By Eric Heinz
Denver City Council is looking to preserve mobile home parks, one of the area’s oldest forms of lowercost housing.
Currently, Denver’s zoning code will not allow people to replace mobile home units, and Council President Jamie Torres said because of the city’s building code restrictions people cannot obtain financing for new units anyway.
Making changes to the policies and codes could allow owners to replace units with more modern mobile homes and increase their safety, as council members said some of them have dangerous wiring.
Two of the five remaining mobile home parks in Denver are located within Councilwoman Candi CdeBaca’s district, one at 4765 N. York St. with 12 units and another with two locations at 5201 N. Adams St. and 5520 N. Steele St. with 55 units.
“It’s pretty simple. We’re discriminating against this housing type and we’re trying to create a space that would allow it,” CdeBaca said. “Those changes are necessary in a lot of those parks for safety concerns and right now if you try to make them safer, you essentially displace people.”
According to the city’s Department of Community Planning and Development, Denver banned mobile home parks in 1956 and designated them as a non-conforming use. The city did, however, allow existing parks to remain as long as they continued to meet safety standards and did not expand.
The Colorado Legislature in 2020 passed a bill that gives tenants of a mobile home park the opportunity to purchase units when they become available, but council members said Denver’s restrictions prevent them from taking advantage of that new law.
“We’ve had a situation where one of our parks went up for sale, and one of the other barriers to an organization buying that was conforming to the zoning, and they couldn’t get the financing for an illegally placed unit,” CdeBaca said. “This is one step in the direction of protecting that land and allowing people to get financed to protect it.”
Torres said city staff has been contemplating the changes since January, and at a recent council committee meeting she said formal action could be taken in October, with new policies in effect by early 2023. The first step would be to enact a moratorium on the redevelopment of mobile home parks, similar to the one Aurora passed in 2018.
The next would be to change the zoning code to allow homeowners to have Department of Housing and Urban Development- manufactured homes that would not violate a non-conforming use of the mobile home park. That could be before the council by March.
“I am very frustrated by the building code issue,” Councilwoman Robin Kniech said. “Today, units that are 50 years old with bad electrical are three feet apart. To pretend those residents are safer today than they would be in a new home three feet apart is a legal fiction. It pretends everybody’s fine today and it closes our eyes to how they live today and says, ‘It wouldn’t be safe to live in a totally new unit three feet apart tomorrow.’”
A new zoning district specifically that would address mobile home parks could be developed between 2023 and 2025, Torres said. Councilwoman Debbie Ortega said she had her own issues when addressing issues related to mobile homes, and it might be easier for inspections to be limited to a few units, so long as they’re all built to the same specifications.
“When you’re talking about trying to meet the needs of people who are living in what everybody considers more affordable housing, we’ve got to find ways to make it happen,” Ortega said.
CdeBaca also asked about allowing for spaces of homes with wheels, such as RVs and other tiny home configurations to create more lower-cost housing, but Jill Jennings Golich, CPD deputy executive director, said her staff would have to report back later on any efforts related to those types of units.
“The current cost of land makes housing unattainable but this allows us to keep and get roofs more substantial than a tent and more conducive to more heads than a tiny home,” CdeBaca told The G.E.S. Gazette. “Additionally, the wave of the future is prefabricated, modular, 3D-printed structures. We should be getting ahead of the curve and working with any innovations that get people off the sidewalks.”