Social-justice nonprofit Manaus has been working to secure financing and purchase the park for $2.4 million so they can sell it back to the residents under a relaxed timetable, but a volatile real estate market has made for a difficult process. (Aspen Public Radio received a $5,000 grant from Manaus in 2022.)
Many residents in the park own their units but pay a fee to rent the land underneath.
To purchase the park as a resident-owned community, Three Mile residents are entitled under the Mobile Home Park Act to 120 days to secure loans, make an offer, and negotiate in good faith with the seller.
However, that’s not always enough time to obtain financing and establish a governing structure, so working with a nonprofit can give residents more time.
Given the lack of affordable housing in the Roaring Fork and Colorado River valleys, mobile home parks are one of the few remaining beacons of hope for working families.
Felix Jimenez has lived in Three Mile Mobile Home Park for over 30 years, and his family is full of animal lovers.
“We had this salamander that I had captured up in Aspen that I hurt with a little machine that I was working with,” Jimenez said. “And I brought it home. They called her Sally, and she survived for, like, ten years after I brought it home. And so that kind of started a thing with animals.”
Jimenez and his wife Lorrie Bennett raised five kids and a slew of animals in the park, and two of their grown children are living in the neighboring units.
But home ownership is complicated in mobile home parks.
Jimenez owns his unit but does not own the land underneath it, making it difficult to build equity.
“I mean, I could never make the big step up into a house,” Jimenez said. “So it is what it is. I’m here at the park. I’ve got to live here.”
Until recently, the park was owned by Colorado resident Ben Krueger. He died in 2021 and left the property to his children, Celynn McClarrinon and John, Bernie, and Karl Krueger.
Ben Krueger’s death left Jimenez and his wife Lorrie Bennett afraid their housing was in jeopardy.
“Both of us are getting ready to be retired,” Bennett said. “And to think of increasing rents on a retired salary, it was like, ‘Okay, we’re going to get roommates, we’re going to sell.’ And when we thought we’d have to sell, it was like, ‘Well, what state do we move to?’”
But when Jimenez met Sydney Schalit, the executive director of Manaus, their options expanded.
Manaus and its subsidiary Roaring Fork Community Development Corporation (CDC) have been trying to help mobile home park communities in the Roaring Fork and Colorado River valleys purchase their land.
Schalit decided to reach out to the Krueger family, the owners of Three Mile, before the park was listed for sale.
They came to an agreement about the terms of sale and the price for the property, giving Manaus and the CDC until April 30 to secure financing.
Since then, Bennett says Jimenez has been working hard to rally his neighbors to sign onto this effort at Three Mile.
“He’s worked so hard for the past year talking to people and just, you know, pounding on doors,” Bennett said.
Schalit is excited about the opportunity Manaus has to purchase Three Mile, but in previous years with similar projects, their efforts were unsuccessful.
“None of those projects came to fruition because once the parks get listed, it’s like a feeding frenzy of bids,” Schalit said. “And so even if the residents do this miraculous work and get all the financing in order to purchase, they’re going to have competition, and the competition comes in millions over.”
Updates to Colorado’s Mobile Home Park Act went into effect in October, and residents get 120 days notice when their properties go up for sale before the owner can go into contract with a new buyer.
Before that, sellers were only required to provide 90 days notice.
Residents of Dotsero Mobile Home Park used that time in 2022 to develop partnerships and secure financing, but the seller denied their offer.
Manaus wasn’t involved but they watched that effort from the sidelines.
“All that work, and I mean significant work, it was insane,” Schalit said. “And it still fell through, and so that was just too heartbreaking.”
Schalit and her team at Manaus decided to meet with the property owners of Three Mile before the mobile home park was listed for sale.
Schalit says that was their best shot to avoid displacing 20 homes filled with 90 residents, 31 of which are children.
“When we learned that detail, we were like, ‘Oh yeah, we’re going to do whatever we can to make sure they don’t have their school system interrupted, that they don’t have to move, that the families don’ ‘t have to scramble to find an extra thousand dollars a month for a pad fee that doesn’t actually result in much improvement.’” Schalit said.
Manaus at the CDC also had ownership interest in the Pan and Fork Mobile Home Park in Basalt between 2011 and 2021.
Manaus had plans to work with the Town of Basalt and develop residential and commercial properties on that lot, including affordable housing.
But Schalit says those original plans did not come to fruition, and Manaus helped relocate the residents.
She added that Manaus will refrain from partnering with municipalities in the future so that the changes in government leadership over time do not threaten the vision of their projects.
At first, Manaus was offered loans from multiple lenders, including the Impact Development Fund and the Colorado Housing and Finance Authority.
The initial terms of the loans required $250,000 for a down payment by the end of April, and Manaus would pay interest-only installments for the first 5 years of its mortgage.
The Manaus team was planning to raise that initial sum from donors.
But in January, the terms changed.
The nonprofit now needs $500,000 committed by March 3, and its interest-only payments will only be for the first two years, requiring Schalit and her team to raise twice the money.
“We’re having a hard time sleeping,” Schalit said. “This is a project that’s, like, near and dear to us. I think I’ve been working, like, 12 hour days lately. The pressure is definitely on in a different way than we were expecting.”
Schalit says the Manaus team is still hopeful, and she has requested the Kruegers give them more time to fundraise.
If Manaus can raise the money, at least 13 of the park’s 20 owners have agreed to be a part of the purchase.
Manaus doesn’t plan to be a long-term landlord, but Schalit says they’ll give the residents time to organize and purchase the park.
The change in mortgage terms gives Manaus a tighter deadline, and other housing advocates are feeling that same mounting pressure.
Dawn Melgares is the executive director for the San Luis Valley Housing Coalition, and said in an interview that the housing market in Southern Colorado has “gone crazy.”
Melgares worked to help the Coalition purchase the Sentry Mobile Home Park in Alamosa County, and she knows what it feels like to have a strict window of opportunity.
“Both of our sellers that we tried to work with held us to the 90-day timeline of the Mobile Home Park 2020 Act,” she said.
Melgares suggests that residents who do not have accommodating sellers should get the state’s Mobile Home Park Oversight Program involved to keep the owners in compliance with Colorado’s new laws.
She’s seen these deals fall apart in the past, so she warns Three Mile residents of the vulnerabilities.
“I will tell them from experience: plan for the worst case scenario, hope for the best case scenario, and be prepared to land somewhere in the middle,” Melgares said.
If Manaus secures its financing and closes the deal with the Krueger family, that’s the first step.
It could be years before residents take over, but Jimenez and his wife Bennett are hopeful.
“I’m still praying that everything comes together the way they need it,” Bennett said.
Jimenez said he’s willing to put in the time and effort to preserve their little slice of paradise.
“Development is just happening,” Jimenez said. “It’s just everywhere, and it’s so nice to have, at least for my kids and myself, to know that there’s just forest here still. It makes a big difference getting up, going to work or resting at night and listening to the water.”
If they’re successful, Jimenez, Bennett, and their neighbors will have time to decide what kind of governing structure works best for them, secure loans, and eventually purchase the park back from the Manaus team.
“I’m hoping that maybe residents of other parks will say, okay, we can do this and get brave to do it,” Bennett said. “Hopefully other residents can go, ‘We can do this for our park.’”