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New efforts are being made to help residents buy the land under their mobile homes

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

Mobile home parks can be a solid option for people seeking affordable housing, but many people don't own the land underneath their mobile homes. So when the parks are sold out from under them, it often means eviction or much higher rents. Colorado is the latest state to pass legislation giving mobile home residents a better chance at buying the land themselves. Aspen Public Radio's Halle Zander reports.

FELIX JIMENEZ: Come on in.

HALLE ZANDER, BYLINE: Felix Jimenez has lived in Three Mile Mobile Home Park for over 30 years, and this morning before work, he's kicking the snow off his boots to show me around his unit.

So you have one dog, one cat and a bird, or...

JIMENEZ: (Laughter) That I know of. I don't know.

ZANDER: There's - oh, my gosh, and then so many more.

JIMENEZ: Oh, we got snakes.

ZANDER: You got snakes.

Jimenez and his wife raised five kids and at least one dog, cat, bird and a few snakes here in Glenwood Springs, Colo., about an hour outside of Aspen. Jimenez says his family even adopted a hurt salamander a few years ago.

JIMENEZ: They called her Sally, and she survived for, like, 10 years after I brought her home. That kind of started our thing with animals.

ZANDER: And now two of their grown children are living in the neighboring units.

JIMENEZ: I own this one, you know, and then Vanessa owns that one. And Lorrie, my wife, actually owns this one. And Gabriella stays there.

ZANDER: Jimenez's family may own their units at Three Mile, but they don't own the land underneath them. That's very common in Colorado. Only eight of the state's 731 registered parks are owned by residents, in part because deep-pocketed investors are swarming to buy them.

SYDNEY SCHALIT: Once the parks get listed, it's like a feeding frenzy of bids.

ZANDER: Sydney Schalit runs a local social justice nonprofit called Manaus. She says residents of mobile home parks can pool their money and buy the land under their homes. But that requires a lot of time and legal support, especially in resort areas like this one near Aspen, where real estate is among the most expensive in the U.S.

SCHALIT: And so even if the residents do this miraculous work and get all the financing in order, they're going to have competition, and the competition comes in millions over.

ZANDER: Last year Colorado updated some of its laws to give residents a better shot at purchasing their parks. Park owners now have to give residents 120 days' notice when their properties go up for sale. Nineteen states have laws in place addressing mobile home park purchases. Colorado, Massachusetts and New Hampshire's are among the strongest, written to give residents a fair shake when making an offer. But Schalit says 120 days is still not a lot of time.

SCHALIT: To put together an S-Corp or an LLC, whichever one they choose, to learn self-governance, to pull together the financing - and they all work, right? Like, everybody in here either works or is retired. And so, like, that's a big lift.

ZANDER: But luckily, the residents of Three Mile were given more than four months to get their finances in order. The current owners of Three Mile want to sell to the residents, so they've agreed not to list the property for now. Instead, they've given Schalit and Manaus time to buy the park so they can operate it until the residents are ready to purchase. Felix Jimenez and his wife, Lorrie Bennett, aren't sure what they would do if Three Mile sold to an outside buyer.

LORRIE BENNETT: To think of increasing rents on a retired salary, I was like, OK. We're going to get roommates. We're going to sell, you know? And when we thought we'd have to sell, it was like, well, what state do we move to?

ZANDER: So if the nonprofit helping residents can raise the money for the down payment and get loans from a few lenders, they can give Three Mile residents years to buy the park back. But not everyone gets to work with cooperative sellers. Most residents trying to purchase their parks are fighting a clock with a lot less resources, and this deal could still fall through over the next few years. Despite the uncertainty, Jimenez and Bennett are hopeful.

BENNETT: I'm still praying that everything comes together the way they need.

ZANDER: If Manaus is successful, the roughly 90 people who live at Three Mile will have the luxury of time and maybe inspire others along the way.

BENNETT: Hopefully other residents can go, we can do this for our park.

ZANDER: Manaus has until the end of April to close on the park. For NPR News, I'm Halle Zander.

(SOUNDBITE OF TSY MIDDY SONG, "MBT") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Halle Zander

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