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Housing prices are rising rapidly across our region, especially in resort towns. And that's making it tough for many residents to buy a home or rent an apartment. Mountain West News Bureau reporters are examining the problem – and potential solutions.

How a mobile home park in Durango saved itself from the affordable housing crisis

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Sarah Flower
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KSUT Public Radio
Residents of the Westside mobile home park in Durango, Colorado, celebrate after a community collaboration secured ownership of the park instead of it being sold to a developer.

At the county fairgrounds in Durango, Colo., fiesta music is playing. Children are running around. And the smells of carne asada fill the air.

Residents of the Westside mobile home park are celebrating an unlikely victory.

“It is a David and Goliath story in so many ways,” says Stefka Fanchi, CEO of the Elevation Community Land trust. The organization helps families with affordable housing – like the largely Latino families at Westside.

Late last year the families found out Westside was for sale. They feared that if a developer took over, more than 240 residents might be forced to move. And with housing costs rising rapidly across the Mountain West, where would they find another affordable spot to live?

That scenario has played out at other mobile home parks in the Mountain West – around Ketchum, Idaho, and Salt Lake City, Utah, for example.

“What we’re seeing now as home prices go up, there becomes this broader and broader gap,” Fanchi says. “What we’re going to see in a generation from now, is that only the very, very wealthy will be homeowners.”

And she says the hardest hit are families that would benefit most from home ownership – and the chance to build some wealth. Like the families who live at Westside, roughly a mile from historic downtown Durango.

“Black and brown families have been excluded from access to home ownership for generations and that’s why we have the racial wealth gap,” she adds.

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Sarah Flower
/
KSUT Public Radio
The Westside mobile home park in Durango, Colorado.

So Westside residents worked with the land trust and the community to put in a $5.4 million bid for the property. It was rejected due to another all-cash offer.

Resident Darcy Diaz, who’s lived in Westside for four years, says through a translator, “We did definitely feel bad. We went to the negative thoughts. I don‘t know if it’s going to happen. All the thoughts went through our minds."

But Westside residents and the land trust didn’t give up. They raised thousands more in the community. They also received a donation of over $500,000 from a local foundation and a $1.5 million loan from La Plata County.

In April, the new offer was accepted – and the celebrating began.

“Thank God we’re here now,” Diaz says at the fairgrounds fiesta. “That’s the most important thing – that we’re here to celebrate.”

And Diaz is optimistic about where Westside is headed.

“For the future we don’t know yet,” she says. “But we know something positive is going to happen. We want Westside to come out of the dark place where we were.”

Meanwhile, Fanchi senses a renewed interest in affordable housing. “I’ve been working on affordable home ownership for about 18 years now and this is the first time I’ve seen such a will – a general public will and political will around access to home ownership.”

Once the sale is final, she says, Elevation Community Land Trust will work with residents on changes that will improve Westside and better their lives.

And there’s plenty of work to be done. Like cleaning up walkways, installing parks and renovating the sewer system.

This story was produced by the Mountain West News Bureau, a collaboration between Wyoming Public Media, Nevada Public Radio, Boise State Public Radio in Idaho, KUNR in Nevada, the O'Connor Center for the Rocky Mountain West in Montana, KUNC in Colorado, KUNM in New Mexico, with support from affiliate stations across the region. Funding for the Mountain West News Bureau is provided in part by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.