park Co-op was created as a nonprofit association that will buy and manage the park, with resident members deciding management issues by vote.

The new association, which hopes to close on the deal June 23, had already secured a $500,000 loan from HomesFund, a local mortgage assistance nonprofit that receives funding from multiple sources, including “fair share” fees paid to the city by developers in lieu of building affordable units. The association asked the city for additional help. The council’s vote approved the transfer of fair share fees (which would have been transferred to HomesFund anyway), which, when combined with the existing fair share balance, will add up to another $500,000 that HomesFund can now loan the park as well, Mayor Kim Baxter explained.

In short, the vote will allow HomesFund to loan a total of $1 million to the park. Those loans will reduce the lot rental increases and keep the park affordable for many residents. That money ultimately will return to HomesFund and be recycled into more affordable housing opportunities, Baxter said.

In simple terms, about 116 families will be helped for the long term with money that will one day be used again to help other families – not from tax dollars, but from fees paid by developers.

The new association, not the households, will own the land, and covenants require that it remain as a mobile home park in perpetuity. More good news: About 200 of these ROCs exist around the country and not a single one has failed financially, Baxter said.

The people being helped are already part of our community, long-term residents, some natives, many of low and fixed incomes, who deserve the city’s support so they can stay in their hometown. It’s exactly what we’ve been promoting in recent “Beyond Our Means” editorials: focusing on providing humane housing for Durango’s residents – all of us.