The somewhat bitter saga of Steamboat Springs’ mobile home parks
Mobile homes offer local affordable housing options — but there are far less now than just a decade ago
Editor’s note: This story is part of “Parked: Half the American Dream,” a package of stories produced in collaboration with more than a dozen newsrooms across Colorado, including Steamboat Pilot & Today.
Mobile homes comprise Colorado’s largest source of unsubsidized affordable housing, with more than 100,000 Coloradans living in over 900 parks across the state. But those numbers have declined as large investors gobble up mom-and-pop operations, eliminating some parks in favor of redevelopment. Meanwhile, conflict between residents and management, which reflect a power dynamic that has long favored owners, prompted changes in state law aimed at helping residents. Can mobile homes still be part of the solution to the housing crisis?
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — Christina Allevato Payton had a rare find in Steamboat Springs: a waterfront home for under $1 million.
“I probably lived in a $2 million spot with an amazing view,” she said. “It was on just one street, so it was a very friendly neighborhood. We were very closely knit. It was nice because we lived on the river.”
Allevato Payton was one of about 100 residents who lived in the Westland Mobile Home Park on the banks of the Yampa River in downtown Steamboat. Residents were just steps away from the river, a grocery store, boutiques, bars and restaurants.
Today, there’s no sign of Allevato Payton’s three-bedroom manufactured home, or any of the 38 others that once occupied the park.
Westland was demolished in 2005 after three years of negotiations between developers, the city, the landowner and the residents of Westland.
It was demolished with intentions to build Riverwalk, a mixed-use development of 72 residential units, seven deed-restricted affordable units, 35 hotel rooms, 35,234 square feet of commercial space and 108 underground parking spaces. Riverwalk gave relocation money to some residents of the park as part of a deal struck between developers, residents, the city and the Yampa Valley Housing Authority.
It’s been more than a decade since the residents of Westland moved out and most of their manufactured homes were demolished, the former residents have scattered, moving into homes in the Yampa Valley or leaving the community all together.
Then, the recession happened. For 12 years, the site that was intended to become Riverwalk sat vacant and undeveloped — an empty property where families once lived.
Riverwalk ultimately evolved into RiverView, with a new development team. It is now planned as a mixed-use development with the possibility of including apartments, duplexes, retail space, offices and a boutique hotel. It broke ground this summer.
Lots are currently for sale in RiverView individually and the entire development is listed for $31.9 million. Today, developers are completing roads, utilities, sidewalks and landscaping, Greene Courte Partners Managing Director Mark Scully wrote in an email to the Steamboat Pilot & Today.
“We were not involved with the trailer park that preceded RiverView,” Scully wrote. He declined to be interviewed for this story, and Jim Cook, a Steamboat Realtor who represented Riverwalk in those negotiations with the city and mobile homeowners back in the early 2000s, also chose not to be interviewed.
In a costly city, manufactured homes can be a more affordable option
Routt County manufactured homes
Routt County’s manufactured home supply has been almost reduced by half in just the last decade.
Routt County Assessor Gary Peterson noted there were roughly 1,300 total manufactured homes in the county when he began his tenure in 2010. Today, there are only about 800.
Two manufactured home parks no longer exist in the county. Trailer Haven, located near where the current Old Town Hot Springs stands in Steamboat Springs, had 11 homes. That site was torn down around 1995. Just across Lincoln Avenue at Fifth and Yampa streets was the Westland manufactured home park, which had 39 units. It was demolished in 2005.
Both were torn down in the name of downtown growth and expansion.
Two or three parks have also closed in Hayden, according to Peterson. These parks were mainly small with two to four mobile homes on site.
For manufactured homes that currently exist, more than 90% are located inside a park, with the remaining situated on private land around the county.
Many of Routt County’s 20 current mobile home parks have changed ownership several times over the years, with most of the smaller parks owned by individuals or trusts.
Steamboat’s second-largest mobile home park, Dream Island, is located directly off U.S. Highway 40 just steps from downtown Steamboat. Ascentia Management, formerly known as CREICO, has owned the property since 1991. Boris Vukovich, chairman of the Ascentia Board of Directors, has also owned other Routt County mobile home parks, including the Willow Hill and Willow Bend parks in Oak Creek, which are home to 63 units. Vukovich sold Willow Bend in 2014, but failed to negotiate a deal with a local firm to sell Dream Island in the early 2000s.
In a unique turn, residents of a former mobile home park on Maple Street in Steamboat, now known as Hilltop Homes, purchased their lots from the park owner with help from the former Regional Affordable Living Foundation and several local banks. Residents took the option to replace the original mobile homes with stick-built or modular homes.
The only time a governmental agency stepped in to save a mobile home park was in the case of the 67-unit Fish Creek Mobile Home Park, which was purchased in September 2007 by the Yampa Valley Housing Authority, with help from the city of Steamboat Springs. It was purchased for $3.2 million in order to secure the future of the homes in that neighborhood, which was constructed in 1970. It’s currently touted as an affordable housing option.
The amount of deactivated mobile home accounts, per the assessor’s office, spans back to the 1980s. There are currently 550 deactivated accounts. Those can occur for several reasons.
An account is deactivated when a title is purged, and the home becomes valued as part of the property it sits on. It also happens when a unit is sold, and the account changes names to its new owner, or, when a unit simply no longer exists or people just leave it.
“Abandonment happens all the time,” Peterson said. “Many are converted to storage then forgotten, or people die and leave the home to just sit there.”
In those cases, demolition permits are acquired, and they’re knocked down.
Of the total 788 individual mobile homes currently in Routt County, only one is listed in excellent condition, 16 are considered very good, 163 are considered good, 247 are considered fair, 308 are considered average and 53 are considered low. Almost half of the homes are singlewide units manufactured prior to 1976.
The average total actual value of the manufactured homes was recorded as $32,962 in 2018, according to the assessor’s office. The homes contributed a net total of $113,390.20 to the tax roll in 2018.
— Bryce Martin
Steamboat Pilot & Today
Manufactured homes are houses that have a chassis. They’re regulated by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. They’re what you typically think of when you think of a mobile home or a trailer.
Manufactured homes house 1,274 Steamboat residents, with most of them — 870 people — owning their homes, according to data from the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2017 American Community Survey compiled by local economist Scott Ford.
There are 503 manufactured homes in Steamboat city limits, which account for about 5% of the city’s total housing units. It’s also the greatest concentration of manufactured homes in Routt County.
According to data from the Routt County Assessor’s Office, there are a total of 788 manufactured homes in 20 parks around the county.
The average value of a manufactured home in city limits is about $42,000, according to Census data, while the average home value in Steamboat is $515,900.
In most manufactured home parks, people own their home but not the land underneath it. Frequently, they pay lot rent to the owner of the park.
While manufactured homes are frequently called mobile homes, they’re not that mobile. Many are too old to move. Relocating them requires disconnecting utilities, packing up and preparing an occupied house to allow it to safely travel down a highway. And, even if it can be moved, a manufactured home owner still has to find a place to move it to.
“I’ve never seen a scenario where somebody successfully removed their trailer by hitching it to something and dragging it away. I’ve seen a couple of them leaving in dumpsters — having to be literally demolished — and then replaced with a new one,” said Jason Peasley, executive director of the Yampa Valley Housing Authority, the organization that owns and operates Fish Creek Mobile Home Park in Steamboat.
‘A silver lining’
Allevato Payton lived in Westland for a little over 12 years. She had a three-bedroom manufactured home with a fireplace, and she earned extra income renting out two of those bedrooms to seasonal workers who came every winter to work at Steamboat Resort.
At the end of Westland’s existence, she emerged as a leader in that community, frequently speaking to City Council and the developers in an effort to keep lot rents affordable and get compensation for residents of the park.
She knew Westland was for sale when she bought her manufactured home.
“I decided, because I knew the land was for sale forever, that I would be the last person that lived there,” she said.
The three years between notification of the Riverwalk proposal and her eviction were tumultuous ones.
She could no longer rent out her home, so she started working three jobs to afford the increases in lot rent when Riverwalk took ownership of the park. She initially explored moving her manufactured home, but ultimately, asbestos and the home’s age made her abandon the idea. She became a renter, which was made more complicated by the fact that she had pets.
She ended up moving into a small house in Steamboat II, then a garage before getting married and moving to Craig about 50 miles west.
Over the long-term, though, while it shook up her life, the end of Westland was also a new beginning for her.
Riverwalk ultimately purchased two blocks of Yampa Street right-of-way from the city of Steamboat for about $950,000.
That money funded two outcomes. $550,000 was divvied up between residents and manufactured home owners based on how long they’d lived there and the value of their homes. Westland homeowners received an average of $19,400. The city passed the remaining $400,000 onto the Yampa Valley Housing Authority in the form of a low-interest loan, which the Housing Authority then used to purchase Fish Creek Mobile Home Park in 2007.
With her share of the relocation money, Allevato Payton got her real estate broker’s license. With the recession in full swing, that didn’t pan out for her, but it set her on a path to getting married and eventually moving down valley.
Now, deer regularly appear in the front yard of the home she owns with her husband in Craig. She still spends time in Steamboat, playing music with her husband at restaurants. She still has a ski pass, though it takes longer to get to the mountain.
“I ended up getting really blessed marrying a wonderful husband, and moving down here and buying my own home,” she said. “It worked out well for me, and I’ve seen other people — through the mobile home park — where it’s worked out well for them. They just bought another home. I guess it’s all attitude. It’s 90% attitude and 10% what happens to you, because life changes constantly, and things happen.”
She guessed that about 10% to 30% of her old neighbors moved out of the Yampa Valley. Others, she said, used the relocation money to purchase manufactured homes in other parks in Steamboat or other homes in the area. She said the relocation money allowed those who received it to reconstruct their lives.
“Some people took that money and bought another mobile home down the road and went to Dream Island. Some went to West Acres. Some used it in other ways,” Allevato Payton said. “We all had our different ways we used that money to improve our lives, so you know, there was a little light at the end of the tunnel there.”
But that relocation money didn’t carry significant benefit for all of the park’s residents.
Stephanie Blake was renting a manufactured home in Westland when news of its proposed demolition broke. She can’t remember if she got any of the relocation money. If she did, she said, “it was small enough that it didn’t do a whole lot.”
She and her then-husband cobbled together enough money to pay a deposit on a rental in Dream Island. Now, she lives in a condominium in city limits.
“It was a struggle to come up with the money, and it was a struggle to find a new place to live, but we did it, and it was OK,” Blake said.
She and her family had never intended to live in Westland for the long haul, and she feels worse for the longtime owners whose homes were demolished.
“Everybody moved out, and then they demolished the trailer park. Then it sat empty for years,” she said. “That made me a little bit mad at times, when you go by there and nothing was being done.
“They were so in a hurry to get rid of everybody, and then there it sat empty for years and years and years,” Blake added. “I guess some things are in the works now, but I just wonder what the hurry was to get everybody out of there.”
The early 2000s: An era of change for Steamboat’s mobile home parks
The demolition of Westland was not the only redevelopment of manufactured home parks in Steamboat, though it did result in the most residents being displaced.
At the turn of the millennium, two other sagas played out in local manufactured home parks with very different endings: at Trailer Haven and Hilltop Homes.
In late 2000, when their park was offered up for sale, 17 manufactured home-owners in the Hilltop Homes manufactured home park on Harms Court across from Steamboat Springs High School came together to purchase the park under a limited liability company they formed together. The city agreed to allow the owners to subdivide the lots, and each manufactured home owner went from renting their land to owning the small plots under their homes. Today, some of those owners have built small, stick-built homes in their place.
Trailer Haven was an 11-home manufactured home park located on Fish Creek Falls Road and Third Street. In June 2000, the Steamboat Springs Health and Recreation Association — the organization that now operates as Old Town Hot Springs — purchased the park. Residents of the park received $4,000 for leaving, and the Hot Springs paid to have the homes removed from the site.
Trailer Haven residents retained legal representation. They requested the city council require developers, in this case the Hot Springs, to help them find land to relocate the homes to.
“They came before City Council and were asking for City Council to put in some requirements, that they be taken care of — not just the owners of the park but the owners of the individual mobile homes, which of course, rent space. They don’t own the land their trailers are on, so they really had no rights,” said Jim Engelken, who served on the Steamboat Springs City Council at the time. “They were looking to change that to some degree.”
That required a new city ordinance creating a new law.
“There wasn’t a stomach for that, and that’s my vague recollection of it all,” he said.
A new ordinance did emerge, though it didn’t require compensation or land to relocate the homes to.
Ordinance 1804, the “Preservation of Mobile Home Housing Ordinance,” was passed in August 2001.
It created additional requirements on developers when they intend to change the land use of a manufactured home park. From then on, any developer, including Riverwalk, was required to apply for a conditional use permit, which involved compiling an impact report with the following information:
- Names and addresses of each manufactured home owner
- Unit numbers, the age and characteristics of each home
- How many people occupied a home
- A list of manufactured home sites in comparable parks within a 50-mile radius and a schedule of rental rates for each of those parks
- A relocation plan including the proposed date for closing the park and detailing any relocation assistance payments
- Conceptual plans describing the new land use, and
- Certification that residents and owners of a park were each issued a copy of the impact report.
The payments to manufactured homeowners in Westland weren’t required under this ordinance but were negotiated between the residents, owners, Riverwalk and the city.
“The neat thing was that nobody in the state of Colorado had ever been able to get compensation from an owner,” Allevato Payton said. “We were the first group of people that ever was awarded compensation from the land owner or the purchaser. We worked really hard on that. We did buy Fish Creek Mobile Home Park, too, and that’ll never happen to them.”
What’s the future of manufactured homes in Steamboat?
Steamboat currently has four major manufactured home parks: Fish Creek, Dream Island, West Acres and Sleepy Bear. Of those, two could be protected by their zoning.
Steamboat Springs Planning and Community Development Director Rebecca Bessey explained that manufactured homes are only allowed within the manufactured home zone district. Dream Island and West Acres mobile home parks are zoned that way, which allows for manufactured homes, modular homes and stick-built homes.
Bessey said that ultimately, only developers can say which park is the most likely to be redeveloped.
“However, I would say the parks that are zoned (manufactured home) right now, to redevelop to something else would need a rezoning, so there’s a lot of control that the city has there in terms of whether we would rezone it or not,” she said.
Two parks, Fish Creek and Sleepy Bear, are zoned for commercial use.
“I think that that would probably make it easier to redevelop those,” Bessey said, qualifying that a developer would still have to obtain a conditional-use permit under the Preservation of Mobile Home Housing Ordinance.
The city considers those parks a legal non-conforming use, so a planning code enforcement officer isn’t going to come knocking on residents’ doors.
Peasley said the Yampa Valley Housing Authority has no intention of selling or redeveloping Fish Creek Mobile Home Park.The zoning classification doesn’t change the park’s operation, either, so the Housing Authority is unlikely to pursue re-zoning. Lot rents at the park are priced so the Housing Authority can breakeven while operating the park, so while lot rent could rise, it’s typically lower than other parks in town. Currently, lot rent ranges from $410 to $475 a month.
Management at Sleepy Bear had not responded to requests for comment as to whether they’d consider selling or redeveloping the park themselves.
At Dream Island, Acentia, the owners of the park, have completed about $2 million in renovations and improvements in the last three years, with most of that invested into renovating apartments on the property, Vice President of Asset Management Marko Vukovich wrote in an email to the Pilot.
In the coming year, Vukovich said the company plans to improve common areas such as the mail kiosk, signage, roads and drainage infrastructure. Lot rents in Dream Island range from $835 to $855, he said. In 2008, the Pilot reported lot rents in the park were about $530 a month.
In 2008, Green Courte Partners, the developers of RiverView, made an offer to purchase Dream Island with the intention of building affordable housing, though those plans were never detailed publicly, and the deal never came to fruition.
Though lot rent is part of the cost of owning a manufactured home, these homes are still a cheaper option than a traditionally constructed two- or three-bedroom house in Steamboat.
Peasley said the Housing Authority is interested in manufactured home parks, because it allows for “single family-ish homeownership scenario” at a lower cost.
“The struggle is finding ground and getting it zoned for that purpose,” he said.
In 2013, the owners of West Acres pursued a change to the city’s land use plan in order to build a smaller manufactured home park with at least 29 lots near Copper Ridge and Elk River roads. The city didn’t approve the change.
To make a manufactured home park cost-effective, they must be built on a wide swath of flat land. Peasley pointed out, that for a typical developer, if it’s big enough to do a mobile home park on, it’s big enough to do regular subdivision on.
“Why wouldn’t you do that and sell $800,000 houses? That’s the struggle,” he said.
Bessey said there might be room for smaller parks in current city limits.
“I think we definitely are supportive of our existing parks. There may be room for new parks. Of course, we have limited land for development,” Bessey said. “We don’t have any vacant land sitting out there that is zoned (for manufactured homes) right now, but I think we’d be open to considering new parks, depending on the location and what our future land use plan says for that area.
“I don’t see them going away,” she added.
Right now, there is only one online listing for a manufactured home for sale in mobile home parks located within the city. The four-bedroom manufactured home is on the market for $40,000. It was built in 1964 and is located in Dream Island on the banks of the Yampa River.
Yards are small, and lot rents seem to be ever increasing, but Steamboat’s remaining manufactured home parks are the only real estate option in the city that offers a four-bedroom, single-family home on the banks of the Yampa River for under $900,000.
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Tuesday, March 2, 2021