Our View: Rooting for Westside to purchase property

Originally published in Durango Herald Editorial Board, March 26th, 2022.

It’s not often that we see La Plata County staff members and, in particular, a county commissioner become teary during a meeting. A moment passed over county Commissioner Marsha Porter-Norton when her face changed and softened, and she seemed to hold her breath for a beat. One of the stories told by a resident of Westside Mobile Home Park got to Porter-Norton.

In talking about that moment on March 15, she said: “I’m going to get teary again. This isn’t like me.”

We were right there with her. We are rooting for Westside residents in their quest to purchase the property under their homes. We join a tremendous groundswell of support. Everywhere we go, people are talking about Westside. Pop-up fundraisers are lovefests. A force field of goodwill moves in the direction of the mobile home park.

And why not? Westside’s situation means something different to each of us. For starters, it’s the American dream of homeownership without fears of losing it. It’s the community-owned model versus the investor or corporate-owned, with the latter bringing uncertainty, and usually increased rents and other costs. Mostly, though, it’s about the Westside residents. They’ve worked hard for this opportunity. This is their shot.

It’s also the realization that if this doesn’t work, Durango will be changed. It will affirm that Durango is struggling to keep its workforce, its diversity, its communities that contribute to our schools and churches. Because at this time, there’s no real place for Westside residents to land if they were priced-out and displaced.

Neighbors at Westside share a culture, historical heritage and sense of belonging. On a warm day, neighbors are out chatting and looking under hoods of their cars. Children are nearby, riding bikes and playing tag. Entering Westside is stepping back in time when we truly knew our neighbors and they knew us. And we looked out for each other. Westside is sort of what Durango used to be.

“It is like an old-fashioned neighborhood,” said Kim Martin of Hesperus. “This is one special place on the planet because neighbors spend so much time communing outside.”

Martin made a lot friends while tutoring outdoors in Westside during COVID-19. About 10 children showed up most days, she said. Moms brought pots of green chili and plates of fresh fruit, and learned some English while next to their kids. Dads brought boards for makeshift tables, and were at the ready to do anything asked of them.

As reported online and in The Durango Herald’s print edition on Friday, Local First Foundation announced Wednesday that Westside residents will be the first beneficiaries of its new La Plata Impact Fund, which takes contributions from La Plata County businesses and puts the money toward long-term investments in affordable housing and social equity.

The $535,000 cash and loan contribution from Local First Foundation will support the purchase, adding to efforts by La Plata County, Elevation Community Land Trust and Westside community’s fundraising efforts after the owner of the park turned down residents’ first offer.

“We have been searching for where our first investment/contribution would go,” Monique DiGiorgio, foundation adviser with Local First Foundation, said on Wednesday. “This is what we were planning for, we just didn’t know it. We felt so honored to contribute and help this community of neighbors stay in their homes.”

The calls and offers of help keep coming. Prayers, too. A lot of prayers. Goodwill and generosity — these are our superpowers. Durango at its best.

We’re expecting to learn early next week whether the latest offer was accepted. We hope with spring, the season of new beginnings, we’ll see Westside neighbors doing the things neighbors do. Enjoying meals together, tidying up their lots and glancing out of windows, keeping an eye out on each other’s children as they run and laugh and grow up in Westside.