Two manufactured home communities join to become Colorado’s first ROC

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Rocky Mountain Board Members and Thistle Staff went to the Colorado Housing Board in Denver, where they were award a $600,000 grant. L to R: Mary Duvall, President of Thistle; Katie Southern, Board President; Katrina Stiefel, Board Treasurer; and Marcia Sprague, a technical assistance provider with Thistle.

CAÑON CITY, Colo. – Katie Southern knew she wanted to buy a home in the city in which she was born and raised. After her mom died five years ago, she started looking around Cañon City, eventually finding a manufactured home in a quiet neighborhood that was everything she hoped for.

A nearby field scattered with grazing horses is just part of the reason residents, many of whom are raising families, tend to stay there for the long run.

With the average site-built home costing more than $200,000, Southern said manufactured housing is a popular choice for prospective homeowners, an option she was thrilled to take advantage of.

“Its way more affordable than anything in the area,” she said. “I really love this place.”

Resident ownership, she said, is one way of achieving that. Homeowners in Cañon City purchased their 51-home neighborhood for just over $2 million on Dec. 14.

As the first resident-owned community in the state, Rocky Mountain Homeowner Cooperative residents are embracing the model that’s helped to preserve affordable housing and empower residents nationwide for more than three decades.

The resident-owned community (or ROC) is made up of what used to be two separate neighborhoods: Cañon Country and Cedar Village. Members of the Cañon City ROC, incorporated as Rocky Mountain Homeowners Cooperative (RMHC), now own the land under their neighborhood with financing and expertise provided by ROC USA® Capital and the Colorado Division of Housing.

The average lot rent for the two communities was $401, though not everyone was paying the same amount across the board. With the new rent set for $407 and everyone paying the same amount, the democratically elected Board of Directors President said the homeowners are looking forward to being able to maintain their neighborhood on their own timeline and preserve this vital source of affordable housing in the area.

“It’s really worth a little extra money each month,” Southern said.

State officials see the value of resident ownership in keeping neighborhoods affordable, too. Southern and Board Treasurer Katrina Stiefel meet with the Colorado State Housing Board in Denver to see seeking a $250,000 grant to help with the community purchase and future repairs.

After pitching the project, Southern and Stiefel were told their neighborhood would not just get a grant, but one for $600,000.

“It just shows they believe it’s a worthwhile cause,” Southern said.

While listening to the other presentation given that day, Southern said it was clear why.

“We noticed that in Colorado, there’s a real lack of affordable housing,” Southern said. “A lot of people are trying to find affordable housing.”

Staff from Thistle, a Certified Technical Assistance Provider of ROC USA® Network, will work with and coach residents for the duration of their loan – at least 10 years.

“Thistle ROC is proud to have assisted the 38 families in the successful purchase of their community, securing permanent control over the land beneath their homes,” said Mary Duvall, CEO of Thistle and point of contact for Thistle ROC. “We look forward to supporting them for many years to come.”

The plan is to hold a cookout with residents from both communities sometime in the summer to celebrate the purchase.

“We want to build a nice sense of community,” Southern said.

But after working together to take control of their neighborhood, those feelings are already being fostered.

“This experience really brought us closer,” she said.

Southern said in the meantime, work will be done to make some aesthetic changes to the neighborhoods, like tree-trimming and other landscaping work. These small fixes will show residents right off the bat that they are in control of their own destiny.

“It lets us prioritize our repairs,” she said.

Though the first in Colorado, the resident-ownership model has benefited more than 14,700 homeowners across the nation since it was first developed and implemented by the New Hampshire Community Loan Fund in the 1980s.

“The Cañon City ROC is the first of its kind in Colorado — the second new state in our Network this year,” said ROC USA® Founding President Paul Bradley. “We’re excited to be working in Colorado with homeowners and Thistle to support more ROCs in Colorado and now 16 states nationwide.”

Homeowners are able to buy one low-cost member interest in these democratic ROCs. An elected Board of Directors acts on day-to-day issues. Members vote on larger matters, such as the annual budget, bylaws and community rules.

Cooperative ownership of manufactured (sometimes anachronistically called  “mobile”) home communities as a way of preserving affordable neighborhoods is a priority for several national non-profit organizations that in 2008 formed ROC USA to make resident-owned communities viable nationwide.

ROC USA is a non-profit organization with a national network of 10 organizations such as Thistle and a national financing source for resident-owned communities. No co-op that purchased with ROC USA’s assistance has ever failed or reverted to commercial ownership, due in large part to the integrated financing and technical assistance model.

Rocky Mountain Homeowners Cooperative is the 228th ROC in the ROC USA network, which is made up of more than 14,700 homeowners nationwide.