With vacancy rates as low as 1 percent, rental prices in Colorado Springs mobile-home parks are skyrocketing and living conditions are deteriorating.
Hoping to press for changes that would alleviate the crunch and enhance their rights, local mobile-home owners have begun to organize. And at least one city councilman says he sympathizes with their cause.
One of the organizers is Judith Dole, a 46-year-old student at Pikes Peak Community College who bought a trailer in a mobile-home park two years ago. Dole owns her trailer but rents the land it sits on, paying $320 per month for the 3,750-square-foot lot.
When she moved in, she was promised free water and trash pickup, and access to a laundry room and a clubhouse with a swimming pool. But now, the club house, pool and laundry room have been closed indefinitely, and she and fellow residents at the park are forced to pay for their own water and trash collection. She can't do much about it, because like many others who rent lots in trailer parks, she doesn't have a lease.
In theory, Dole could leave. But in reality, it's not that easy. Moving her trailer to another park would be expensive, and with the vacancy rate for mobile-home communities in the Springs estimated between 1 percent and 2 percent, it's unlikely she would even find a new lot for her trailer.
Carla Falkenmayer, a retired teacher and fellow mobile-home resident, says it's a common dilemma.
"You literally have no place to go," Falkenmayer said. "You cannot move your home to a space that doesn't exist."
Dole could try to sell her home instead, but the problem is that even if she finds a buyer, her landlord can essentially veto the sale. Most owners of mobile-home parks reserve the right to refuse any tenant, for any reason.
"You may find a buyer for your trailer, but if the landlord doesn't approve them as a tenant, you can't sell it," Dole said.
She says some mobile-home residents, wanting to leave their parks, end up simply abandoning their homes and walking away from their equity.
What's causing the low vacancy rate, according to the Springs-based Housing Advocacy Coalition, is that the City of Colorado Springs has imposed a virtual moratorium on new mobile-home parks in recent years.
"Our current zoning makes it difficult for mobile-home parks to be created," conceded Richard Skorman, a city councilman. However, he added, "I think there's interest in changing that."
The zoning dates from a time when mobile-home parks weren't considered desirable developments, Skorman says. But one of the city's current goals is to increase affordable housing. Encouraging mobile-home communities, he said, "would be one piece of the puzzle."
In addition to making it almost impossible for some people to move, the low vacancy rates are causing rents to increase. Meanwhile, living conditions are deteriorating as landlords have little incentive to keep up their parks, knowing that they'll be able to rent out all their lots regardless, says Derek Krehbiel, of the Housing Advocacy Coalition.
"Supply and demand is heavily in favor of the people who own the parks," Krehbiel said.
Falkenmayer estimates there are 10,000 mobile-home residents in Colorado Springs. About 70 showed up for the Mobile Home Owners Coalition's first meeting last week.
In the long run, coalition members hope to fight for increased legal rights. For instance, Falkenmayer says, mobile-home owners should be entitled to leases for their lots, and they should have the right to sell their homes to whomever they wish, without having sales essentially vetoed by park managers.
In the more immediate future, coalition members hope to educate local city council members and candidates about their problems, says Dole. "We want to confront these people and say, 'Do you have any idea what's going on?'"
-- Terje Langeland
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