A walk can be a good time to reflect on a journey.
On a stroll through the Durango, Colorado, mobile home park she moved to when she was 13, Alejandra Chavez stops at the unit her parents owned.
“They bought it for $3,000,” she says.
Chavez moved to southern Colorado from Mexico to live with her parents, who worked multiple jobs to make ends meet.
“The American dream is hard,” she says.
Chavez says it can be hard to find affordable housing in Durango. The average home goes for more than $700,000, according to Zillow.
For many, a mobile home is one of the few affordable options when looking for a place to live.
“We work in restaurants, some of our neighbors are nurses we have dentists, we have housekeeping,” Chavez says, describing the importance of the workers who live in her park when it comes to the local economy.
In many mobile home parks, residents own the units they live in but still pay rent to a landlord for the land it sits on.
To investors, mobile home parks are a real estate opportunity.
Mobile Home University, which teaches investors how to buy and operate mobile home parks, says buying a mobile home park can create a return of more than 20%.
That's higher than what the average annual return typically is on the stock market.
For those who live in mobile home parks, the purchase of land can mean a spike in rent.
“People here in West Side, they already have two jobs to support their family you know,” Chavez says.
In 2021, when West Side’s previous owner put the park up for sale, the residents who lived there found a way to buy it for more than $5.5 million.
They got financial support from the nonprofit Elevation Community Land Trust.
West Side’s residents also took advantage of a law in Colorado that says when a park is going to be sold, the owner must give residents a set number of days to come up with an offer to buy it.
In 2022, the law changed from 90 days to 120.
Twenty states have similar laws, according to the National Consumer Law Center.
“When we came here, we looked at the housing, and yikes,” says mobile home park resident Karen Pontius.
Pontius lives at the Animas View mobile home park about ten miles from West Side in Durango.
She and her neighbors banded together in 2021 and bought their park for roughly $15 million when it was up for sale.
They were helped by the non-profit ROC USA which has helped establish mobile home co-ops across the country. (https://rocusa.org/)
Instead of a landlord calling the shots on rent, a board of residents makes the call.
“We make decisions about our park ourselves instead of an investor in New York City making those decisions,” says Animas View resident John Egan who is now on the board of directors for ROC USA.
While laws that give residents a chance to buy their land exist, it’s still an uphill battle when a park is put up for sale.
Since 2020, residents in only five parks have been able to purchase their land while more than 100 have been sold in Colorado, according to state records.
Chavez leads the co-op in charge of West Side. She’s working to make sure the opportunity this park gave her will continue.
“Living in a mobile home park, I’m not ashamed to be living in a mobile home park,” Chavez says. "I’m proud even, I’m proud of living in a mobile home park.”