The atmosphere at Whitehaven Mobile Home Park was grim in August when residents learned that someone had made an offer on the land under their homes.
“Everybody was scared because there’s nowhere else to live in Steamboat,” said Whitehaven resident Jose Lopez.
Many Whitehaven residents feared the worst: The unknown buyer would either jack up lot fees or redevelop the land, displacing the 70 or so people who live there.
But during a special meeting on Thursday, Sept. 22, board members for the Yampa Valley Housing Authority agreed to offer $3,125 million — matching the previous offer, plus $1 — to buy the Whitehaven Mobile Home Park on behalf of the park’s residents.
If the purchase is successful, the housing authority would serve as the interim steward of the park while working with residents to upgrade the park’s infrastructure and eventually transition it into a resident-owned co-op.
The money was assembled through a mixture of low-interest loans and donations large and small to the Yampa Valley Community Foundation’s Routt County Workforce Housing Preservation Fundwhich only has raised $750,000.
The Yampa Valley Housing Authority expects to keep the park’s lot fees the same while balancing its own finances, similar to how the authority has operated Fish Creek Mobile Home Park since buying it in 2007.
“The big picture for us is that we’re able to pay for operations, maintenance and debt service without raising rents,” said Jason Peasley, the housing authority’s director.
He also encouraged the Steamboat community to continue being generous.
“There’s still a need for some philanthropy in this space,” Peasley said. “There’s still a very large infrastructure investment that needs to be made at this property.”
Additionally, the Workforce Housing Preservation Fund is still accepting donations, which can help pay for improvements to Whitehaven’s infrastructure or even assist other communities in similar situations as Whitehaven.
Connecting Whitehaven to the city’s water supply is one of the bigger infrastructure projects the community needs. The aging pipes that feed well water to Whitehaven have been a problem for a long time.
“Water pressure is intermittent,” said Brad Leister, another resident at Whitehaven. “I definitely don’t drink the water. It tastes funny.”
Leister was in the middle of reconstructing a portion of his home when he was informed he could potentially lose it. Now, as he gets closer to finishing thousands of dollars’ worth of renovations, Thursday’s news brings him some comfort.
“Everyone seems relaxed,” Leister said.
Because of the Colorado Mobile Home Park Act, the Whitehaven were given 90 days to make a competing offer after they were notified of the potential sale.
The community mobilized quickly, and with help from the Yampa Valley Housing Authority, Integrated Community and the Yampa Valley Community Foundation, they were able to raise money and make a robust defense of their homes.
For most mobile home parks, Whitehaven included, the land and homes are owned separately. In many cases when the land is sold, the owners of the mobile homes are told they must vacate the property. However, because so many homes at Whitehaven are decades-old, towing them away is not an option and the units would likely have to be forfeited.
“Going from the potential of losing our homes 45 days ago to knowing that we can keep our homes and have a future in Steamboat is indescribable,” said Jake Dombrowski, a Whitehaven resident who, along with his girlfriend Kim Osterhout, was instrumental in organizing help for their neighborhood.
“Words can’t describe how grateful we are,” Dombrowski said.
The housing authority intends to iron out a deal with the lot owner soon, but in the event a higher bid comes in, officials at the housing authority believe they’ll be able to exercise a right of first refusal that will be provided by an amendment to the Mobile Home Park Act that will go into effect Oct. 1.
“We can go through all of the gyrations that we would need to go through come Oct. 1,” Peasley said. “But if we can just come to an agreement with the landowner in the next couple of days, it makes the process a lot simpler for everyone.”
For Patty Johnson, who has lived at Whitehaven for about 30 years, the good news caps off what has been a tough stretch.
Johnson was in Denver tending to her ailing mother for about seven months. After her mother passed away a couple of weeks ago, Johnson said she returned home and got up to speed with the situation her community was in.
“I’ve missed a lot,” Johnson said.
She said the housing authority’s decision is a relief and hopes to make improvements to her unit now that she’s more confident she’ll be able to keep it.
“I was sweating that,” Johnson said.
To reach Spencer Powell, call 970-871-4229 or email him at spowell@SteamboatPilot.com