Community leaders discuss mobile home parks in panel following ‘A Decent Home’ film screening
Community members gathered Wednesday, July 20, at the Colorado Mountain College campus in Breckenridge for a community discussion and screening of the film “A Decent Home,” a documentary that explores the purchase and sales of mobile home parks across the country.
In the film, director Sara Terry travels across the United States to highlight the effects of mobile home park sales and rent increases. One park, Denver Meadows in Aurora, is followed throughout the film — from notice of sale until its final days of being a community. Though the families who lived there ended up being displaced, Terry said that the fight put up against the sale meant families in the future would have more protections.
Since the end of Denver Meadows, several bills in the state Legislature expanded rights for families who live in mobile home parks. According to state data, it is estimated that more than 100,000 Coloradans live in mobile homes.
“I needed that act to be in the film to show you what happens when people fight back,” Terry said. “Maybe you don’t make that win the first time, but you don’t give up. You keep going. You have victories. Denver Meadows lost, but everybody else benefited as those laws have been coming forward. It is the nature of the overwhelming greed and wealth inequity in this country to make us feel disabled and powerless and threatened.”
Mountain Dreamers Executive Director Peter Bakken said that the communities in the film closely reflected the events of Cottonwood Court and D&D, mobile home parks in Silverthorne that sold to Riverthorne LLC last winter. Mountain Dreamers provided support to the families that lived there. Families that were displaced were required to leave by the end of June, and since then, some have left the community entirely, including to Fairplay, Denver and Phoenix.
“It was so uncanny how it captured the experience we had over the winter with that mobile home park, and from the process to the notices on the door to people coming to us asking ‘What do we do? What does this mean?’” Bakken said. “Because even in English, you can’t read those notices. To the town council meeting — about 30 residents went to the Silverthorne Town Council meeting. I mean, it’s just a mirror of what we did, or trying to do.”
Rep. Julie McCluskie, who represents Summit County in the state Legislature, has worked on several bills to help provide more protections to families that live in mobile home parks. McCluskie said that though some progress has been made, there are still significant improvements that can be continued through future legislation to protect mobile home owners.
In 2019, legislation directly tied to the events of Denver Meadows and other parks in Colorado was passed that allowed for a dispute resolution process, a way for mobile home owners to share a grievance and have that grievance heard by the state. Then in 2020, McCluskie carried another bill that aimed to allow for community purchase, meaning that homeowners could buy the land from the park owner. During the last session, another bill was passed to establish a new loan program and an agency to further help homeowners buy the land their homes sit on.
Javier Pineda, Mountain Dreamers co-founder and community organizer, said that local elections are especially important in cases involving rights for mobile home communities. Most changes to tenants’ rights would have to happen at the local and state level, rather than the federal level.
“In the work that we were able to do with the limited time, that only spoke to the leadership of the residents because we were able to just be a voice,” Pineda said. “The real heroes here are the residents who were able to organize themselves and to advocate for themselves. I think that also speaks to the message in the film of that sense of community (in mobile home parks).”
All of the panelists agreed that mobile homes provide a solution to the dire shortage of affordable housing, especially when it comes to home ownership rather than paying rent. Buyers can use cash up front if they can not get a mortgage or loan, and mobile homes can be significantly more affordable than traditional homes.
Terry’s film argues that corporate greed is what prevents mobile home parks from continuing to provide affordable housing options. Families own the mobile home, but the park owners own the land under them, meaning they can sell it or raise the rent of the lots at any time.
“In my opinion, there are some new builds happening in the county that only accommodate people who are working on the slopes that might have a significant other, and if they do, they don’t have a family,” Pineda said. “So mobile homes, for example, they can have three rooms to use, and comfortably, maybe eight people can live in them. With any options for affordable housing that we’re seeing, in many projects, you’re getting that 600-square-foot studio. In a way, it helps with (family housing), and it also helps with pricing.”