Affordable housing takes a hit — Jerry Allen

Daily Camera, Boulder, CO
POSTED:   02/20/2015 04:09:33 PM MST

The American Dream of owning a home is shared by most, but in a city where 60,000 workers commute in every day and median housing prices are in the half-million-dollar range, the challenge of owning one’s own home is significantly greater. So it’s no wonder the Boulder City Council seeks to increase the number of affordable housing units. However, while council members wrestle with this very important need, they best keep an eye on the foxes guarding Boulder’s existing, unsubsidized, affordable housing.

Vista Village Mobile Park near Airport Drive and Valmont Boulevard, one of the nicer parks in Boulder, has recently implemented an oppressive rule that is sure to increase affordable housing prices. Where the city intends to transfer 3.2 acres of land to Boulder Housing Partners for a plan to develop 44 new affordable housing units, Vista Village alone is home to 300 existing affordable housing units. And whatever affects the residents of Vista Village affects all mobile park residents in Colorado, as well as the city’s affordable housing goals.

Though mobile parks are private businesses, they aren’t just any for-profit business, for they provide the foundation for whole communities to exist. People rely on them, trust in them to provide the security of “home” — and “home” requires a long-term commitment of years, decades, even whole lifetimes. And so it is the moral responsibility of those engaging in the incredibly lucrative business of mobile home parks to unwaveringly stand by a commitment to provide stability in the lives of their residents.

What Vista Village is now doing is apt to push mobile park communities off their foundations, setting a precedent not only in Boulder but across the state. In 1976, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development issued standardized rules for mobile home manufacturers, now a requirement for continued residency in Vista Village that the park is using to deceitfully push out older mobile homes for costlier newer ones. I bought my 1975 mobile home in Vista Village eight years ago with the full intent of someday selling and moving on, but when I recently told management of my intent, I was informed that I’d have to remove my unit at the time of its sale.

Yet Vista Village had not prevented the previous owner of my unit from selling it to me, when I took over its possession inside of Vista Village. I was a prime example back then of what Vista Village now claims is prohibited. And we aren’t talking about dilapidated mobile homes, either. On the contrary, Vista Village notifies us all of even the slightest of park rule infractions — a mobile home’s condition and visual appeal are certainly on that list. Drive through Vista Village and you’ll see a nice clean park. And like most any homeowner, over the years I’ve made many improvements to my home, as have many of my neighbors to their homes.

Further, the park’s recent HUD certification requirement will devastate the financial status of many mobile home owners, causing them undue hardship and a possible total loss of their home values. This will essentially force many into continuing their lot rental against their will, as no other mobile park will accept a unit of such age. Thus the very essence of the American Dream is at stake, where California-based Vista Village takes as much as $150,000 of rental income each month out of state, yet feels pressed upon to squeeze out just a little more profit from those least able to afford it.

Imagine a graduate student thinking of his own American Dream. He answers an ad where an elderly mobile park resident needs to sell her pre-1976 home so she can move into a nursing home. A perfect match, except that under this arbitrary rule, the owner would not only lose her investment in her home, she’d have to keep renting her lot space because she can’t afford to have her home moved. And where would Vista Village propose she put it, anyway? The dump? That would be worse than a total loss. And the student, of course, would miss out on a sound financial opportunity to get ahead.

So to make gains in affordable housing units, we must first prevent the loss of more-affordable housing already in the state’s midst. City Council, county commissioners, our legislative representatives, and the governor ought to do something to protect the American Dream from these uncaring, oftentimes out-of-state mobile park owners — for though housing costs have certainly changed, the American Dream has not.

 Jerry Allen lives in Boulder.