Editor's note: Caption corrected Dec. 1.
As the sun sets on the dirt lot of Shady Lane Mobile Home Park, Steve Dennison and a friend strap down a cabinet filled with small odds and ends to the bed of their trailer. Dennison pulls out his cigarettes, lights one up and takes a long drag. He locks the front door of his old mobile home and the two men hop into their truck. They drive down the road without looking back.
Like many of his neighbors have already done, the 60-year-old Dennison has decided to move out of his mobile home in the small town of Florence before Shady Lane goes up for auction in January. According to several residents, the trailer park's current owner, Peter Denboer, stopped making payments on it, sending the property into foreclosure. (Denboer declined comment for this story, citing ongoing legal proceedings.)
"I was going to buy this place and live out the rest of my years," Dennison said before leaving for the last time. "But we'll just have to go back to square one."
The sad truth for Dennison and many mobile-home residents is that they're caught in the middle of an epidemic. According to realtytrac.com, an online foreclosure marketing company, in October Colorado had the fifth-highest rate of foreclosures in the country, with one out of 390 households going into foreclosure. Nationwide, the average number of foreclosures has grown 25 percent in a year.
Of course, renters like Dennison whether in mobile homes, apartments or houses can be pushed out when banks seize the homes they've been living in. But when it's a trailer park being foreclosed, even people who own their own mobile home can wind up in a tight spot.
Florence city building inspector Don Moore says Florence, like many cities, does not allow trailers built before 1974 to be moved within city limits. Moving out of town isn't easy, either, Moore says, since many cities (like Florence) have enacted codes making it illegal to bring those older trailers in.
Essentially, the homes are anything but mobile, notes Lois Parris, president of the Manufactured Home Owners Association of America.
"You can't move [the trailers] in most cases," she says. "Even if you could, the cost would be tremendous."
Parris explains that Shady Lane residents, like residents of older mobile homes across the country, have virtually no protections. And with most of them living on low incomes, they're quickly thrust into frightening situations.
At Shady Lane in early November, Denboer fell behind in paying his water bills, and the city shut off the park's water. Walter Dixon regularly hauled in 20 gallons of water a day from a friend's house so his family of six could drink, clean the dishes and flush the toilet in their home.
"It was a real pain in the ass," he says.
After 2 weeks, and pressure from television news coverage, the water came back on. But by then, only six of the 11 trailers were still occupied. With Dennison gone today, that's down to five.
"We're just waiting it out now to see what's going to happen with the property," Dixon says.
Like many of those remaining in the community, Walter and his wife, Terry, are disabled. He has epilepsy and she is diabetic; neither is able to work. They claim to have bought their trailer from Shady Lane's previous owner, but say they're still waiting for her to send them the title. Even once they get it, they still won't have a claim to the ground on which the trailer sits or a place in Florence to relocate.
Denay Horn, 47, the Dixons' next-door neighbor, has no idea what she'll do if she has to move out. She only recently came here to rent a mobile home with her 11-year-old son, who suffers from a rare heart disease and Asperger's syndrome, after they lost their home in Texas to Hurricane Ike. Horn is also disabled; she has late-stage Lyme disease and has not been able to work.
"I have Social Security that is pending and child support that is pending, but pending doesn't buy you a home," she says. Close to tears, she adds, "If there's one thing that I regret, it's that I can't give my son a home."