American Dream slipping away for mobile home owners in Colorado

Karen Finch thought she had found her retirement paradise in San Souci Mobile Home Park in Boulder.

Her orange and blue trimmed home sits next to state land that leaves her an unobstructed view of the Rocky Mountains.

"We wanted to be in a place and live within our means and yet be able to give our daughter things that were important to her."

But said the park's new corporate owners plan to raise the rent. Now she's uncertain about whether she'll be able to remain in the park, where she's been for decades, raised a daughter and had settled in for her golden years.

"I don't want to move from here. I love it here. This has been my home, my memories are here my family memories."

Shannon Holloman used some of her retirement money to buy her family their own mobile home yet she pays rent to live in a condo.

Holloman, her husband, and 13-year-old son Luke as well as several other families were forced out of their mobile homes in May when Denver Meadows Mobile Home Park closed and they had to vacate the premises.

"I used my retirement money to pay for repairs and the purchase of the mobile home and unfortunately the park has closed and my mobile home sits there. We can't live in it," Holloman said.

Once home to more than 100 families, owners of the park decided to close it and find developers willing to buy the land that sits next to a Veteran Affairs hospital and large hospital complex.

Residents formed an association and offered to buy the park for themselves for $20 million. They could not meet the terms of a $27 million counter offer for half the park.

Across the country, mobile home parks are an attractive investment.

Tenants own their homes but not the land they sit on, and because the homes aren't actually easy to move, are at the mercy of land owners, who can increase rents or sell the land out from under them.

Some states are passing laws to increase protections for mobile home owners, while nonprofit groups are also stepping in to help residents facing rent hikes or evictions.

Colorado's law passed this year creates a process for resolving disputes between mobile home park residents and its owners.

"They have to be protected. And I don't want to see them squeezed out," said State Rep. Edie Hooton, a Democratic from Boulder and lead sponsor of the bill.

Pitkin County, which includes the tony town of Aspen, has over the decades taken steps to preserve the five parks within its borders, including buying Phillips Mobile Home Park last year. It had been targeted by developers.

When the time came for her to sell the mobile home park she and her son owned near Aspen, 89-year-old Harriett Noyes had two big offers and an even bigger decision: Take nearly $30 million from a developer who would likely evict her family and friends to build luxury homes, or sell to the county for a fraction of that to preserve affordable housing in one of the most expensive areas in the United States.

She chose family and friends.

Carved into a red-rock hillside along the banks of the Roaring Fork River in the mountains of western Colorado, the park is one of the last bastions of affordable housing in the area, which takes pride in its world-class skiing and is a veritable playground for the rich and the famous.

Noyes and her son Hyrum, 61, sold the 76-acre park to Pitkin County for $6.5 million in 2018 with the promise of upgrades and to keep the community affordable.

The deal preserved as affordable housing 35 mobile homes, four cabins and an old ranch house, according to The Aspen Times.

Hyrum Noyes said they turned down a $30 million offer because that would have meant closing the park.

"It's just like a big extended family and we just cannot, in our own persons, throw them to the street and make them homeless," Noyes said of their decision to accept the county's offer.

One of Pitkin County commissioners, Patti Kay-Clapper, lives in one of the first parks preserved by the county.

Clapper and her husband, Tommy, bought their 860-square-foot, 1967 single-wide trailer and the land beneath it in 1987, and have lived there ever since.

"A lot of places are not going to survive and people will put in the effort but they gotta try," she said.

Credit: Larry Ryckman/The Colorado Sun

"Parked: Half the American Dream" is a collaboration between Colorado Sun, Associated Press, Colorado Independent, Fort Collins Coloradoan, Greeley Tribune, Grand Junction Daily Sentinel, KUNC, KDVR-FOX31, Durango Herald, Ouray County Plaindealer, Steamboat Pilot, Montrose Daily Press, Delta County Independent, Aspen Times, Aurora Sentinel, and Telluride Daily Planet.

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