Considering home prices in the area, it is easy to understand where Gallardo Loya is coming from. Durango, Colorado is home to more than 19,000 people, according to the latest estimates from the U.S. Census Bureau. Although it is over six hours away by car from the mega-competitive housing market in Denver, the Durango community is experiencing an affordable housing crisis of its own.
According to the Durango Area Association of Realtors, La Plata County is in a housing inventory pinch. Between 2021 and 2022, median home prices increased by more than $100,000 to $612,000.
Lisa Bloomquist knows this predicament well. As the executive director of HomesFund, she helps people buy houses in Durango.
“We’re trying to get people over that hump because workforce wages are down here, and home prices are up here, and we have to overcome that gap,” Bloomquist explained.
She often advises homeowners to purchase mobile homes.
“They still get the price stability, they still get a roof over their head, they still get to paint the walls whatever color they want,” Bloomquist said.
The median home price for a mobile home in Durango is $70,000, about eight times cheaper than the median cost of a single-family home. But mobile homeowners in Durango face problems when their parks go up for sale.
Buying Westside Mobile Home Park
When Westside Mobile Home Park went up for sale in late 2021, Stefka Fanchi with Elevation Community Land Trust asked the park’s residents if Elevation could put in an offer to buy the park on their behalf.
“Our offer for the mobile home park is designed to match the offer of the corporation that’s trying to purchase it,” she explained at the time.
On March 15, the landlord denied the $5.56 million offer to buy Westside Mobile Home Park, but the park owner did not shut the door completely. The owner provided a list of the reasons why the other offer was stronger and that set things in motion for residents to craft a second offer.
The same week the negotiations were held, Gallardo Loya started feeling contractions.
“I want the landlord to touch his heart, and to see that this isn’t just about money. We are real families wishing for our dream to come true,” she said in March.
Soon, that wish came true.
The residents’ second offer was accepted, and Elevation Community Land Trust went under contract to purchase the land. When Fanchi told the residents that the sellers accepted their offer, the residents clapped, cheered, cried tears of joy and kissed their children in relief.
“I could not be more thrilled for the residents of Westside, and for the opportunity to dream alongside them,” Fanchi said.
With the sale, Westside Mobile Home Park became the fourth park in the state to sell to their residents since the law giving residents opportunity to purchase their land passed in 2020.
As Rocky Mountain PBS’ recent reporting shows, the difference between resident-owned mobile home parks and parks that are owned by private companies can be vast. In Longmont, for example, a resident-owned park was able to lower rent and help residents save money during the pandemic. But in Golden, people living in Golden Hills Mobile Home Park are dealing with a rent increase and “a whole list of rules that kind of changed everything” after a private company bought the park.
Private investors are purchasing mobile home parks at a much higher rate than in years past. “Driven by some of the strongest returns in real estate, investors have shaken up a once-sleepy sector that’s home to more than 22 million mostly low-income Americans in 43,000 communities,” Michael Casey and Carolyn Thompson recently reported for The Associated Press. “Many aggressively promote the parks as ensuring a steady return — by repeatedly raising rent.”
According to that same AP report, roughly 20% of mobile home lots nationwide have been purchased by institutional investors in the last eight years. The residents at Westside were thrilled to avoid that fate.
Sonia Gutierrez is a multimedia journalist with Rocky Mountain PBS. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.