When Silverthorne mobile home parks Cottonwood Court and D&D sold to Riverthorne LLC, many community members voiced concern for the residents that lived in the two parks, and the residents feared whether or not they would be able to stay within Summit County.
Earlier this year, the developer and the residents reached a confidential agreement that was reportedly satisfactory to each of the residents. But the events of what happened still left some community leaders shaken, considering there are a few more mobile home parks located within county limits: Swan Meadow Village, Kingdom Park and Farmers Korner.
“We’re deeply troubled about what happened in Silverthorne,” said Summit County Commissioner Tamara Pogue at a commissioners work session meeting on Tuesday, May 3. “It does seem a bit frustrating, given all of our efforts to create new affordable housing in Summit County, that we lost some.”
That’s why the Summit Board of County Commissioners listened to a presentation from Thistle, a small nonprofit based in Boulder that works with Resident Owned Communities USA to help residents of mobile home parks purchase their communities and maintain those units as affordable housing. Andy Kadlec, program director for the nonprofit, attended the meeting, along with Mountain Dreamers representatives Peter Bakken and Javier Pineda.
Bakken said in an email that there are currently no plans to purchase any of the county’s mobile home parks and that this presentation was meant to educate how else the community could protect existing affordable housing units.
During his presentation, Kadlec said Thistle and Resident Owned Communities USA have helped residents purchase six different mobile home parks including two in Canon City, one in Longmont, one in Durango, one in Boulder and one in Leadville.
The goal is to transition these parks from private ownership to resident-owned communities. Residents living in mobile home parks own their homes, but they do not own the land their homes sit on. If the land sells to a developer who otherwise wants to remove the homes and use the land for a new project — such as the case in Silverthorne — the residents that own their homes are forced to relocate.
Thistle’s role is to help residents at parks like these purchase their communities. It works like this: When a community is put up for sale, a representative from Thistle contacts the seller and then contacts the residents at that park. From there, the representative helps the residents form a cooperative, elect an interim board, review possible financing options — some of which are available through Resident Owned Communities USA — and help the residents through the purchasing process.
After the purchase, the land operates as a cooperative corporation and each resident that owns their home has a right to membership. Members continue to own their homes individually and each has an equal share of the land beneath the entire neighborhood. Thistle in turn maintains a 10-year agreement where its representatives help the residents manage a budget and track various capital improvements.
“Realistically residents don’t have an opportunity to sell the park and make money off of it,” Kadlec said. “If they for some reason they would want to sell the park, they are restricted by their corporation articles and bylaws to sell it to another nonprofit or government entity that would maintain the use of the community’s affordable housing stock.”
Kadlec noted that this process essentially takes the mobile home park off the market permanently. Of the 291 resident-owned communities Resident Owned Communities USA has helped convert across the country, Kadlec said none have been foreclosed on or sold back to a commercial operator.
Kadlec said there are many benefits to this kind of model.
“Residents who live in mobile home parks have never had control or power. They are always under the thumb of somebody else, who decides what the lot rent is, how the trees are trimmed, how the rules are enforced in the community,” Kadlec said. “We’re really switching that and giving them the opportunity to create a community that they want to live in.”
While this may be the case, Kadlec pointed out some reluctance in his organization has faced with private owners. He noted that in one instance, a park in Durango was sold in 2010 for $7 million, then again two years later for $9.5 million, then again three years later for $14 million before residents finally bought it. Pogue noted that in past years, the county has tried purchasing one of the county’s parks and but that its offer was not received.
“The reality is that investors are aware of the option here to make a lot of money and really how lucrative it can be to purchase these parks,” Kadlec said. “You get direct cash flow and there’s little investment you have to make into the homes themselves or managing the infrastructure of the land. You can keep them together with duct tape and tweezers as long as you want and make a lot of money off of it.”
Between Summit County’s three remaining mobile home parks, there are about 240 homes, all of which provide affordable housing to community members. Javier Pineda, community organizer for Mountain Dreamers, told the commissioners that finding out-of-the-box solutions to protect these homes is crucial for the community as a whole.
“We notice that there’s a lot of families in these homes, and yeah, there’s a lot of projects in the county that. In a way, they only kind of serve single individuals and not really families,” Pineda said. “I think finding that balance between different units, homes, apartments, is a very key aspect of that.”