Inside two Colorado mobile home communities fighting to avoid business takeovers – with vastly different results

These sale prices can often run into the millions or tens of millions of dollars – in some communities, values ​​have doubled to $ 150,000 per lot, one investor said. In response, an alliance of nonprofits and investors has sprung up to help residents make their offers.

In Hickory Village, residents began by paying $ 25 per household to join a new co-op that could represent them. They appointed officers, including Fulbright, who describes himself as a complete introvert.

“I’m not a outgoing type person, but I’ve also recognized for many years that it takes leadership – it takes people who are going to come out and do something,” said Fulbright, whose job has varied. from manual labor to operating the water plant.

Meanwhile, the Thistle nonprofit was working to organize the fundraising. Under the resident-owned model, nonprofits strive to arrange low-interest loans for residents. This money may come from philanthropies, but the organizers have also worked for years to convince large financial institutions to make an investment perceived as “risky”.

Hart Van Denburg / CPR News
Robert Browell has lived at Hickory Village Mobile Home Park in Fort Collins for 20 years.

The moment of truth

Soon, Hickory Village was ready for the next step. In another vote, members of the co-op agreed to make an offer of $ 23.1 million to buy the property. To repay the loan, residents would have to face a heavy financial burden. Over the course of five years, the lot’s rent would drop from about $ 500 to about $ 950 per month, Fulbright said.

Fulbright thought it was worth it. A study in New Hampshire found that despite initial cost increases, resident-owned communities tended to settle into below-market rents – and they also became more valuable.

“They see exactly where every dollar is going and can control any rent increases,” said Andy Kadlec, program director for Thistle, who worked on the Hickory Village effort.

There was only one problem. The owner told them their offer was not high enough. The original notice omitted hundreds of thousands of dollars in additional costs.

“It got really complex,” Fulbright said. The residents had to bring in a lawyer and organize a new offer. And over the weeks, the interest of the community plummeted. Attendance at meetings declined and people began to spread rumors about the real cost to residents.

On the day of my visit, everything was to come to a head. The leaders of the cooperative were asking for signatures of support. That evening they would meet at a nearby city park to see if they had enough momentum.

Bill Fulbright at his home in Hickory Village in Fort Collins on July 20, 2021.

Fulbright remained hopeful all day, imagining a future for an autonomous community.

“I might need a little second job, if we buy the place,” he said as he walked around the neighborhood.

But when he arrived at the meeting place a few hours later, the truth became clear. There were only two people waiting: a friend of Fulbright’s and the director of the park, Derald Ketels. There would be no second offer. The community organizing effort was dead.

Ketels said he was ultimately not surprised by the result: “I had my theories from the start. He thought the rent hike was just too intimidating for struggling residents.

Still, he admitted, he was disappointed. “I was hoping something would happen,” he said. “I would prefer the cooperative, just because I don’t like big companies… I work for the residents, I don’t work for the owners.

Fulbright tried not to betray his disappointment. A long and drawn-out process had allowed disinformation to spread and derail the effort, he said. And now he wasn’t so sure he was sticking around.

“I would like to find a place where I can block a monthly payment. I can’t do it in Fort Collins, ”he said. “I don’t have enough money set aside. “

Diana Castro, a Colorado 9-5 organizer, stands next to a stream near the mobile home park where she grew up in Fort Collins.

What didn’t go well?

For mobile home advocates, such defeats are common. Of 80 Colorado communities that have been listed for sale since the “buy-to-buy” law came into effect, only two have gone to residents.

“It’s always David versus Goliath in these situations – dealing with these venture capitalists who have a lot of money and equity from many different partners,” Kadlec said.

Uncooperative owners can make the buying effort particularly difficult, advocates said. Kadlec and others are keen to see the law revised to give residents access to more information from landlords, including the types of financial documents made available to other buyers.

“For residents to be a competitive buyer… they should also be entitled to any documents or resources that other buyers would be entitled to access – and the transparency to see the other offer on the table,” he said. he declares.

Tracey Stewart helped fund resident purchases as a senior program manager for the Colorado Health Foundation. She wants to see more bite for the law, to ensure that park owners are not able to shirk their responsibilities under the law.

“Understanding that sellers always have the right to sell their property as they see fit, there is always a good conversation to be had about acting in good faith and truly understanding your role as a landlord, and what it means moving without working with the community you are about to disrupt, ”she said.

The current law states that owners must “bargain in good faith”, but does not require them to accept counter-offers from residents. In some cases, offers from large investors may be more advantageous because they require fewer contingencies. For example, a venture capital fund might be able to skip some due diligence inspections, while residents need to be more careful.

In general, advocates say it is extremely difficult to organize a community in just a few months after an offer to buy. Instead, they’re looking to bond with residents before the next sale begins.

“Ideally, we’re going to a community where we have boots on the ground,” said Andrea Chiriboga-Flor, state director of the nonprofit 9to5 Colorado.

Mobile homes in Leadville, where a new subdivision is underway nearby. The park doesn’t really have a name. He was sometimes known as the Arrow. If residents manage to buy, it will be renamed Cooperativa Nueva Unión. November 1, 2021.


In the high mountain town of Leadville, a counterexample is playing out this fall.

When a stranger started handing out flyers about community meetings several months ago, he feared the worst – that his community near downtown Leadville would be sold.

“We knew it probably wouldn’t be good news, and we didn’t want to know the bad things that were going to happen,” Cesiah Santillan, 37, said, speaking through an interpreter.

In fact, the owner of the park wanted to sell, but he wanted to sell to residents.

Cesiah Santillan, resident animator of a mobile home park. October 26, 2021.

“I guess I’m a bit unique about our situation,” said Matthew Bransfield, who bought the park in 2019 for $ 1 million with support from his small Denver-based investment group.

He originally intended to purchase more parks, in addition to one he co-owns in Empire, but competition with major investors has slowed this plan down. Instead, he found himself increasingly drawn to the resident-owned model.

“It sounds like something good that we can do inside the community and within an asset class, which in many cases has historically been predatory to the end tenant,” Bransfield said. , who could still benefit from the sale.

After the owner contacted housing planners, Thistle and the local Lake County Build A Generation nonprofit helped residents learn about the deal and navigate the buying process.

With extra time – and a cooperative owner – enthusiasm grew among the 30 or so households in the park. Several park residents have said they want to preserve some of Leadville’s last accessible and affordable housing. The park is within walking distance of the city’s historic Main Street and is right across from a half-built subdivision where homes sell for well over $ 500,000.

“We can pass this on to young people… even if you can’t afford the land individually, this community will always be preserved as a mobile home community,” said Esther Soto, president of the newly formed neighborhood cooperative, by l ‘intermediary of an interpreter.

The prospect of owning a home has changed the way some residents view the future.

Josefina Chairez, resident animator of a mobile home park. October 26, 2021.

If the sale takes place, “we’ll never have to worry about, ‘What if they sell it back? What if they put it up for sale? What if we have to move? We’ll never have to worry about it, ”Josefina Chairez, 50, a housekeeping supervisor at a local hotel, said through an interpreter.

In their house on the edge of the park, Santillan and her husband are building for this future. They had postponed a list of house projects for years, fearing they would be forced to move. But in recent months, they’ve replaced popcorn floors, doors and ceilings – with growing hope they’ll be there for the long haul.

“That’s when we really decided to do more work on our house,” she said.

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