An abrupt about-face by Harmony Communities, a California-based mobile home park operator, has left Golden Hills Mobile Home Park residents who hoped to purchase the community in which they live frustrated, frightened—and baffled.
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”Right now, we’re coming off the third attempt to purchase the trailer park we live in; and each attempt has been a little more frustrating than the one that came before,” said Heather Malone, resident and vice president of the Golden Hills cooperative, a group of her fellow homeowners who want to buy and operate the 38-unit community themselves.
”We feel like we’ve been closer each time, but then something always seems to go wrong at the last minute, and it falls through,” she said.
Ann Norton, one of the attorneys representing the cooperative, said Harmony Communities purchased the Golden Hills property in November 2021. Shortly after that, residents received a notice of the company’s intent to increase lot rent—in some cases, by as much as 50%.
In addition, residents were presented with a 12-page list of changes to community rules and regulations, many of which Norton called ”quite onerous.”
The proposed changes included several rules that require pricey modifications to homes, such as the addition of awnings.
But then, in December, just four weeks after purchasing the park, Harmony Communities turned around and notified Golden Hills residents of their intent to now sell.
By a state law passed in 2020, mobile home park operators must notify and negotiate in good faith with the residents should they wish to purchase the property.
The notice sent the residents scrambling.
However, Joyce Tanner, the Golden Hills co-op president, said they were fortunate because they had twice prepared offers for the previous owners.
Norton said residents matched the terms of purchase they were led would be acceptable and tendered their offer in early January 2022.
“This was not a lowball offer, by any means,” she said.
After the offer was submitted, Harmony suddenly decided not to sell.
Tanner said there was ”some back and forth over the terms, but they came to us—we pulled an offer together, and we were communicating with them, and then it was just an abrupt change.”
”It really took the rug out from under the residents,” said Norton. “They were completely caught off guard.”
While Norton said residents hope channels of communication with Harmony are still open, the bigger point is that they are now back in the position of not being able to purchase the property.
And that packs a significant wallop for those in need of affordable housing in Golden.
Located in the North Historic Neighborhood, Golden Hills was established in 1947 and spans an entire city block.
Many residents have lived there for 20 to 30 years, creating a very stable community in which to live, work and raise a family—and age in place.
Mobile home parks are the largest source of unsubsidized affordable housing across the nation, especially in Golden.
Under current state law, there is no limit to the amount of rent that can be charged, explained Norton.
For the residents of Golden Hills, the first rent increase was substantial.
While Harmony can’t raise the rent for another year, Norton cautions any additional rent increase in the future is likely to result in displacement.
”I’m at the max of what I can pay with this increase,” Malone said. ”If there’s if there is another one, I can tell you for sure; I’ll be displaced.”
Malone, who’s lived in the park for 10 years, said within weeks of Harmony’s purchase of the park, her lot rent went from $550 a month to $795.
This is rent for the lot alone and does not include the structure.
Although Malone, a married mother of three, says she has a stable and ”good-paying job,” the situation at Golden Hills will not be sustainable for her, even though she and her husband own their mobile home.
”So if I’m struggling, and I’m at the upper limits of employment in the park, I foresee this being a problem for the majority of our residents,” she said. ”I’m very concerned for them.”
As for the community’s current mood, Malone says they’re frustrated and frightened.
Frustrated, because they’ve invested a great deal of work and emotion into making Golden Hills a resident-owned community, and it’s yet to happen after three legitimate attempts.
She is frightened because she sees a trend that will eventually force her out of her home.
If forced out, Malone said there is no way her family can remain together under one roof.
”Honestly, I think we would end up moving back in with parents, which is not ideal,” she said. ”We’d have to get rid of our pets; we’d have to take some people to Broomfield to live with my in-laws and myself and a couple of kids to my parents’ house.”
Essentially it would split up the family.
“There’s no one place where we can stay together but here,” she said.
The concept of resident-owned communities is not a new one, explained Norton. She said it’s been done hundreds of times across the country—and successfully. The idea is simple. It allows the residents to control the rent and the operation of the property to keep it affordable by eliminating the profit factor in ownership.
And the Golden Hills residents have substantial support.
Along with Norton, the co-op is working closely with Boulder-based Thistle, a small non-profit organization specializing in planning, developing, and managing affordable housing.
Thistle, according to Norton, is working with the Golden Hills co-op to purchase and operate their community and provide necessary technical guidance.
Tanner insists the Golden Hills co-op is organized and serious about taking ownership of their community.
”This isn’t just a group of ragtag folks going, ‘Hey, let’s buy this park,’” she said. ”Thistle provides structure, support, and help for the co-op for 10 years and will help with things like bylaws.”
Additional support for the co-op has come from the Colorado Poverty Law Project, Golden United, the county, and the City of Golden.
During a Jan. 25 regular meeting, Golden City Council voted unanimously to approve a letter of intent to support the Golden Hills co-op in purchasing the park, to help preserve what scarce affordable housing remains in Golden.
The letter expressed the City’s desire to contribute up to $1 million toward the purchase of the park by its residents. However, the offer is contingent upon the commitment of other community agencies and that any funds provided by the City be subject to an agreement containing terms and conditions approved by the city council.
So what’s next?
Norton said residents are still in shock but remain hopeful for another opportunity to purchase the park.
On a positive note, Tanner said the ordeal has brought residents together and created a very strong sense of community.
”I’m pretty proud of the board,” she said. ”I’m proud of the work that’s been done, and I’m proud of the other coop members and residents who are learning and growing while stressed, and facing housing insecurity in a very real way.”
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