Monday, July 11, 2005

Trailer blazers

From left: Etta Habegger, program manager of Thistle Community Housing, Jonathan Machen, who sits on the Mapleton neighborhood’s management committee, and Barbara Navin talk about the structure of the mobile home park Thursday at Machen’s home. Times-Call/Joshua Buck

Trailer blazers
Mapleton park could be a model for Boulder County program

By Brad Turner
The Daily Times-Call

BOULDER — Jonathan Machen’s home sits next to a row of mature trees and the brook that curls through his neighborhood. He and his wife live in the middle of Boulder, a few blocks from the Pearl Street Mall and the University of Colorado.

Machen’s home cost just $13,000 when he bought it in 1995. He and the other residents of the Mapleton Mobile Home Park pay about $340 a month to rent their lots, which are surrounded by pricey single-family homes and apartments.

“It really is amazing this place is still here,” he said Thursday, relaxing on his front porch. “If you wander outside the park, you’ll see houses in the $400,000 range.”

Life isn’t so rosy for many of Boulder County’s mobile home residents.

Annually, banks and lenders foreclose on about 250 mobile homes in the county, according to county Treasurer Bob Hullinghorst.

“People don’t pay their taxes, and we end up with a large number of those mobile homes going to tax sale,” he said. “They’re just closer to the margin.”

In May, Hullinghorst and Assessor Cindy Domenico formed a task force of county officials and local housing representatives to reach out to mobile home residents who struggle financially. The task force may ultimately recommend that the county purchase some mobile home parks to provide affordable housing, Hullinghorst said.

There were 3,808 mobile homes in Boulder County in 2004, according to Domenico.

Residents of roughly 1,000 of those homes owe delinquent taxes, Hullinghorst said.

Counties where mobile homes are prevalent generally have higher rates of tax delinquency, Hullinghorst said.

“There are a lot of transients in the mobile home community, a lot of people who have just left or been evicted,” he said.

Hullinghorst said the Mapleton neighborhood, which is overseen by a nonprofit that guarantees residents affordable lot rent, could be a model for county-owned or county-managed trailer parks.

Mapleton residents formed a homeowners group in 1995 with hopes of purchasing the property when a previous owner put it on the market.

The land was too expensive for the homeowners, but Boulder city officials made it possible for them to acquire a stake in managing the park when the city bought it, partly to preserve the city’s affordable housing.

In December, the city then sold the park to Thistle Community Housing, a nonprofit affordable housing group, which negotiated a 99-year lease with the homeowners group, according to Thistle home-ownership program manager Etta Habegger.

The arrangement is the only one of its kind in the country, she said.

Because the system gives homeowners a stake in the community’s well-being, many neighbors live there for years and volunteer their time for the park’s management boards, Machen said.

“I saw the opportunity to be involved in how we lived,” said Machen, who heads the neighborhood’s management committee. “It inspired me to be more active as a volunteer.”

Machen’s bond with his neighbors bucks the stereotype of mobile home residents who move from one park to the next, living from paycheck to paycheck.

An artist, Machen knows each of his neighbors by their names and line of work. He lists a car mechanic, computer scientist, massage therapist, carpenters and a pottery instructor as some of the people living in the park’s 130 units.

Most families living in Mapleton earn less than $21,000 a year, or 30 percent of the area’s median income, according to Thistle.

Barbara Navin, a Thistle land trust coordinator and a member of the county’s mobile home task force, said identifying motivated residents and involving them in the park’s upkeep is key in a successful mobile home park.

“It does create stability,” she said. “People here know they have long-term affordable rent, and that helps them plan financially.”

Mapleton’s homeowner group is also doing things on its own to maintain a stable community.

It is working to establish an assistance fund, so residents who fall on hard times can receive a low-interest loan and pay the bills rather than being evicted.

However, while the task force’s goal is noble, Machen said he is skeptical that the programs that worked at Mapleton can be easily transplanted to another trailer park.

Mapleton was successful, he said, because its residents showed drive and innovation.

“It took a lot of steps over a long period of time,” he said. “It really takes initiative. If it’s handed to you, does it work?”

The county task force will continue to meet periodically, and ultimately plans to present an assistance proposal to the commissioners or state representatives, Hullinghorst said.

Several initiatives that would streamline the taxation and assessment process for mobile homes, and provide financial assistance resources for residents facing eviction, are already being discussed, he said.

“We know taxes create problems for people,” he said. “The more we realize that, the more helpful and less bureaucratic we can be.”

Brad Turner can be reached at 720-494-5420, or by e-mail at

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