When Luz Galicia became a single mother after her divorce, the only way for her to pay her daughter’s college tuition was to move out of her big home and into a trailer in the Denver Meadows Mobile Home Park in Aurora.
“A mobile home is not a second-class house,” Galicia says in a new documentary, “A Decent Home.” “A mobile home is my house. It’s where we put our energy, our family, our history, our everyday memories.”
If you go
“A Decent Home,” premiering at the Denver Film Festival at 4 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 6 at the Sie FilmCenter, 2510 E. Colfax Ave. and screening again at 2:30 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 7 at AMC 9 + CO 10, 826 Albion St., and 4:15 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 11 at the Sie. Tickets can be purchased at Denverfilm.org.
“A Decent Home,” directed by Sara Terry and premiering at the Denver Film Festival this weekend, tells the story of mobile home parks’ tenuous status as America’s last bastion of unsubsidized affordable housing. The documentary, over six years in the making, looks at our country’s affordable housing crisis through the lens of Denver Meadows residents as they fight to save their park from being sold to developers — a battle to preserve community, economic stability and the American dream as they know it.
“Think about what a home is,” Terry said in an interview Wednesday. “And think about whether it’s a basic human right or whether it’s a commodity. Which world do you want to live in?”
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The documentarian first learned about big money players moving into the mobile home sector six years ago from an article in The Guardian. She was outraged.
“Mobile home parks are canaries in the coal mine,” Terry said.
The documentary features mobile home parks next to Google’s headquarters in Silicon Valley and in Iowa and New Hampshire, but the film’s main throughline is Denver Meadows.
The mobile home park, nestled between Interstate 225 and Anschutz medical campus, was home to 100 families, such as Galicia, whose lives were upended when the park owner, Shawn Lustigman, decided to sell the park and kick the residents out.
Mobile homes represent a unique slice of American home ownership because most people own the trailers they live in — but not the land on which their trailer sits. That’s rented to them by a landlord, who holds all the cards when it comes to the future of the park or the rent for those small patches of grass.
Lustigman’s decision led these mobile homeowners on a multi-year odyssey to city council meetings and public hearings, pleading with Aurora leaders to save their park from turning into hotels or apartments.
These homeowners included people like Hilda Lopez and Lalo Martinez, who lived out of their car and in hotels before finding Denver Meadows. And Petra Bennett, who raised her family and built a beautiful backyard sanctuary over 18 years living in the park.
“Everybody’s dream is to go ahead and have a place that they can call their own,” she says in the film.
The Denver Meadows fight played out publicly for years as Aurora city leaders decided whether to approve a request to rezone the park’s land for redevelopment.
The documentary also follows progressive city council candidates Alison Coombs, Juan Marcano and Bryan Lindstrom during their run for office. The races portray a city battling with itself over how to capture the economic growth provided by new money and development while preserving a place to live for Aurora’s working class.
The Denver Meadows saga also served as one catalyst for Colorado lawmakers to overhaul the state’s antiquated Mobile Home Park Act. The new laws, passed between 2019 and 2021, beefed up protections for mobile homeowners, giving them better opportunities to buy their own parks when they go up for sale, along with a new complaint system aimed at mediating disputes without the costly lawyer fees.
While Denver Meadows has mom-and-pop owners, Terry zooms out to show what it means for mobile home residents across the country when private equity firms gobble up mobile home parks and jack up the rent — a trend encapsulated through the teachings of Frank Rolfe’s Mobile Home University.
The seminar, based on Colorado’s Front Range, teaches prospective mobile home investors to raise rent relentlessly because mobile homeowners, contrary to their name, can’t actually afford to move. Remove amenities, Rolfe preaches in the documentary. Don’t learn who lives in your communities.
As part of the seminar, Rolfe takes attendees on a tour through one mobile home park.
“You’ll be shocked by beach towels in windows instead of curtains,” he tells the group.
The attitude portrayed in this scene is part of the “othering” of mobile homeowners, Terry said. Her hope for the film, she says, is to show the viewer who actually lives in these parks.
“I’m fighting the stereotype of trailer trash,” the director said. “It’s a pejorative term and people make comments like that all the time. I don’t want it to be an acceptable stereotype anymore.”
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