FORT COLLINS — Fort Collins leaders are taking advantage of a reshuffled city council lineup to dust off proposed mobile home park reforms that have long failed to gain traction.
The policies taking shape could help preserve over 30 mobile home parks in the city and surrounding areas and improve conditions for thousands of residents - some of whom told the Coloradoan they feel stuck in communities where they have no control over their utility bills, face annual rent increases and deal with flooding, unlit and unpaved roads and fear of displacement.
City council put a moratorium on redevelopment of mobile home parks that will stay in place until August 2020 or until leaders have enacted protections for park residents. Council asked staff to gather information on four courses of action: increasing the required notice of park redevelopment beyond the current standard of 6 months, enacting resident rights regulations including one that sets procedures for mobile home park utility billing, creating a mobile-home-specific zoning district and giving mobile home residents or nonprofits the opportunity to purchase park land when it goes up for sale.
Council has seen some of these proposed reforms before - six years ago, when Mayor Wade Troxell was the only person on council who still holds office today. Council at the time rejected longer periods of redevelopment notice and mobile-home-exclusive zoning because some members said those regulations restricted the rights of property owners and developers.
Fort Collins City Council member Emily Gorgol, who’s helped push mobile home issues to the top of council’s priorities, called mobile home residents “a forgotten segment of our community.”
“It’s like living half the American dream, because you own your home but not the land underneath your feet,” she said. “It’s hard to see, especially in Fort Collins, where we talk about the high quality of life everyone has, and a large portion of our community doesn’t feel that way.”
City leaders have debated for decades the regulatory landscape of Fort Collins’ mobile home parks, which run the gamut from neat lines of custom-designed double-wides and on-site swimming pools to unpaved roads winding between dilapidated 1960s-era trailers. The ownership dynamic of mobile homes often leads to power imbalances, Gorgol said, and city government has somewhat limited authority for intervention because the parks sit on private land.
The Coloradoan interviewed residents of Poudre Valley, Parklane, Hickory Village and Skyline mobile home communities for this story. Some interviews were conducted using a Spanish interpreter. The residents aren’t being named because they fear they could face eviction for speaking to the media about their communities.
Owners of the parks mentioned in this story didn’t return Coloradoan requests for comment.
One park resident told the Coloradoan she has to take off her shoes and wade through flood water if she wants to leave her home after it rains. Another said her park’s property manager refuses to cut down large dead tree branches dangling over her home. Many said their water and sewer bills fluctuate regardless of their water use and home size. And all said they’ve faced annual rent increases of $25 to $50 a month for the last 5 to 10 years.
But the residents feel there’s little they can do to change their circumstances.
Moving a mobile home in Larimer County is not only cost-prohibitive but also near-impossible for some residents who own older homes. Parks typically don’t accept homes manufactured before 1976, which is the case for about 20% of all mobile homes sold in the county in the last six years.
“That’s why we feel like our hands are tied,” said a Parklane mobile home park resident who spoke to the Coloradoan using a Spanish interpreter. Her mobile home is from the early ‘70s. “If they kick us out, we can’t even take our home with us.”
A resident of Skyline mobile home park, one of Fort Collins’ age-restricted communities, showed the Coloradoan annual records of rent increases that far outpace his Social Security income. Since 2015, his social security payment has increased $38 a month and his rent has increased $133 a month as utility costs also climbed.
His home is new enough to move to a different park. But he’s not leaving.
“99% of the people in here, they don’t move,” said the man’s 74-year-old neighbor. “That’s more than they could even possibly consider (at this age). So you’re in jail.”
Residents are also fearful their parks will close and leave them with nowhere to go. Five parks have closed in and near Fort Collins since 1996, displacing over 460 families. One park closed after the 1997 Spring Creek Flood and was eventually replaced by student housing. Another closed in 2006 because of low-occupancy and has since been replaced by single-family lots. Three more closed in 1996, 2008 and 2012 to make way for residential and commercial development.
A new park hasn’t opened in Fort Collins since 1989, although Sun Communities is reportedly in early development stages for a new 211-unit park in south Fort Collins.
Current regulations require six months’ notice of mobile home park redevelopment. Fort Collins negotiates resident relocation assistance with owners or developers on a case-by-case basis.
The city could slow down or possibly prevent mobile home park redevelopment by extending the required notice and creating a zoning district exclusively for mobile home parks, which existed until 1997. Current zoning allows developers to put other types of construction, like commercial and industrial development, on mobile home park sites without going through a costly and time-intensive rezoning process.
If rights of first refusal come to fruition, mobile home owners could have the opportunity to pool their funds and make a bid for parks when they go on the market. Poudre Valley, Hickory Village and Parklane residents said they’re interested in that possibility - because, despite their issues with management, there’s a lot they love about their communities.
They said they love having yards and unshared walls. They love paying less rent than they would for an apartment. They love living in communities where their neighbors look like them and speak their first language.
They’re working with La Familia’s Mi Voz program, a civic engagement group that teaches residents how to advocate for themselves, to push city council for policies requiring tree maintenance, bilingual contracts and other resident protections.
“We’re not asking for extra stuff,” said a Poudre Valley resident who spoke to the Coloradoan using a Spanish interpreter. “We just want the things that are fair. We just want people to know that we exist and we’re not being treated fairly.”
Council is planning to hold a work session on mobile home park reforms in December. Gorgol, who works with mobile home park residents through her job as a special projects director at La Familia, said she hopes reforms will better their communities but also dispel pervasive stereotypes about mobile home parks.
“I think not recognizing mobile home parks as a place where people actually want to live has really caused a lot of harm,” Gorgol said. “In my heart of hearts, I really hope this starts to destigmatize mobile home communities and shed some light on what wonderful places they could be.”