More than a year ago, Aurora was blazing trails in how to handle the battle between mobile home park owners and helpless renters.
Now, Aurora lawmakers, like so many across the state, are struggling again with whether and how to preserve the dwindling stock of affordable housing.
When Aurora City Council members approved a 10-month moratorium on redeveloping mobile home parks in the city along with a task force to study the housing stock, the effort was lauded as a forward-thinking. Leaders, academics and residents were hopeful that it would prevent the depletion of the region's most affordable, non-subsidized housing option.
"This move on Aurora's part is incredible. I haven't seen this happen anywhere. So this is a huge move," Esther Sullivan, an assistant professor at the University of Colorado Denver who studies the role of mobile home parks, told the Sentinel after the passage. "They could be a model for the country here. Affordable housing advocates have to focus on preservation."
The eminent closure of the Denver Meadows Mobile Home Park, located on a swath of land north or East Colfax Ave., motivated council members to approve the moratorium and task force in March 2018, though the body was quick to point out both approvals were more far-reaching than Denver Meadows.
A year-and-a-half later, the moratorium has ended, Denver Meadows residents have all been forced to find new homes, which they say come nowhere close to being as affordable as their mobile homes, and the city is still working through how to move forward on preserving other mobile home parks.
The recommendations included proposals for stronger protections of residents facing retaliation, mandatory mediation, encourage using model leases, creating funding for land trusts and local law for a collective purchase opportunity.
So far, the city has taken on the task of creating more educational material for park residents and park owners, according to Deputy City Manager Jason Batchelor. Postcards will direct people to a city webpage with a list of resources, which will now include new state law for mobile home parks.
Between Adams and Arapahoe counties, which make up the bulk of Aurora, there are 92 mobile home parks, many of those are in unincorporated areas of the counties. In Aurora city limits, there are 11 total parks.
Sixty-six of the region's mobile home parks are in Adams County, according to the most recent assessor records. There are approximately 11,300 mobile homes in Adams County, which is an increase from a decade ago when the county reported having 68 parks but 10,413 homes. 20 years ago there were 71 parks and more than 13,000 mobile homes.
Brian Arnold, who sat on the mobile home task force, said he's already seen the success of the task force despite no city ordinances have come from the recommendations.
Arnold, who also sits on the state housing board, said the group has started talking more about the preservation of mobile homes since the creation of the task force. He isn't sure those conversations would be had at the state level without Aurora's efforts to initiate those discussions in the community.
"We of course want to keep getting in front of them (city council) and push for policy, I don't know how easy that will be with the city council we have right now," Arnold said. "That might be different after November."
Some of the group's recommendations were adopted into statewide legislation this year.
Boulder state House Rep. Edie Hooton sponsored the bill that made its way to the governor's desk this year. After the passage of the bill, she told the Sentinel that the seven parks in her own district have been her anchor for the issue, and that constituents have made it clear to her they wanted to see more protections.
"In 1985, Colorado passed the Mobile Homes Park Act and in that statute it addresses the rights of homeowners and park owners, but there was not a corresponding enforcement mechanism," she said. "Since then, almost 40 years now, there's been a pretty significant imbalance between homeowners, who pay lot fees on property that they don't own a home that they do own, to park owners, who are not regulated. And so there have been many years that legislation has been introduced to try to create some kind of parity between the two parties."
Hooton says there are a lot of ways she wanted to address that "imbalance" she's heard about from park residents. Her bill, HB1309 was a big step in the right direction, she said. But there's a lot more she wants to do, too.
Hooton said she'd eventually like to prevent situations like the residents of Denver Meadows endured. HB1309 created a dispute resolution program within the Department of Local Affairs that is funded through new fees paid by park owners and residents. It also grants counties to enact laws related to mobile home parks — which Hooton said is important because many parks are in unincorporated areas — and extends the time a resident has to move or sell a mobile home after being evicted.
Aurora Mayor Bob LeGare, who led a negotiating effort with the owner of Denver Meadows to get money for displaced residents, said he thought the state legislation did a good job of addressing issues that have been facing Aurora mobile home parks. He specifically noted the dispute resolution program and allowing residents more than the previously required three days to move a mobile home.
Another policy discussion for mobile homes is expected to take place in the next month, according to LeGare. He said, as a long-term goal, he'd like to see more conversations with park owners.
More than a year ago, LeGare reached out to each of the park owners of the city. He didn't hear anything back from that group.
"I think when somebody from the government calls and says, 'we're here to help' they don't believe you," he suspected of why nobody returned his calls.
Now, the task force, with a list of recommendations complete, may dissolve into another task force. But Aurora Councilwoman Crystal Murillo, who represents the northern region of the city hopes the group will remain specific to the challenges mobile home parks face.
According to the report, only 1.3% of the total housing stock in Aurora are mobile home units. But many of those units have remained affordable. In 2016, the median value for mobile homes in Aurora was $28,300. That's about the same price as pre-recession years. Lot rents, which are separate from the mobile home, drive up the total price, however.
"If we don't have good process around (the task force) we won't be able to make decisions that are meaningful to people that are living in those parks," she said during a city council meeting this year.
Parked: Half the American Dream is the result of a first-of-its-kind collaboration between more than a dozen Colorado news organizations. Newspaper, online, radio and wire service journalists fanned out across the state to focus on the evolving landscape for mobile homes — Colorado’s largest source of unsubsidized affordable housing.
Contributors to this project include: The Aspen Times, Associated Press, Aurora Sentinel, Colorado Sun, Colorado Independent, Cortez Journal, Delta County Independent, Durango Herald, Fort Collins Coloradoan, Grand Junction Daily Sentinel, Greeley Tribune, KUNC, Montrose Daily Press, Ouray County Plaindealer and Steamboat Pilot & Today.