In May, La Plata County Assessor Carrie Woodson informed property owners of a staggering rise in the value of their assets. Based on sales that took place between July 1, 2020, and June 30, 2022, the median increase in property value was 20%.
But one category of properties stood out: mobile home parks.
The county’s mobile home parks – once a bastion of affordable housing – doubled in value, and rents are following close behind.
And when tenants such as Alethea Morris, a resident of Durango’s Junction Creek Mobile Home Park, are asked if parks are becoming unaffordable, the answer is unequivocal: “For a single mama bear who’s got two kiddos in college? Yeah, it is.”
But, thanks to Colorado’s 2019 Mobile Home Park Act, park residents retain the right of first refusal when a park goes up for sale. And homeowners in the Bayfield Mobile Home Park are hoping to take advantage of the law, following the lead of two parks in Durango, and form a cooperative of residents to buy the park.
“We can make it much more affordable than it is today,” said Interim Co-op President Wesley Killinen. “It’s a long-term solution.”
The MPHA included a handful of critical provisions, chief among them being that park landlords may not raise rent more than once per year.
The statute is critical to protecting the vulnerable residents of mobile home parks, of which there are approximately 100,000 in Colorado. The homes, which can cost over $100,000 in the Durango area, are often owned by the residents themselves and can constitute their largest asset.
But with the exception of co-ops, the homeowners have little control over the costs of renting the land underneath their homes. Given that prohibitive cost of moving a mobile home – often upward of $7,000 – homeowners find themselves stuck, forced to pay lot rent or abandon their home and asset.
At the Bayfield Mobile Home Park, rent increased $30 last year, and $50 in the two years before that, Killinen said.
“It’s a pretty steady increase for being year after year, especially for a lot of the retired people in the community,” he said.
In 2020, the park was assessed at $1.9 million. By 2022, its value had risen to $3.1 million. This year, its value jumped to $3.69 million, almost a 100% increase from 2020.
The park was just listed for sale with an asking price of $5.75 million.
Of the 35 registered mobile home parks in La Plata County, rent increased in 27 of them in the last two years, according to data maintained by the Mobile Home Park Oversight Program. Data was not available for another five parks.
In Durango’s Junction Creek Mobile Home Park, residents say rent has also gone up steadily as well.
“I pay almost double in lot rent than when I moved in here,” said Anthony Kunkel, who has owned a trailer in Junction Creek for seven years. “ … It’s not like a teaching salary has inflated over the same time period.”
A neighbor of his said she has never paid as much in lot rent as she does in the park.
“If it gets worse, I’ll be selling it,” Sheila Rubner, another neighbor, said of her trailer home.
Skyrocketing rent is by no means a sudden occurrence – the rising value of parks, driven by real estate investors who see the potential for large returns, has been driving residents out for some years.
Animas View was one such park.
In a 2019 story in The Colorado Sun, residents of the park said they were preparing to leave as they faced lot rent that had surpassed $1,000 per month.
But in 2021, the park went up for sale and its residents formed a co-op. The corporate owners had purchased the park for $9.8 million in 2018, but sold it to the co-op for $14 million.
That year, it was assessed at $7.6 million.
“They’re such a cash cow for corporations that they pay a lot of money … to buy a park, so when a co-op or nonprofit wants to buy a park, they have to pay its market rate, but it’s really inflated,” said the Animas View MHP Co-op board Treasurer Lindie Hunt.
The Animas View MHP was assessed at $13.3 million in 2023, up from $7.6 million the period before. The increase in value will also mean that property taxes will rise.
As a result of rising taxes and an increased interest rate, Hunt said the board will increase lot rent by $45 effective in the new year. Rent will likely rise another $15 the following year.
“We’re going from about $25,000 a year in taxes to about $41,000,” Hunt said. “ … It’s why we really need that $45 increase, we can’t just absorb it.”
But the increase is still much smaller than it would have been had another real estate investor purchased the park, Hunt said.
After Animas View MHP became a co-op, Durango’s Westside MHP followed suit. Now, Bayfield could become the third park in La Plata County to come under resident ownership.
“It’s for the future,” Killinen said. “Thirty years down the line, once the loan is paid off, we could probably drastically reduced rents … It’s a long-term solution.”