There are times when a community is challenged to take an honest look at its values, when a community is called upon to stand up for what it claims to believe in. Fort Collins is experiencing such a time right now.
Most of the people in Fort Collins do not even know we are at such a crossroads. I would venture to guess that is because we unfortunately have become successful at hiding that which is uncomfortable or that which forces us to truly examine the equity with which we treat one another.
In north Fort Collins, where Wood Street meets the Poudre River Bike Trail, there exists what is for some a hidden treasure, a home, a small community of caring people where wildlife is plentiful. There are more than 70 people who live there; some have made it their home for nearly half a century; many others who have lived there for 20 or 30 years. This is a solid, long-standing, stable community. Some folks are disabled; some are on fixed incomes; some are elderly; and many are families.
The Bender Mobile Home Park is currently under contract and at the time of this printing, it could very well have been sold.
State statue dictates that residents need to be given six months to move. It requires no compensation, no relocation funding and no assistance. But what does our community dictate?
For many years, the affordable rent at the end of Wood Street has allowed the residents to live responsibly in their own homes. From this location, they can walk, bus or bike downtown as they go about their daily routines.
The people who make up this community own their own homes and do much of the park maintenance themselves, so they have been paying minimal lot rent. Most of their homes are unable to be moved because of current regulations. The reality is that this is some of the last affordable housing in Fort Collins.
This neighborhood is about to be demolished for redevelopment. It will be torn apart, and most of the people will lose their homes. Perhaps it’s inevitable that the park will be sold at some point. Private property can be sold, and zoning laws are already in place; annexation plans will move forward.
Less than two years ago, we watched a similar scenario unfold when the Grape Street trailer park, a tiny community, was demolished for the North College Market Place Shopping Center. That was one example where low-income people were forced out of Fort Collins. In that case, it was 27 people, about one-third of the number of folks who will be dislocated for the redevelopment at Wood Street.
As a community, are we willing to stand by and do nothing as affordable housing is demolished, as this neighborhood of working poor and elderly is destroyed, as these vulnerable people are displaced to join the growing number of homeless.
Might we ask that all of the players: the city leaders, the land owner and the developers, step up to make sure that the people who live at the end of Wood Street are treated fairly?
For more information, please contact the Open Communities Collective at (970) 419-8944.
Cheryl Distaso is the coordinator of the Center for Justice, Peace and Environment, and she serves on the steering committee of the Open Communities Collective.