The atmosphere at Whitehaven Mobile Home Park was somber in August when residents learned someone had made an offer for the land beneath their homes.
“Everyone was scared because there’s nowhere else to live in Steamboat,” said Jose Lopez of Whitehaven.
Many Whitehaven residents feared the worst: the unknown buyer would either raise property fees or redevelop the land and evict the approximately 70 people who live there.
But during a special meeting Thursday, Sept. 22, Yampa Valley Housing Authority board members agreed to offer $3.125 million — matching the previous offer, plus $1 — to purchase Whitehaven Mobile Home Park on behalf of the park’s residents .
If the purchase is successful, the housing authority would act as interim manager of the park while working with residents to improve the park’s infrastructure and eventually convert it into a residents-owned cooperative.
The money was raised through a mix of low-interest loans and donations large and small to the Yampa Valley Community Foundation’s Routt County Workforce Housing Preservation Fundwhich has raised $750,000 so far.
The Yampa Valley Housing Authority expects to keep the park’s property fees the same while balancing its own finances, similar to how the agency has operated Fish Creek Mobile Home Park since it purchased it in 2007.
“The big picture for us is that we can pay for operations, maintenance and debt service without raising rents,” said Jason Peasley, director of the housing authority.
He also encouraged the Steamboat community to keep being generous.
“There’s still a need for philanthropy in this area,” Peasley said. “Very large investments in the infrastructure still have to be made on this property.”
In addition, the Workforce Housing Preservation Fund continues to accept donations that can help fund improvements to Whitehaven’s infrastructure or even help other communities in similar situations to Whitehaven.
Connecting Whitehaven to the city’s water supply is one of the major infrastructure projects required by the community. The aging pipes that supply Whitehaven with well water have long been a problem.
“Water pressure fluctuates,” said Brad Leister, another Whitehaven resident. “I definitely don’t drink water. It tastes weird.”
Leister was in the process of rebuilding part of his home when he was told he could potentially lose it. Now, as he nears the completion of thousands of dollars worth of renovations, Thursday’s news brings him some comfort.
“Everyone seems relaxed,” said Leister.
Because of the Colorado Mobile Home Park Act, Whitehaven residents had 90 days to submit a competing bid after being notified of the potential sale.
The community quickly mobilized, and with help from the Yampa Valley Housing Authority, the Integrated Community, and the Yampa Valley Community Foundation, they were able to raise funds and robustly defend their homes.
At most mobile home parks, including Whitehaven, the land and houses are owned separately. In many cases, when the property is sold, the mobile home owners are told that they have to vacate the property. However, with so many homes in Whitehaven being decades old, towing is not an option and the units would likely have to decay.
“From the potential of losing our home 45 days ago to knowing we can keep our home and have a future in Steamboat is beyond words,” said Jake Dombrowski, a Whitehaven resident who is co-author with his girlfriend Kim Osterhout Help for her neighborhood was involved in organizing.
“Words cannot describe how grateful we are,” Dombrowski said.
The Housing Authority intends to iron out a deal with the property owner soon, but in the event that a higher bid is received, Housing Authority officials believe they will be able to exercise a right of first refusal granted by an amendment to the RV Parking Act, which will come into effect on October 1st.
“We can go through all the spins that we would have to go through on October 1st,” Peasley said. “But if we can just come to an agreement with the property owner in the next few days, that makes the process a lot easier for everyone.”
For Patty Johnson, who has lived in Whitehaven for about 30 years, the good news is the culmination of a difficult time.
Johnson was in Denver for about seven months, caring for her ailing mother. After her mother passed away a few weeks ago, Johnson said she returned home and familiarized herself with the situation in her community.
“I missed a lot,” Johnson said.
She said the housing board’s decision was a relief and hopes to make improvements to her unit now that she is more confident she can keep it.
“I sweated that,” Johnson said.
To reach Spencer Powell, call 970-871-4229 or email him at [email protected]