In June, the residents of the Dotsero Mobile Home Park lost their $5.8 million bid to purchase the property they live on and become a resident-owned community. Instead, former owner Jim Condit accepted an all-cash offer for the same price from an outside buyer called Three Pillar Communities, a California-based company that invests in manufactured housing across the country.
According to its website, Three Pillar Communities operates 53 mobile home parks in 10 states as of Sept. 2022. The Dotsero park is the company’s third acquisition in Colorado, following the Fairplay Mobile Home Park and RV Retreat located in Johnstown.
Three Pillar Communities describes itself as a mission-driven family business that aims to provide high-quality housing to its residents and stable returns to its investors. Its stated operating principles depicts a common investment strategy of upgrading parks and implementing heightened standards of living that enables the company to raise rent to market rates and see steady growth in property value over time.
Thus far, what this ownership transition has looked like on the ground for Dotsero park residents is a newly paved main road accompanied by a rapid rent hike and a number of rule changes that have reduced residents’ freedoms on the property. The mobile home park had three large infrastructure projects that needed attention when it was sold: repaving the road, changing the currently undrinkable water source and upgrading the sewer system. It appears to be within the new company’s strategy to address these issues in order to boost property value.
Three residents confirmed that their rent increased by $125 following the road completion in Nov. 2022. For resident Sheri Payne, that hike represented a nearly 40% increase over her previously stabilized rent.
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“It’s really hard to state what people’s mindsets are right now because we’re still up in the air about what’s going to happen, what’s going on,” Payne said. “They don’t really talk to us about anything, so I think people are just kind of in wait. That’s all we can really do right now.”
Charging “market rent” — what Three Pillars Communities defines as “the rent that local people who do not live at our property are willing to pay in order to move into the property” — is one of the company’s 10 operating principles. Co-founder Daniel Weisfield published a newsletter in January of 2022 defending the integrity of these practices.
”Our existing residents, who signed leases years ago, often have below-market rents, and we believe in raising those rents to market over time,” Weisfield writes. “We believe this is good for society… if rents get ‘trapped’ below market, then mobile home parks (which are a naturally occurring form of affordable housing) will eventually be redeveloped into other more profitable land uses.”
Payne, who just signed a new lease this January, said that she is less concerned about the rent increase than the rule changes, which include restrictions on pets, vehicles, landscaping, home maintenance and more. One of the most impactful rule changes is a stipulation that prohibits unauthorized structures such as sheds, garages or other additions that have not been explicitly approved by management.
Payne said that residents were hoping their existing structures would be grandfathered in, but management is in the process of tearing down accessory structures throughout the park.
“I think people are more concerned about their garages and their sheds and things that they’ve built around the property that’s been allowed through the management and owner all these years,” Payne said. “People laid cement, people built things all over their property and it was allowed for so long, and none of that got discussed when it was brought to the table.”
Having control of their rent and property were two of the biggest motivating factors for residents to buy the park, but moving forward they will be at the whim of the new owner. Three Pillars Communities is a manufactured housing company and not a developer, so the greatest fear of eviction and repurposing of the lot has not been realized, and policymakers continue to develop new protections for residents each year.
The 2019 Mobile Home Park Act is the primary state legislation protecting residents from exploitation, including the creation of a dispute resolution program that enables residents to challenge illegal practices without the price and risk of litigation. State representatives have built on the law each of the last two years, and a newly introduced House bill may enable counties and local governments to enact rent control on private properties, thereby preserving what they determine to be critical affordable housing stock in their communities.
Cesiah Guadarrama is the Associate State Director for 9to5, a nonprofit organization in Denver that advocates for mobile home residents’ rights. She said that what has happened at Dotsero thus far is typical of an investment company takeover and recommends that the residents organize into a homeowners association and learn their rights to better advocate for themselves as policymakers advocate for them at the Capitol.
“We need more tools,” Guadarrama said. “We need these legislative tools that I’m talking about, as well as more legal resources that folks can have, because it is very challenging. Folks are at risk of losing their home and losing everything that they’ve invested in … in some rural towns, this is the only form of unsubsidized affordable housing, and so we need to do everything we possibly can to protect it, because once it’s gone, it’s gone.”
The residents organized into the Volcanic View Cooperative when attempting to buy the park last spring, but have since disbanded in the wake of the sale. Payne, who served as secretary of the cooperative, said that motivation to organize an HOA has been low as the community remains in a “wait and see” mode, but they are prepared to tap into state, local and nonprofit resources to keep their homes if need be.
“They don’t have enough room for us here in Gypsum,” Payne said. “There’s no two-bedroom, two-bath apartment right now for me and my daughter, and I know a lot of these families are thinking the same way. When we come out of Dotsero, it’s a whole new world.”