Director Sara Terry has spent over six years making ‘A Decent Home’, her third documentary. Coming from a background in journalism, Terry told the Sopris Sun that filmmaking is “the biggest type of conversation of any journalism I know or have been involved in” with the greatest potential for impact. It’s now his favorite way of telling stories.
She says this story in particular is “so fundamental to the future of America and its heart and soul…whether we’re consumed by greed or clamoring for the best in ourselves.”
“A Decent Home” observes “housing that is on the lowest rung of the American Dream being devoured by the richest of the rich,” according to the press release. The film “addresses pressing issues of class and economic (im)mobility through the lives of mobile home park residents who cannot afford to live elsewhere”.
In 2015, Terry read an article in The Guardian about Mobile Home University, a “boot camp” where private investors can make a profit by buying mobile home parks and increasing the rent park residents pay for them. the ground under their houses, often in addition. to a mortgage. Meanwhile, park owners have to pay very little for maintenance, and residents are essentially trapped because many “mobile” homes would collapse if moved.
The dynamic is particularly troublesome as the national housing crisis worsens; there is not a single state in the entire country where a person working full time for minimum wage can afford a one-bedroom apartment at fair market rent, reports the National Low Income Housing Coalition. Even before the pandemic, the Joint Center for Housing Studies found that one in four American renters spent more than half of their pre-tax income on housing.
Mobile home parks remain the largest source of unsubsidized affordable housing in America, housing seven million families, Terry said. “It’s a huge source of housing. In the United States, about 20 million people live in mobile homes, where the average median income for park residents nationwide is $30,000.
Filming for “A Decent Home” wrapped in 2019, just as legislation was passed in Colorado to give renters the option to buy their park if the landlord decides to sell it. They have 90 days to organize themselves, obtain financing and submit a firm offer. Earlier in 2022, residents of Westside Mobile Home Park in Durango successfully outbid a business buyer willing to pay $5.5 million.
Since 2008, the national nonprofit organization ROC USA – established in the 1980s – has helped residents of 290 parks form resident-owned communities. In Colorado, Thistle ROC has helped five Colorado mobile home parks become resident-owned since 2018.
Terry credits the Meadows Mobile Home Park in Aurora, featured in his documentary, with leading to the passage of this legislation. “For three years, low-income, mostly Spanish-speaking residents fought to protect the park they lived in,” she said. Now “a growing number of park residents are able to afford their parks – it’s because of these people who have lost everything”.
According to Terry’s estimate, Colorado “went from zero to 60” in terms of protecting residents of mobile home parks and is now among the top 10 states. However, there is still work to be done. In April, Governor Jared Polis threatened to veto a bill to cap annual increases in mobile home rents.
Petra Bennet, a Meadows Mobile Home Park resident interviewed in the documentary, summed up, “When are the rich rich enough?
“I think the wealth gap is the biggest problem we have as a culture,” Terry said. “Greed is the face of all that is wrong.”
Although the film focuses on mobile home parks, Terry warns that they are “canaries in the coal mine” and that private equity firms are “buying homes all over America”, including including single family homes.
Because the film is bilingual, with Spanish subtitles throughout, everyone is welcome to join in the dialogue. Thanks to the Colorado Health Foundation, in partnership with MANAUS, the film will be presented for free on the Third Street Center lawn on Friday, July 22, at 7 p.m.
The documentary is still in film festivals and will eventually be brought to streaming platforms. It is also available for free screening at mobile home parks, along with a short documentary on the Carlyle Group, one of the world’s largest private equity groups, also directed by Terry.
After the film, Terry will be present for a question and answer session. She travels to screenings throughout Colorado as part of the film’s impact campaign. These screenings are “deliberately designed as an opportunity for mobile home parks and residents to have a conversation,” she said, hoping elected officials and planning commissioners will attend the screening.
Ultimately, it’s a film about community: “about neighbors helping each other,” Terry concluded.