Voces Unidas de las Montañas: Give local governments the tools they need to provide housing security
I grew up in a trailer park, like many working families in Eagle County. The preferred term is mobile home park, although neither of those names is a very accurate description of the neighborhood our family lived in. Our home was hardly mobile, and the idea of hooking it up to a trailer hitch and driving to another location was out of the question. This was our house, our neighborhood, our home.
As the son of Mexican immigrants, my story is pretty typical of many Latinos and Latinas in the central-mountain region. My father came to the resort towns of Colorado to work as a restaurant worker, my mother working in hotels or cleaning private homes. As the resorts grew and the cost of housing increased, we were forced to move often, chasing affordability up and down these valleys until we settled in a mobile home park. It was a good place to grow up, and where we found a sense of community and security.
Even now, mobile home parks serve as the last bastion of unsubsidized affordable housing in Colorado, and a critical piece of the workforce housing puzzle in our mountain resort communities. But for those who depend upon these places as workforce housing or starter homes, the affordability is as fleeting as the dwindling sense of community and security we once knew.
Affordable housing has long been atop the list of concerns among working families of Colorado’s High Country, with the broader issue of housing security joining it shortly after the start of the pandemic. About a third of Coloradans live in housing they don’t own, and the economic fragility of low-income renters has become even more evident now that pandemic-era rental assistance has run out and evictions escalate. Among mobile home park residents, the scenario is even direr.
Look no farther than the nearby Dotsero Mobile Home Park that was recently purchased by the Three Pillars Communities corporation out of California as an example. Since being outbid on their attempt last June to buy the property themselves, residents have seen their rents increase nearly 40% per month, with the potential to go even higher. By next winter, those residents can be legally evicted at the new owner’s discretion.
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This is a critical issue for Vail and other resort communities because mobile home park residents are the workers who keep the resorts running. They are being priced out, and that means moving and finding work in less-expensive communities.
Colorado’s state legislature has worked to address this situation over the past few years, beginning with the 2019 Mobile Home Park Act that has been expanded through 2022’s Protections for Mobile Home Park Residents Act. Yet the law continues to fall short when it comes to concerns like unreasonable rent increases or unjust evictions. A handful of bills introduced in the current legislative session aim to address those shortcomings.
Among them, the recently introduced HB-1115 (Local Control of Rents) would remove the current state law prohibiting local officials from instituting any rent control or stabilization policies of their own. While the bill does not call for rent control, it does provide local governments with an additional tool that, when combined with other strategic policies, can better address the escalating costs of living in their communities in order to preserve things like workforce housing.
Additionally, HB-1171 (Just Cause Requirement for Eviction of Residential Tenant) strengthens renters’ rights by limiting evictions to justifiable reasons like failure to pay rent and allowing tenants the right of first refusal when their lease expires, among other things. Neither bill is limited to mobile home park residents, although both would apply to situations like the one in Dotsero.
By now, however, it should be obvious to all that the lack of housing security poses a crisis for every renter in Colorado and local elected officials need every available tool to address it. Housing stability is the foundation for healthy and thriving communities, yet the increasing cost of rents has far outpaced wages, creating a nearly insurmountable gap in affordability for renters across Colorado — particularly in the High Country. The increased financial pressure has led to a 266% increase in chronic homelessness over the past 15 years in Colorado, giving us the dubious distinction of the largest increase of any state in the nation.
Colorado has long been a pioneer in the tradition of local control, recognizing that local elected officials are most closely connected to the needs of the community and are uniquely positioned to set policy benefiting that community. It’s time we apply that same pioneering spirit to housing security by passing bills like HB-1115 that give our local officials the tools they need to make Colorado a better state for all who live here. Together, we can put these tools to use to address the affordable housing crisis facing Colorado and ensure that everyone, regardless of zip code or race, has a safe, dignified and stable home they can afford.
Alex Sánchez is the founder and CEO of Voces Unidas de las Montañas and Voces Unidas Action Fund, nonprofit organizations working in Summit, Lake, Eagle, Pitkin, and Garfield counties. His column appears monthly.