Edith Bogaren-Guerrero was waiting for news when she first heard Westside Mobile Park was up for sale.
It was December 2021 and 1½ years earlier doctors diagnosed Bogaren-Guerrero with breast cancer. She had undergone treatment at Mercy Hospital, enduring biopsies and taking cancer pills to control the spread of the disease.
Now, as she was waiting to hear the status of her cancer, she faced displacement from her home, a small trailer that looks as though it is made from tin.
“It was just a really difficult moment because I was very stressed and my son said he didn't want to go to school anymore,” said Bogaren-Guerrero, through a Spanish translator.
She had to make the difficult decision to send her 10-year-old son and 15-year-old daughter to Mexico for two months to shield them from the anxiety. She spent Christmas, New Year’s and Valentine’s Day without them.
It was the first time she had ever been separated from her children.
Bogaren-Guerrero was just one of the Westside Mobile Park residents who risked displacement with the sale of the park. Many residents have already experienced displacement either in Durango or their native Mexico, forced to move from their homes for myriad reasons. With nowhere to go and facing renewed trauma, the community united and spoke out, emerging from the shadows of Durango to save their homes and their community.
In halting their own legacy of displacement, residents of Westside Mobile Park hope to serve as an example for other communities as they begin to dream of better futures for themselves.
Mayra Gallardo first moved to Durango in December 2014 to a mobile home park where the Goodwill now stands in south Durango near Home Depot.
Six months later she and her husband received notice that they were being evicted to make way for the thrift store. At the time, Gallardo was pregnant.
“We got the letter and we basically had 30 days to leave,” she said. “We looked around and tried to rent a place, but it was summer and everything was occupied. We had to live in our hotel for just under two months.
“It was a tough situation because we were living in the hotel and we had to pay for storage units to put our stuff in,” she said. “There wasn’t anywhere to cook, so we were having to eat out and we had to pay someone to take care of our dog.”
The experience was traumatic.
“I was stressed. I was pregnant. I was sad about the situation because we didn’t really have anywhere to go. Above all, we had just arrived and really didn’t have any money,” shesaid.
On Dec. 20, 2021, IQ Mobile Home Parks notified Westside Mobile Park residents that the company intended to sell the property. When Gallardo, who is again pregnant, first received the news, it was a shock.
“I felt like I’d gone back in time and was in the exact same position as six years ago,” she said.
Again, she and her family would be displaced. Instead of 30 days, she now had 90 to find a new home.
Gallardo and her family began formulating a plan to move to Albuquerque or Texas. They even considered moving back to Mexico. Staying in Durango and remaining a part of the Westside community was not an option.
“Here rents are just too high,” she said. “Everything’s occupied. There’s no vacancy.”
When residents first found out about the sale of the park, many of Gallardo’s neighbors also expressed concerns about rising rents under new ownership, said Alejandra Chavez, the park cooperative’s vice-president and a Westside resident.
Their anxieties weren’t unfounded.
Residents of Westside and Benjamin Waddell, an associate professor of sociology at Fort Lewis College who has worked with the community, have said California-based Harmony Communities, a mobile home real estate company, was vying to purchase the park.
Harmony Communities owns and operates more than 50 mobile home parks across the western U.S. and has a history of raising rents.
Residents of one mobile home park in California sued the company because it raised rents by 72% from 2019 to 2021, according to The Fresno Bee.
In November 2021, Harmony Communities bought Golden Hills, a mobile home park in Golden, Colorado, and soon increased rents by as much as 50%.
After the company purchased Golden Hills, the company offered to sell the park to residents, who had previously made two offers for the park at or above asking price before its sale, but at a significantly higher price, according to The Denver Post.
“We did a lot of research on Harmony,” Chavez said. “I told (my neighbors) it’s nothing to be afraid of, (but) they’re going to be raising rents. They just got this fear saying, ‘Alejandra, what if they raise the rent up to $900. We can barely afford something for $500 to $600. Where are we gonna get all the money from?’ They were already thinking they're going to kick us out.”
Fifty-eight families live in Westside Mobile Park, Chavez said, the majority of whom are Latinx.
Of those 58 families, 38 would have been displaced if the park came under new ownership, she said.
Chavez’s own parents, Alejandro Chavez-Alvarez and Juana Chavez-Chacón, would have been among those displaced.
Chavez-Alvarez and Chavez-Chacón have lived at Westside Mobile Park for nearly 20 years, having moved from Mexico. When they received the sale notice from IQ Mobile Home Parks, which was only written in English, “it felt like a big bucket of cold water being dumped on you,” Chavez-Alvarez said.
At first, they did not think much about the notice. It was around the holidays and the family was distracted.
“It took a little while, then (we) started to process what that meant. That it meant that we could be displaced, that others could be displaced, that the whole neighborhood could be displaced,” Chavez-Alvarez said.
Like Gallardo and others in the park, the couple considered moving, but other mobile home parks would not accept their trailer.
“Some have talked about apartments they’re going to rent, but there’s really nowhere to rent and everything’s really expensive,” Chavez-Alvarez said.
Moving would also mean separating from their children and grandchildren, who also live at Westside.
For Chavez-Alvarez and Chavez-Chacón, the threat of being displaced again was distressing. Years earlier, the couple, who married when they were 16, were forced to leave Mexico, selling what little they had to come to the U.S.
“All of this is really traumatic for us. In Mexico, we went through a lot. There were days where all we ate was a roasted tomato,” Chavez-Alvarez said. “That’s partially why we were so traumatized by the idea of having to start over.”
Westside Mobile Park would not have been the first case of displacement of a predominantly Latinx community in Durango and La Plata County. A number of trailers made way for the Goodwill, Waddell said, and in the 1970s, the Colorado Department of Highways (now the Colorado Department of Transportation) purchased the community of Santa Rita, where Durango’s water treatment and Santa Rita Park now sit, to construct U.S. Highway 550/160.
“Displacement really affects the Latinx communities here mostly because of the economic impact of living here,” said Enrique Orozco, a community advocate with Compañeros, an immigrant advocacy group in Durango. “(Durango) is not a cheap place to live, so things like trailer parks are affordable. The issue with trailer parks is you may own your trailer, but you don’t own the ground beneath you.”
Mobile home parks in general employ a predatory model that affects low-income families who are often minorities and immigrants, excluding them from homeownership, said Stefka Fanchi, CEO of Elevation Community Land Trust, a nonprofit based in Denver that aims to increase access to affordable homeownership.
“When we look at the household wealth of Americans, it all comes back to homeownership,” Fanchi said. “We have this huge racial wealth gap. There’s a huge difference in the net worth of white households versus black and Latinx households and the root cause of that is that black and Latinx households have been historically locked out of the opportunity to own their own home.
“The mobile home park model is a way that those households have been able to get some piece of the American dream of homeownership. They have their own space, their own home that they own, but it is a bit of a perversion of that dream in that rather than building wealth it’s taking wealth from them.”
A growing trend in corporate investment and ownership in mobile home parks in Colorado and nationally has only exacerbated the risks communities like Westside Mobile Park face.
For Chavez, who grew up in Westside Mobile Park, and Darcy Diaz, two of the leaders of residents’ efforts to purchase the park, increasing rents and displacement were not an option.
After New York-based IQ Mobile Home Parks notified residents of the company’s intention to sell the property, a group of residents met on Jan. 14 to form a park cooperative.
Under legislation passed by the Colorado Legislature in 2020, residents of a mobile park have the right to offer to buy the park if the property is up for sale or if the landlord plans to change the use of the land. But they must do so within 90 days.
Only five people showed up to form the cooperative, a product of residents’ fear. For years, residents of Westside have feared drawing attention to their community of predominantly immigrants.
“A lot of people would like to be heard in this community, but people are scared,” Chavez-Alvarez.
The group of five residents chose Tom Vigil, a longtime resident whose family was displaced from Santa Rita, as president; Chavez as vice-president; and Diaz as secretary of the co-op.
The cooperative members agreed they needed to risk sharing their story, said Waddell, who attended the meetings. If they did not draw attention to the park, many residents would lose their homes.
Chavez and the cooperative set to work organizing the residents. They faced resistance from skeptical residents at first, but as they informed residents of the potential for rising rents and displacement, the cooperative built support, growing to 85 of the 194 residents (including children).
Chavez and residents attended La Plata County commissioner meetings and met with other public officials and groups seeking their assistance. Halfway through their efforts, Fanchi and Elevation Community Land Trust stepped in and offered their help to purchase the property.
After a revelatory phone call with Fanchi that addressed the fears residents had in working with Elevation Community Land Trust, they signed over their right to purchase the property.
In a sprint, Elevation Community Land Trust sought financing from banks and other financial institutions while residents rallied the Durango community. La Plata County commissioners unanimously approved a $1.5 million loan on March 15 to help with the purchase of the park, but IQ Mobile Home Parks rejected Elevation Community Land Trust’s initial $5.46 million bid three days later citing another offer made in cash, presumably by Harmony Communities.
With their 90-day deadline to purchase the park ending in nine days, Elevation Community Land Trust pivoted to two layers of funding – an initial series of short-term cash loans to purchase the park and other loans to pay back those initial cash loans that Elevation Community Land Trust could pay off over time with other sources of financing.
Residents launched a GoFundMe campaign that had raised more than $38,000 as of Friday afternoon, and residents held food drives and fundraisers at Westside Mobile Park and The Hive. The organizing of residents spurred a $535,000 donation from Local First Foundation’s inaugural La Plata Impact Fund to aid the purchase the park.
Even as she was working to prevent the displacement of her family and neighbors, Chavez was preparing to move to a dilapidated trailer in Aztec that was going to cost $35,000.
Chavez could not sleep and she was losing her hair from the stress. When her mother asked her what was wrong, she broke down. Chavez told her mother: “I shouldn’t be thinking this, but where are you guys going to go if we move?”
“It was like a nightmare I have never experienced,” Chavez said. “Unfortunately, you have to think for the future. It’s horrible to think that way, but I had to be honest with myself and think for the worst.”
On March 25, Elevation Community Land Trust submitted a second offer on behalf of residents. It was cash and met the conditions specified by attorneys for IQ Mobile Home Parks in their rejection letter for the first offer.
Six days later, IQ Mobile Home Parks accepted their offer.
“A lot of emotion came out,” Chavez said. “My neighbors that I have never seen cry, cried. It was very beautiful how all these things happened and how the community in Durango has supported us. It’s amazing, and I still feel like I’m dreaming.”
In their fight to save their homes, Chavez-Alvarez has watched both his daughter and the Westside Mobile Park community emerge from the shadows and transform from an afterthought into a visible and integral part of the Durango community.
“The process started and somewhere along the way we lost our fear,” Chavez-Alvarez said. “We felt the support of the community and somewhere along the way we became a part of that community. Many of us for the first time feel a part of Durango.”
Residents of Westside Mobile Park are still stunned by the developments and their successful efforts to end a legacy of displacement for many of them.
“I’ve conversed about this with people in the park and people just don’t believe it,” Chavez-Alvarez said. “It’s a gift from God, but it’s hard to believe.”
Elevation Community Land Trust and IQ Mobile Home Parks will close on their deal for Westside Mobile Park on April 29, but the organization and residents have a lot of work to do before then.
Elevation Community Land Trust must complete environmental assessments and finalize agreements with First Southwest Bank and other financial, nonprofit and public institutions that have helped to secure the purchase of the park.
At a meeting between Elevation Community Land Trust and residents Thursday, residents discussed using some of the money they raised to begin cleaning up the park. Fanchi said Elevation Community Land Trust has immediate plans to address the water and sewage systems in the park that have long plagued residents and affected their health.
There are also plans to formalize the Westside Mobile Park co-op so that residents can be involved in decision-making as Elevation Community Land Trust works with the community to redevelop the land and improve their lives.
Fanchi has previously said that rents will not increase for any of the residents.
“The goal really is to transform and reimagine what this community is and what the residents want it to be,” Fanchi said. “... My hope is to make those dreams come to life, to enable those dreams to become real. Ultimately, Westside will become a place where lower income Durango residents can have access to opportunity that didn’t exist before. Not just for today’s residents, but there will be a new Westside where there are homes that are beautiful and safe, that are on permanent foundations, (and) that are truly building wealth for the people that live there.”
For their part, Westside Mobile Park residents hope that their efforts can serve as a model for other communities facing displacement.
“They can see us and think that nothing is impossible,” Chavez said. “... I’m hoping they don’t give up and they see us like an example. We’re here to help them out with whatever they need.”
Bogaren-Guerrero worried about the impacts that displacement would have on her medical care. She considered moving her family back to Mexico as she weighed her options but never developed a plan to move elsewhere in Durango.
“The only thing I had was faith that we were going to be able to do it,” she said.
The week Bogaren-Guerrero learned that her breast cancer was controlled residents of Westside learned they had managed to purchase the park and save their homes.
“It was this really incredible moment,” she said. “It’s the most beautiful thing that’s happened.”