Our View: One size doesn't fit all

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Relocation assistance for Westland Mobile Home Park residents should be decided on an individual basis.

There is about $500,000 available to help residents and owners in the park, which is being demolished to make way for Riverwalk, a mixed-use development along the Yampa River between Third and Fifth streets. The city will contribute $250,000 raised from the sale of a right of way for the project, and developer Jim Cook will contribute another $250,000. Cook said his contribution also will go toward unpaid mobile-home rents and other expenses.

Last week, the Yampa Valley Housing Authority presented a plan to the City Council for distributing the funds. The council will make the final decision.

The plan recommends that mobile homes in the park be assessed using 2003 values and that those values be used for determining how much to give each owner. The recommendations are that:

n People who live in and own their mobile homes receive 85 percent of the home's value.

n Owners who rent their mobile homes receive 30 percent.

n Renters receive $1,000.

Residents who already have accepted assistance and who transferred their homes' titles to Cook will not receive more money.

The problem with the plan is that it takes a one-size-fits-all approach to a problem that involves residents and homeowners of 39 homes facing 39 different situations. Also, it sets a precedent for mobile-home relocation that may not work well when this problem comes up again -- and as long as we have mobile home parks in the city, this problem will come up again.

The best way to resolve this is to require those in the mobile-home park -- homeowners, renters and landlords -- to apply individually for assistance. Staff from the Yampa Valley Housing Authority, in conjunction with Cook or one of his representatives, would then consider those applications and determine how funds should be spent on a case-by-case basis. Disbursing these funds is exactly the kind of role the housing authority was created to perform.

Elizabeth Black, executive director of the Yampa Valley Housing Authority, said that of the 39 mobile homes in the park, 13 are rented. Three owners have died, and nine people already have sold their units to Cook. Some of the mobile homes were built in the 1960s; the newest one is from 1991. Some of the properties have liens against them.

Given the variety of circumstances surrounding the homes and their owners, assigning a flat percentage of value to each owner seems shortsighted.

The housing authority should consider each applicant's past tenure in the park and plans for relocating in Steamboat Springs or Routt County. There should be incentives for recipients to use the assistance for housing -- as a downpayment on a new property or as rental credit, for example. However, recipients should not be required to use the funds in any specific way to be eligible. The proposal on the table could be used as a general guideline for determining individual funding.

The availability of relocation assistance funds is a resource the city is fortunate to have -- it helps make up for the loss of these affordable housing units. But $500,000 only goes so far. To the extent it is possible, these funds must be used to help Westland residents with their future housing needs. This can best be done by letting the housing authority consider applications on a case-by-case basis.

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