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Ponderosa community urges other mobile home park residents to stay attuned to Boulder manufactured housing strategy

City council set for public hearing on draft plan Tuesday

 Ponderosa Mobile Home Park resident Charissa Poteet cooks dinner at her home on Monday. Poteet is urging other mobile home community residents to stay alert to Boulder’s manufactured housing strategy and the plan for Ponderosa has continued to change, making her worry she might no longer be able to afford to live there in the future.
Ponderosa Mobile Home Park resident Charissa Poteet cooks dinner at her home on Monday. Poteet is urging other mobile home community residents to stay alert to Boulder’s manufactured housing strategy and the plan for Ponderosa has continued to change, making her worry she might no longer be able to afford to live there in the future.

With Boulder City Council on Tuesday set to adopt a manufactured housing strategy meant to boost the longevity and preserve the future affordability of its four mobile home parks, Ponderosa community residents are urging mobile home dwellers to stay intently attuned to the city’s effort as it matures.

Ponderosa, a mobile home park in an unincorporated enclave in north Boulder bought by the city in 2017 after it suffered flooding in 2013, is scheduled to be annexed into the city in the coming months.

But Ponderosa community member Charissa Poteet advises residents of the four mobile home parks already in the city — Mapleton, Orchard Grove, Boulder Meadows and Vista Village — to pay close attention to Boulder’s strategy as it develops to ensure it results in changes aligned with neighborhood desires.

Poteet claims Boulder’s proposals for the Ponderosa Community Stabilization effort have changed throughout the planning process, including from an initial idea to replace some trailer units with single-family homes to the possibility that duplexes and triplexes would be erected. She is unsure whether she will be able to afford to remain in Ponderosa if her trailer is replaced by a potential Flatirons Habitat for Humanity-led project to bring homes on permanent foundations to the community.

“A big warning to anyone going through this process that it’s just changing so rapidly,” Poteet said. “There are a lot of scared people around here.”

But Poteet acknowledged some city goals for Ponderosa, namely to improve the water and sewer delivery infrastructure, are desperately needed by the neighborhood. Similar infrastructure upgrades in Boulder’s other four mobile home parks also are being sought by the city. Residents in Orchard Grove earlier this year went days without running water after a pipe break proved challenging for the park owner to fix.

The cost range for the city to replace all water and sewer pipes beneath the mobile home communities has been estimated at between $52.5 million and $112.5 million.

Boulder officials in a memo to council stated that public feedback on the broader manufactured housing strategy encouraged the incorporation of lessons learned through the Ponderosa annexation process.

One of the strategy’s possible methods for limiting monthly costs to mobile home park residents is through energy upgrades, such as the replacement of traditional mobile homes with “zero energy modulars” that often are outfitted with rooftop solar arrays and use about as much energy as they produce each year, resulting in low or no monthly energy bills for residents.

Boulder, in partnership with Colorado Housing Finance Authority, Energy Outreach Colorado and Habitat for Humanity of Colorado, contracted sustainable energy consultant VEIC to study whether placing a zero energy modular production facility on the Front Range is possible and how the energy-saving units could be incorporated into Boulder’s mobile home parks.

“Although (zero energy modular) homes cost more than those built to baseline code, when the incremental cost of the energy efficiency and renewable energy features are rolled into the fixed rate mortgage financing, and the utility offers net metering, homeowners are cash flow positive from day one,” a summary of the VEIC report stated. “… There are no modular factories in Colorado, but there is interest from a variety of affordable housing advocates, educators, developers and private business owners. Creating modular capacity will require multiple factories and we recommend that a (zero energy modular) pilot program support three scenarios” with different levels of output by the production facilities.

In addition to further studying the potential of zero energy modulars to offset mobile home communities’ utility costs, the city also is set to start work this fall on a community solar garden at Ponderosa, to which residents could subscribe for cheap, clean energy that lowers utility bills, which the draft strategy shows the city wants to consider expanding to other mobile home communities.

While the city’s draft strategy aims to guide Boulder over the next several years in improving the condition of its handful of mobile home parks, which includes nearly 1,300 households, according to city staff, there are seven potential ordinances put forth for council consideration.

They include forcing mobile home park owners, who normally charge rent for the pad on which mobile homes are placed, even to residents who own the unit, to give right of first refusal of sale to the residents as a group to prevent displacement; requiring park owners to pay for lodging when there are water or sewer service disruptions; and mandating park owners submit infrastructure maintenance plans, infrastructure replacement schedules and financing plans.

Local governments directly limiting increases in rental rates is prohibited by state law, and trying to restrict mobile home pad rent increases — which have amounted to 4.2% on average annually across the mobile home parks excluding Mapleton for total monthly costs of  $725 to $800 —could bring Boulder into conflict with the rule.

Mapleton mobile home park is owned by Boulder-based nonprofit affordable housing provider, Thistle Communities, which instituted pad rent control there, keeping it below the other three market-rate parks.

“Modernization or replacement of homes and infrastructure elements represent financial challenges of varying degrees for both parties, but are necessary over time,” Boulder staff stated in the memo. “The strategy recognizes the inherent tension between the viability and affordability principles.”

The Rocky Mountain Home Association in June sent a letter to the city signed by owners or representatives of the three market-rate parks, according to the memo.

“As operational costs and animosity are necessarily increased, the expense and quality of life for all associated with these communities will be diminished,” the letter stated. “Again, this is precisely the opposite of what is intended.”