Just five days before Christmas last year, Mayra Gallardo and her fellow 220 residents at Westside Mobile Park in Durango, Colorado, received a 90-day notice that their community was for sale. The announcement was in English, and Gallardo and her neighbors, who predominantly speak Spanish, didn’t know where to begin.
Under new ownership, residents will face the possibility of rent hikes or being displaced to make way for a development project that would net higher returns such as a hotel or condominiums.
Gallardo, in her early thirties, knows what could happen next because she’s already been through it once. “If our trailer park sells, and we get evicted, all of our dreams and everything that we’ve invested in our homes would go to the trash,” she said.
In 2014, Gallardo migrated to Durango from Chihuahua, Mexico, drawn by the area’s strong economy. She found work busing tables and preparing desserts at a popular restaurant on Main Street, but housing was harder to come by.
Her mother-in-law rented a trailer on the south end of town where the Animas River abuts a Walmart and a busy strip mall. After about six months, another lot came up for rent. Gallardo and her husband jumped at the opportunity and bought a doublewide trailer to move onto the lot.
But then, in 2015, the park was sold.
“When the new owners took over, they told everyone we had 30 days to leave,” Gallardo told me. “We never even got to move our trailer onto the lot.”
New ownership told residents that it was their obligation to get rid of the trailers, regardless of the cost. For many, it was cheaper to have the trailers scrapped then moved. “Some families had to pay to have their homes demolished,” Gallardo said “Can you imagine?”
The mobile home park was leveled, and the new owners built a Good Will on top of the park, erasing any memory of the community.
Gallardo, who was pregnant when she was evicted in 2015, was unable to find a lot for the trailer she’d purchased, and so she was forced to sell it for far less than she had just spent.
Her family lived out of a hotel room for two months while they looked for a new home, but in the process, Gallardo had a miscarriage that she believes was provoked by the stress of the eviction and the long hours she was putting in at the restaurant.
Soon after, Gallardo and her family bought a dilapidated trailer at Westside Mobile Park for $13,900. They put $1,000 down and made monthly payments of $400 for the next few years.
“With everything we’d gone through, we were simply happy to have a home,” she told me. “The trailer was in terrible condition. I fell through the deck because it was rotten, and there were rats living inside. But that’s all we could afford.”
Gallardo and her husband worked hard to make a home out of their trailer. In seven years, they’d repaired the roof, floors, plumbing, and wiring. “It’s basically a new home,” Mayra said. “And now, we’re afraid we might lose it.”
Across the West, communities like Gallardo’s are facing similar scenarios. The rapid inflation of housing prices in recent years has attracted the interest of corporate investors, who are buying up trailer parks throughout the region. Under corporate ownership, park managers hike up rents, and in some cases, dissolve entire communities to clear the path for more lucrative development projects.
Durango’s housing crisis mirrors post-pandemic trends across the West. When Gallardo moved to Durango in 2014, the median home price was $390,000. Today, it’s $653,000, a 67 percent increase.
I asked Gallardo what she felt when she read the letter management send out in December announcing the sale. “I wanted to cry. I felt so frustrated,” she said. “I felt like I was in the same situation again. Me pregnant, and everything coming apart.”
Gallardo has considered moving in recent years to a more affordable community, but now, she feels trapped. “We figured we could sell everything and start from zero with the money we get from our trailer,” she said. “We don’t know what’s going to happen, and with the park for sale, nobody wants to buy our trailer. It can’t be moved. It would fall apart.”
Gallardo’s future is precarious, but a bill passed in 2020 offers some hope. The new law — HB-20-1201 — requires owners of trailer parks to provide residents with a 90-day notice of their intent to sell, and allows residents to form a cooperative, secure financial backing, and make a purchase offer to buy the land they live on. And that’s exactly what Mayra and her neighbors are trying to do.
At the beginning of January, Westside residents formed the Westside Co-op, and began working with Elevation Community Land Trust and county officials to put together a purchase offer for the park. Their first offer, for $5.5 million, was turned down on March 20 because the offer depended on bank loans, which require appraisals and inspections, drawing out the sale process.
The owner gave the community until March 27 to make a cash offer, which they did. To support their cause, Gallardo and her neighbors are selling food and raising money on GoFundMe. Still, the community’s future will depend on whether the current owner decides to accept their purchase offer.
If successful, the cooperative will keep land rents low by leveraging grants and low-interest loans. In time, they could reinvest profits into community projects such as parks, paved roads, potable water, and new sewage systems.
In addition to Westside’s offer, the owner has received a cash offer from Harmony Communities, a California-based corporation that owns 33 mobile parks in the West.
In recent years, Harmony Communities has contributed to housing insecurity by purchasing parks in places like Golden, Colorado and San Rafael, California, and immediately hiking rent by as much as 50 percent. If that were to happen at Westside, most residents would be forced to move out.
Mayra left Mexico in 2014 in search of economic stability, and while she’s always been able to find work in the US, she’s still searching for a place to call home.
“Es dura migrar,” Gallardo told me toward the end of our conversation. “It’s hard to migrate.”Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial position of The Globe Post.