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Hickenlooper talks affordable housing, mobile home parks with residents in El Jebel

Hickenlooper responds to questions from a constituent during a meeting in El Jebel on June 27, 2024.
Caroline Llanes
Aspen Public Radio
Hickenlooper responds to questions from a constituent during a meeting in El Jebel on June 27, 2024.

Pueden encontrar la versión en español aquí.

U.S. Senator John Hickenlooper (D-Colo.) was in El Jebel on Thursday. In a meeting organized by local Latino advocacy nonprofit Voces Unidas, the senator heard from residents on a variety of issues.

Protections for mobile home parks

Sylvia Barragan lives in the Apple Tree mobile home park in New Castle. She told Hickenlooper that water quality has been a persistent issue in the park.

“With laundry, the lighter colors get damaged due to quality of water,” she said. “I must purchase water for drinking, for my dogs, and cooking. It is concerning, because I have replaced my water heaters, faucets and bathroom toilets many times during the nine years that I've lived there. I've not been able to wear white clothes, unless I take off my clothes elsewhere to wash.”

She said the landlord at Apple Tree is from out-of-state, and doesn’t understand the concerns of residents.

“The lot rent in Apple Tree has been increasing, exponentially, and frankly, I don't see that funds are being used to improve roads or anything else that benefits the community,” she said.

In terms of water quality, Hickenlooper said there could be federal money for mobile home parks.

“You know, one of the things that we passed in the Bipartisan Infrastructure Bill, was — I can't remember how much was $20 (billion) or $30 billion — to go into lower income communities first and replace the piping, to make sure that the water coming in is not contaminated by that,” he said. “What you're describing sounds very much like it passes this.”

In 2020, Governor Jared Polis signed a law giving mobile home park residents the opportunity to purchase the park if the landlord is looking to sell. Residents have 90 days after receiving notice from the landlord to make an offer.

Hickenlooper praised the law, but recognized that there are often obstacles to making these purchases happen.

“I think it's worth talking about other ways we can catalyze or accelerate the process,” he said. “Right now, we have to wait until someone makes an offer, but maybe there's a way we can work with a couple of foundations and be more proactive.”

Affordable housing in mountain communities

Daniel Lizardo lives in El Jebel and works in landscaping. Originally from Guadalajara, Mexico, he and his wife have two kids, and they want to buy a house.

But he said the price of homes in the valley makes it impossible. Lizardo said that if he wanted to buy a home in El Jebel or Basalt, he’d need to find a down payment for a $1 million home—an amount his salary wouldn’t cover.

He said this means that he and his community spend less time at home with their families when they have to commute long distances to work.

“En este trayecto que ha pasado, las personas que viven aquí, que han estado en los parqueaderos, que se han salido por querer tener algo propio, deciden irse a Rifle, New Castle, Parachute,” he said. “Estamos a una hora, dos horas de camino y esa misma persona viene y trabaja en nuestra comunidad en Aspen, Basalt.”

“The way things have gone, the people who have been here and lived in the mobile home parks, who have left because they wanted to own a home, they decided to go to Rifle, New Castle, Parachute. We’re an hour or two (away) and the same person comes and works in our communities in Aspen and Basalt.”

He posed a question to Hickenlooper, asking if there was anything that could be done federally to create affordable housing programs for people who work in construction, tourism, and hospitality.

“¿Habrá oportunidad o qué es lo que debemos de hacer?” he asked. Debemos trabajar más, trabajar todo el día: de 6 en la mañana a 12 de la noche. ¿Qué es lo que debemos de hacer?”

“Will there be an opportunity for us?” he asked. “What should we do? We work all day, from six in the morning to midnight, should we work more?”

Hickenlooper responded that even creating federal programs for affordable housing for teachers, doctors, and emergency responders is politically fraught.

“That is viewed by most people as a more intimate relationship,” he said. “‘They are more of my part of the family than someone who built my house.’ And that may be wrong. Maybe all workers should be treated equally, in which case then there is no benefit.”

He said overall, there needs to be more housing built in resort communities to bring prices down.

“I mean, bottom line is everybody should be able to afford a house,” Hickenlooper said. “This country is built on the notion that if you work 40 hours a week, you should be able to have an apartment, and after a few years, you should get raises and be able to buy a house… and we’re falling down.”

Comprehensive immigration reform

Antonia Peña lives in Parachute. She said she was grateful for a recent executive order from President Joe Biden, which created a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants that are married to U.S. citizens, and shields them from deportation.

But, she said, she’s been in the U.S. for 25 years, and people like her have been left with nothing.

“Porque somos personas que tal vez se pudiera escuchar y que tiene que estar contribuyendo a la nación,” she said. “Entonces, eh, creo que somos unos pioneros que hemos contribuido mucho a la nación y esta vez, eh, sigo con los sentimientos encontrados”

“We’re people who can be heard, and we’ve been contributing to this nation,” she said. “I think we’re pioneers, who have been contributing a lot to this country, and I have mixed feelings.”

She said, if comprehensive immigration reform doesn’t happen soon, her husband wants them to return to their home country.

“¿Qué puede hacer usted en este caso para que esas personas de tantos años hubieran un alivio?” she asked. “Yo ya no estoy peleando una residencia, ¿eh? Claro que quiero, pero mínimo un alivio.”

“What can you do for those of us who have been here for years, so we might have some relief? I’m not fighting for (permanent) residency. Of course I want it, but at least, I’d like relief.”

Hickenlooper said that immigration reform wouldn’t be possible unless Democrats could win in 2024.

“It's obvious. I agree the country would be stronger and better. Your life would be happier. You would have a greater sense of security,” he said. “But there are people against that direction who have won elections, continue to win elections. And in this country, the only thing you could do is fight harder to win the next election.”

Anti-immigrant rhetoric has been on the rise locally and nationally.

Hickenlooper sympathized with Peña and her family’s struggles, and said he hoped he and other lawmakers could find a path forward.

“Immigration reform doesn't hurt anyone,” he said. “It doesn't hurt anyone. It only helps. It helps businesses. It helps families. It helps school districts, because they have the ability, certainty of their size, of their student population. But we still have a ways to go.”

Caroline Llanes is a general assignment reporter at Aspen Public Radio, covering everything from local governments to public lands. Her work has been featured on NPR. Previously, she was an associate producer for WBUR’s Morning Edition in Boston.