- Associated Press - Saturday, February 15, 2014

BASALT, Colo. (AP) - The nine families participating in Workers for Justice and Diversity in Basalt, a group lobbying town officials for replacement housing before their eviction from the Pan and Fork Mobile Home Park this spring, are each fighting for their own reasons.

Yet perhaps no resident better encapsulates those reasons than Juana Linares, a 47-year-old single mother with a son in sixth grade at Basalt Middle School.

Linares is a Mexican immigrant who has lived in the Pan and Fork for nine years, and has raised her son alone since her husband was deported by immigration authorities four years ago.

She has a work permit and is working toward full U.S. citizenship, which could help her qualify for a bank loan on a new home outside of the Pan and Fork.

Yet like several members of the workers for justice group, she said she lacks the credit score required to get a loan and she’s afraid to lose the money she’s invested in her trailer when she moves.

“We paid $40,000 for our trailer, and we fixed the floor and the ceiling after that,” Linares said. “I met with the town and they said they would pay me only $15,000 to move.”

Basalt is offering Pan and Fork families cash payments to leave the trailer park so that a redevelopment project can proceed - a town park and perhaps commercial development are envisioned on the site.

The town’s cash payment formula factors in each family’s time in the park and their household size, and provides money for rent and down payments for alternative housing. But it offers a maximum of $7,500 for each trailer, and only pays that much to residents who move their own trailers out of the park.

“How am I supposed to move my own trailer?” Linares asked. “I can’t do that.”

Basalt officials have been working since September to relocate residents of the Pan and Fork’s 35 trailers, and Basalt officials recently posted eviction notices on the doors of the remaining inhabited trailers requiring residents to vacate by April 1.

Linares said she isn’t yet sure where she’ll go, but she’s worried that the scarcity of affordable housing in the Basalt area could prevent her from staying there.

Basalt officials, she said, proposed one trailer near Catherine’s Store outside of Carbondale as a relocation option, but she’s been too busy working to look at it yet.

Linares works full time as a maid in Aspen, but the work slows down during the spring and fall. She said she can’t afford to pay much more for housing than the $650 a month she’s currently paying for her trailer space in the Pan and Fork, and she already relies on local churches to help make ends meet.

Every Monday, Linares said, congregants from the Christ Episcopal Church in Aspen drop her and her son a box of food to help them get through the week.

Father Will Fisher, the pastor at the affiliated St. Peter’s Episcopal Church in Basalt, said he has a small discretionary fund that could be used to help Linares relocate from the Pan and Fork.

“I would be able to commit $500, maybe $1,000,” Fisher said. “If Juana does find some type of temporary housing we could help pay for a one-time expense, but we don’t have a whole heck of a lot.”

In light of the challenges that Linares and others are currently facing, members of the workers for justice group are trying to delay their evictions from the trailer park.

With the help of funding from a Denver-based nonprofit called the Colorado Immigrant Rights Coalition, the group hired Aspen lawyer Ryan Kalamaya to fight on their behalf.

Kalamaya claims that representatives of the Roaring Fork Community Development Corp, which has co-owned the Pan and Fork parcel along with the town since 2011, promised the residents there replacement housing in the past, and he’s now searching for the documentation to prove it.

Kalamaya is contemplating whether to file a lawsuit to slow the eviction process, but in the meantime he’s asked Basalt Town attorney Tom Smith for a written commitment that the town will build affordable housing in the Basalt area within a year where Pan and Fork residents can live.

Kalamaya also has requested that members of the workers for justice group, many of whom own their trailers, be offered more relocation assistance money than other residents who have merely rented their homes in the park.

“The town has acknowledged that each situation is different and yet they are applying a one-size-fits-all formula,” Kalamaya said. “We have asked the town to take into consideration the unique circumstances of each case, and that a person who put $50,000 into their mobile home should be treated differently than a person who was just renting.”

But Smith said it would be unfair for the town to alter its relocation assistance formula when more than half of the trailer park residents already have accepted cash payments and moved out.

“The town has a legal, ethical and moral obligation to be consistent,” Smith said. “It would be unfair to treat this smaller group differently . than the rest of the trailer park residents.

Smith also said the town can’t make a written pledge to build affordable housing for the Pan and Fork residents when the details of that housing - who will pay for land and construction, what development approvals will be needed and who will be eligible to live there - haven’t been sorted out.

“We can’t put something in writing that doesn’t exist,” said Smith.

For now, that means the future remains hazy for residents like Linares. She said that with her son in school, she doesn’t want to have to move into temporary housing before Basalt finishes a permanent housing project, yet with evictions looming that path appears inevitable.

Linares said she has contemplated returning to Mexico after she is evicted, but her son grew up in the U.S. and can only read and write in English.

“He is studying here and it would be very difficult for him to go back,” she said.

___

Information from: Aspen Daily News, http://www.aspendailynews.com

Copyright © 2016 The Washington Times, LLC.

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