Westside is a community of 58 trailers. About 75 percent of the population is Latina, with the other 25% being Native American or white.
The areas where these immigrant families are living often have deplorable resources, for example, mobile homes that do not offer a dignified life and that charge a very high price. When the pandemic hit, lots of people living there lost income. So they had to innovate to give their families a good life.
In December of 2021, residents of Westside received a notice that their park was going to be sold. People were worried that they would lose their homes. The owner had already received an offer from Harmony Communities, a corporation that owns dozens of mobile home parks across the West. Often when corporations buy these parks, they raise the lot rents by huge amounts. They don’t do the required repairs. People are either priced out or pushed into even worse living conditions. The residents didn’t know what to do. They didn’t know where to look for help.
When Compañeros learned of this, we found hope in a Colorado law passed in 2020 that requires owners of trailer parks to provide residents with a 90-day notice of their intent to sell and give the residents an opportunity to form a cooperative and make an offer to purchase the land. So Compañeros, community members, and other organizations started to raise funds so that the residents might be able to form a cooperative and buy their own park. We wanted to help make sure that, first off, the residents weren’t displaced, and second, that corporations didn’t take advantage of the sale.
In January 2022, residents formed the Westside Coop and begin working with Elevation Community Land Trust to purchase their own park. The community had never organized like this before; they’d put together parties and stuff but they had never really done anything formal for the benefit of the community. Many residents didn’t have a high school education. So it was difficult for them to visualize themselves making the changes they needed to write a proposal and all that.
Through this fight they started to create this notion of community, figuring out how they can actually solve the issues they have and how to speak for themselves. As an organizer, I didn’t want to be the representative of the community. I wanted them to actually represent the issues they have. My role is to help prepare them to do that. That was the big key. I knew what resources existed and how to create access to services and other organizations through partnerships. But we wanted to create this access through building power and leadership.
It was incredibly challenging. They had only a few months to raise $5.5 million. Their first offer was turned down because it depended on bank loans, and they had to put together a cash offer in only a week. Amazingly, they did it, and the owner accepted the offer. There is still a lot to figure out, but the transition is encouraging. They were able to decrease lot rents instead of raising them. There are many people that are now paying considerably less rent than they were paying before. Also, people are starting to do community projects. The girls, for example, are talking about making a club and a community space. So there is a lot of positive energy in the community.