On Sept. 11, The Colorado Sun published a moving story about new laws changing Colorado’s mobile-home parks. A segment of the story involved the successful resident purchase of the Fort Collins’ Parklane Mobile Home Park. Parklane is home to 200 adults and more than 100 children, most of whom are Latino.
Resident purchases of mobile home parks are infrequent; fewer than 10 of Colorado’s 900 mobile home parks have been purchased by residents. So, the success of the Parklane buyout led us to ask a fundamental question:
Why was this effort successful, and could it be easily replicated?
This question led us to Nicole Armstrong, Executive Director of The Matthews House, a Fort Collins nonprofit. Nicole is the spokesperson for the Board of Directors of the non-profit formed to preserve the affordability of Parklane: United Neighbors/Vecinos Unidos, or UN/VU. She is not a park resident.
Nicole helped us understand the emotional and complex journey that unfolded after the residents of Parklane received notice in December 2021 that the park would be sold. The residents, uncertain about their housing future, reached out to The Matthews House and The Genesis Project, trusted partners that have served the park community since 2015.
Neither of these nonprofits had engaged in a financial transaction of this nature and, to outsiders, were not logical partners for this effort. But the leaders of the nonprofits were strongly committed to the residents of the Parklane community.
Early on, the UN/VU Board of Directors worked with the residents to answer a basic question: What rent payments could the residents afford, and would it be sufficient to pay off the substantial debt that would be needed to buy the park. UN/VU then brought together a team of community experts to provide free or low-cost assistance for important matters such as due diligence, legal contracts, and financing arrangements. Success required a unified approach and a journey grounded in relationship, understanding, and belonging.
Nontraditional financing is critical to the success of a resident buyout of a mobile home park. In the case of Parklane, park residents were fortunate to find a strong “first in” partner — Larimer County. The County tapped American Recovery Act funds to commit a $1 million forgivable loan.
The forgivable nature of the loan created positive financial incentives for residents, and importantly, led to commitments from other parties. As previously reported, this included a $2.8 million low-interest rate loan from the Bohemian Foundation and a $3 million loan from the Impact Development Fund. The Impact Development Fund is a Community Development Financial Institution, a special type of financial organization that can turn to bank partners and the State of Colorado for financial contributions.
The transaction closed Aug. 1, and residents of Parklane Mobile Home Park re-named their community Nueva Vida Mobile Home Park, which means New Life Mobile Home Park. These proud residents not only came together as a community, but they found a way to ensure affordable housing for their families for the long term.
After hearing the story of Parklane, the Affordable Housing Team of the League of Women Voters of Larimer County questioned whether the Parklane effort could be replicated in other parks. Not surprisingly, we concluded that it would be a challenge.
Funding resources from the American Rescue Plan will be exhausted within a few years, if not earlier. And in some areas of the state, it may be difficult to find nonprofits or individuals willing to spend the time and effort needed to carry out a major financial transaction on behalf of mobile home park residents. And not every mobile home park community will understand the financial costs and benefits of a leveraged purchase.
Nonetheless, our team is convinced that we must try, and we challenge every Colorado community to identify the needed resources before more park sales occur. With the proper financial resources and expertise, Colorado communities can promote equity and the preservation of affordable housing in a way that provides positive incentives for residents and preserves community pride.
We also encourage Coloradans to support Proposition 123 on the November ballot . Proposition 123 diverts 0.1% of state income tax revenue for affordable housing. Proposition 123 is something Colorado residents can afford. Let’s give local communities the resources they need to “move the needle” on our housing crisis.
Jane Hamburger, of Fort Collins, is president of the League of Women Voters of Larimer County.
Julie Stackhouse, of Fort Collins, is a member of the affordable housing team of the League of Women Voters of Larimer County.
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