The crowd in front of the Aurora Municipal Center started with about ten people, mostly mothers and their children. In the span of 30 minutes, a multinational assembly of over sixty had gathered, ranging from toddlers to seniors, holding signs, drumming, chanting and singing.
The cause for the demonstration was the impending eviction of about 100 families, mostly Latino, from the Denver Meadows mobile home park in Aurora, Colorado. In the past two years, these residents have organized with the help of 9to5 Colorado to resist their eviction and the shutdown of their mobile home park. They called on Aurora City Council to support them as they are displaced due to the greed of their landlord.
Families uprooted so a landlord can make millions
Two years ago, park co-owner Shawn Lustigman announced that Denver Meadows would close on September 30, 2018. Since then, he has pushed families out, one by one, forcing them to vacate the land on which some have lived for over a quarter century. Harassment, threats, retaliation, rent increases, and water shutoffs have been the methods of choice to “encourage” residents to leave.
Lustigman has made no secret of his desire to have the mobile home park rezoned for high-dollar, “transit-oriented” development. Denver Meadows lies on a desirable piece of land near a new light rail station, a park, and two major medical campuses. Although Lustigman has so far failed to have the park rezoned, he is committed to evicting its residents. He hopes to find a developer who will buy the 20-acre property for $60 million so that he can officially “retire” from his difficult job of being a mobile home park profiteer.
Shawn Lustigman is so committed to making a fortune, in fact, that when residents enlisted a nonprofit organization last year to help them buy the property for $20.5 million (its market value), he turned them down. Now, because of Lustigman’s greed, Denver Meadows families face total upheaval in less than two months, the beginning of the school year.
Abuse, intimidation, and debt
Members of the Party for Socialism and Liberation attended demonstration and interviewed residents about their experiences.Arturo Dominguez, a former Denver Meadows resident, spoke of abuse by the landlords. He detailed how his children were intimidated and insulted while playing outside, and how his family was accused of being undocumented. He described the unfair treatment and pressure he received while his mobile home was being removed. “I moved my home on August 3rd. I told [the property managers] that it would take me about four days to clean up the plot of land. They wanted me to pay for a month’s rent for the week.”
Luz Galicia, a resident and organizer with 9to5 Colorado, explained how difficult relocation would be for the residents. There are no other mobile home parks nearby, and for many, the nearest option is seventy miles away. Moving a mobile home is also very expensive, with cost ranging from $6,000 to $25,000. Even worse, about 35% of the homes cannot be relocated at all due to their age. These homes will have to be demolished at the residents’ expense. Some of those homes haven’t even been fully paid off yet, either, meaning that the residents will still owe a balance even after their home has been destroyed.
Following the demonstration outside, Denver Meadows residents and supporters took their protest directly to the podium at an Aurora City Council meeting. They made nearly thirty public comments, extending the meeting by two hours in spite of pleas by the mayor to be silent. Testimonies described the many difficulties Denver Meadows residents face and drew connections to other struggles for housing in Aurora, in Colorado, and all around the United States. PSL members spoke out in support of the residents and pointedly challenged the city council to pick a side: with the working families of Denver Meadows, or with their greedy landlord.
It is clear that the Denver Meadows residents are not alone in their struggle against gentrification, greedy landlords, and hostile municipal governments. Hundreds of thousands of people in the Denver area, and millions across the country, confront the stressful realities of profit-driven housing every day. Denver Meadows is only a hundred families, but they have many, many potential supporters. As one PSL organizer stated in his public comment before the city council: “If you do not act, we will all come back. And we will come back bigger, week after week, every Monday until you do.”