MOBILE HOMELESS? Prospects bleak for residents of Aurora park caught in affordable housing crunch

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AURORA | Petra Bennett has lived in the Denver Meadows Mobile Home and Recreational Vehicle Park, overlooking the Anschutz Medical Campus in North Aurora, for 16 years. There, she has raised three children and planted trees and an ornate garden along a stone path leading to her front door.

Today, a sign on the side of her home reads, “My community is not for sale.”

Bennett, 49, is one of about 100 residents on East 17th Avenue off Potomac Street who are protesting the owner’s decision to close the mobile home park in June 2018 and sell the property for redevelopment in a part of the city that’s seeing unprecedented growth.

“In two years, I’ll  be homeless,” said Bennett, who has paid tens of thousands of dollars in interest on her mobile home and said she will not be able to save enough to pay it off before the park closes as owners are raising the rent. “I need two tractor-trailers to move it at $10,000 … I don’t have $10,000, nor can I save $10,000 in two years.”

In a note to residents, Denver Meadows property managers Faye and Ted Cline wrote they no longer wish to run the mobile home and are ready to retire.

But residents of the park say the park owner wants to sell the property at a high price to a developer. In addition to being so near the Anschutz Medical Campus, the 20-acre Denver Meadows property sits next to the Colfax Station of Regional Transportation District’s forthcoming R-Line light rail.

“They can’t sell it to an investor with us here. They’re trying everything to get us out of here any way they can,” Bennett said. “I understand it is prime property, but I can’t understand how they are going to put it on our backs and say ‘Screw you, be homeless.’”

In addition to monthly mortgage payments, Denver Meadows tenants also pay the mobile home park pay a lot fee of $780 per month. In August, property managers sent a letter to residents notifying them of a $60 hike coming in November, raising the monthly total to $840.

Bennett said her full-time job as a district manager at a convenience store is barely enough to pay her rent as is.

Fay Cline, who closely monitors the activities of residents by patrolling the grounds in a golf cart, repeatedly declined to comment on the rent hike or the future of the site.

In July, Aurora City Council tabled a controversial rezoning measure seeking to ultimately turn the mobile home park into a trendy light-rail station development. At the time, council members were terse with city staff over concerns that planners did not do enough to educate Denver Meadows residents about what the rezoning would mean for them.

Aurora city planners countered that the Meadows owner did not want staff assistance with subsequent meetings to be held with residents, after the owner’s attempt to rezone the site for transit-oriented development was voted down by Aurora’s Planning Commission in May.

Shawn Lustigman, who has owned the mobile home park for nearly 30 years, declined to specify what he planned to do with it once it closes. “It’s my property,” he said.

He also did not respond to emails asking why he is increasing the rent at the mobile home park without making new improvements, and with plans to close it in two years.

Lustigman owns two other mobile home parks in Colorado, both with cheaper lot fees than Denver Meadows. Rents range from $430 to $480 to per month at Lustigman’s A-1 Mobile Village in Colorado Springs, according to the site’s property manager; at Lustigman’s Berkley Village Mobile homes in Arvada, lot rents start at $680, according to the property manager there.

At the Meadows, a separately-owned community of mobile homes a few miles south of Lustigman’s mobile home park off of I-225, lot rents average $682 per month, according to property manager Zayra Villasana.

Another Denver Meadows resident, who did not want to give her name because she feared retaliation from the property manager, said she will not be able to move her trailer because it was built in the early 1970s. Most mobile home parks are wary to accept pre-1976 homes because they were constructed before the federal department of Housing and Urban Development created standards for manufactured housing.

“I used some of my retirement money for this place,” she said, referring to the $10,000 she has almost paid back since purchasing the home a year ago at a 10-percent interest rate. She said she now pays $369 a month for the trailer, in addition to the lot fee, which has increased twice since she moved into Denver Meadows last year.

“I haven’t physically talked to (Fay) for a year and a half. I’ve tried to cut ties with her because the conversation will not go anywhere positive,” the woman said.

For the rent increases, residents of Denver Meadows say they are getting nothing, and that the property is becoming more unbearable and decrepit every day. Raccoons and feral cats can be seen scampering between trailers come sunset. Private parking signs line the private streets leading up to the mobile homes, and the Denver Meadows property owners have hired a tow company to remove vehicles not parked in a mobile home owner’s reserved space. Residents say their vehicles are towed at random from the property.

Trailer park officials did not return phone calls to comment on the allegations.

Cities in Colorado do have ways of preserving mobile home communities. In 2003, Boulder bought the Mapleton mobile home park, and Boulder City Council passed a resolution to preserve the area for affordable housing. Today, the property is run by Thistle Communities, a nonprofit that creates and manages affordable housing. However, Mapleton is the only permanently affordable mobile home park in Boulder, according to Thistle.

Sally Moser, a spokeswoman for Thistle, said the Mapleton Home Association, which is made up residents, manages the park, where rent lots start at $350 per month. Since the nonprofit acquired Mapleton in 2004, half of the people living there then still live there today, she said.

The Mapleton mobile home park is unique because it is required to keep 120 out of its 135 home sites permanently affordable, with lot rents adjusted to homeowners who qualify for the nonprofit’s low-income buyer program, she added.

Moser said it took several years of cooperation between Boulder City Council members and city agencies to make Mapleton the affordable housing community it is today. By tabling the Denver Meadows issue in July, the Aurora City Council has so far brushed the issue aside.

“It’s one of the last places for low-income housing,” Bennett said of why she plans to continue to fight the owner’s decision to close the Meadows. “Like most Coloradans, we’re all living paycheck to paycheck.”