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It Takes a Movement

The ten-year policy, organizing, and community journey behind Denver’s first community-owned mobile home park.

Authors: Cristina Diaz-Borda, Editorial Manager

For the past decade, Andrea Chiriboga-Flor (She/her, Dre for short) has been working in housing justice, forming Justice for the People Legal Center—a non-profit movement law firm that is dedicated to fighting for transformative justice, liberation, and collective self-determination with and for people who currently and historically have endured violence, harm, and trauma by the U.S. and other colonial justice systems. 

In April, she joined forces with Common Future, as a participant in our 2024 Accelerator Cohort, receiving $50,000 in unrestricted funding in addition to curated programming, dedicated support, and much more—where I had the pleasure of first meeting her. Always thinking of Denver’s neediest residents, Dre’s concerns went to what we would do with the leftover catering after our day’s programming, and she gave me directions to one of the city’s many homeless encampments so the food would not go to waste. 

Then, on April 30th, we got the news that Justice for the People Legal Center was celebrating a major victory, as Sharing Connexion had officially closed on the sale of Denver’s first community-owned mobile home park in the historically Latine neighborhood of Westwood, safeguarding the homes of 80 families. I sat down with Dre to discuss this hard-won success and her vision for an equitable housing future.

For context, Denver’s Westwood neighborhood is separated from trendy downtown neighborhoods by highways, just on the boundary between Denver and the next suburb over. It was a neighborhood that emerged—rather than developed—during the Great Depression and was largely a shanty town built on land being auctioned off for less than $1. World War II and plant workers came next, and the homes built were substandard to city regulations and until recently—largely left as is. Nearly 100 years later, the population has a median salary of around $40,000 ($30,000 less than the rest of the city), and is home to Denver’s last mobile home park—one of the only spaces available for undocumented immigrant families to purchase their own home. But Denver has been growing, and the risk of gentrification looms city-wide.

Dre has been working with the Westwood community since 2014, when two mobile home parks went up for sale on Morrison Road, displacing 90 families at the time, “and honestly, the city was kind of instrumental in making that displacement happen…historically, the city of Denver has had a hostile zoning code towards mobile home parks. They're still considered a non-conforming use, which we're hoping to help the city change in the next year.” Dre has worked with a coalition, changing a number of Colorado’s laws, which previously allowed for the eviction of park residents with 48 hours’ notice, unrestricted rent increased and lacked any regulations on transparency with the sale of mobile home parks. 

“Westwood is a very special community. Residents are actively engaged: they fought to open a rec center, La Casita, which is on Morrison Road, and it’s where we have our meetings for free. They've fought for their parks. They've fought for a lot of public infrastructure that wouldn't have been possible without such amazing organizations dedicated to that specific neighborhood…. I just feel like the social fabric is so unique and vibrant. Like, you can go to the grocery store, people speak Spanish, the restaurant people speak Spanish, there's a lot of schools in the neighborhood…and so I think, residents just realize this is such a special place where people really feel their culture.”

Across the country, about twenty million people live in mobile home parks, otherwise known as manufactured housing. As Dre explains, these parks provide the only low-income housing option for folks who don’t qualify for subsidized housing, such as undocumented migrants, or for people who do not want to rent. However, while residents may own the house itself, they often rent the land it sits on. “[Mobile homes] are not mobile. If they are, they can cost up to $20,000 to move. People will continue to pay up to 80% of their income just to keep their homes. When people are forced to move, they can’t take their home with them.”

You know, these are working-class families with so many skills. We have painters, welders, we have caterers, we have folks with food trucks, people who do childcare, and it’s important for these people who support the city to live in it.

And despite the reputation, manufactured housing provides a meaningful resource for the community that is not easily replicated. “they're a very unique type of neighborhood housing. Homes tend to be very close together, so people tend to know their neighbors,” Dre explains, adding that by the nature of the housing, people live in mobile home parks, sometimes even for generations. “90% of the homes at Monte Vista—I interviewed every one of them—had a construction worker living in the household.” They invest in these homes and continue to improve them. She described covered walkways and balconies connecting families in nearby homes in the parks that had been displaced in 2014-2015. “You know, these are working-class families with so many skills. We have painters, welders, we have caterers, we have folks with food trucks, people who do childcare, and it’s important for these people who support the city to live in it.” And once these parks are sold or redeveloped, the residents often cannot afford to stay live or even in the state.

After finding out about a mobile home park that was up for sale—which Dre explained was too late to fight—she, and the larger coalition, went on a journey of wins and losses to preserve these communities in Denver. When they couldn’t save the communities, they then fought for monetary restitution. In nearby Aurora, they fought to save a park but lost due to the laws at the time. She described mobilizing the community and going to every last public comment period. After offering $20 million, the owner came back and said he wanted $60 million, with no proof of other existing offers. “When that happened, we were absolutely devastated. We thought, you know, we have it in the bag, $20.5 million is a lot of money.” 

So they came back and fought for the Mobile Home Park Residents Opportunity To Purchase Act, which was voted into law in 2020. “Now, once the park goes up for sale, the landlord is not allowed to sell the park to an outside buyer until residents have a firm opportunity to organize and to come up with financing. 120 days.” And they have to be transparent about the offers on the table.

In 2022, when the Monte Vista Mobile Home Park went up for sale, Justice for the People Legal Center jumped in and took advantage of the new law, and then accessed government loans and grants to come together with the $11.5 million needed to convert the park into a co-op. Two years later, jumping hurdles along the way, they finally closed on the sale

When I asked Dre what her vision for the future was now that this fight was won, she was focused on the task at hand. “For the next three or five years, I'm committed to working with the residents as long as they want me to work for them.” But looking longer term, she painted a picture of a national fight for national power, choice, and ownership. “I just got a call last week from this woman living in a park bought out by the company that was featured on John Oliver about being super predatory, and she was devastated.” 

“So I’m now thinking how can we make these connections, and thread the needle so that no one's reinventing the wheel, [to expand our impact] to be a threat to these companies that think that they can just come in and do whatever they want. We want to go on and pass rent control for mobile homes, so these investors stop thinking about Colorado as their empire to exploit and then go [to an] even bigger scale. That's definitely the vision.”

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