Support Local Journalism


Subscribe


No one is the same at Sunset Mobile Home Park.

A few people are immigrants, some are recently divorced and one man recently had a parent die.

The one thing they do have in common is they may have to leave the park. And as Bozeman deals with its affordable housing crisis, park residents are struggling to figure out how their diverse backgrounds and income levels can fit into the new city.

Called Aspen Crossing, a new 68,000-square-foot, mixed-use building could replace the Midtown trailer park and a few businesses. Mike Hope, who owns the trailer park and Mixers Complex, hopes to redevelop it.

He hasn’t sent formal notices of closure to residents yet, and he said he plans to hold off on that until the building plans are final. He is waiting on approval from the city, and he should have a final answer in March. Because the project is in a tax increment finance district, Hope would be able to offer relocation assistance to park residents, managed by the Human Resource Development Council. 

Hope has known many residents for years — he has watched some of them grow up. Whatever happens with the Aspen Crossing project, he said he cares about them and doesn't want any of them to end up without a home. While some out-of-state developers don't know the people they might displace, he does.

“They’re all good people,” Hope said. “That’s the bottom line.”

Kurt Layton, Sunset Mobile Home Park

Kurt Layton holds his two small dogs outside of his home on Jan. 30, 2019, in the Sunset Mobile Home Park.

Kurt Layton

In the summer, Kurt Layton likes to sit and drink in the shed attached to his trailer.

He fixed it up with some stools and a bar, and he stores his rock collection in it. After getting off a day at work at the Conoco gas station on Seventh Avenue, it’s a nice place to come back to.

“This isn’t a bad little spot,” he said.

Layton has lived in the trailer park for 10 years, and he said he is “scared as hell” about the prospect of leaving. When he moved to the park from California, he said he worked hard and bought his trailer. He feels like he’s just starting to get out ahead in life, he said.

Working a couple other side gigs in addition to his Conoco job, Layton pays $300 a month to live in the apartment with his two chihuahuas. If he has to move, he said he doesn’t know where he’ll live and he might have to quit his job, which he’s held for 10 years. As more affordable forms of housing like trailers shrink, he said Bozeman is going to have a hard time finding people who can afford to live in the city while working in retail jobs like his.

“Pretty much, by them losing this trailer park, they’re losing a tenured employee,” he said. “I don’t know where the hell I’m going to go.”

Felix Asiedu, Sunset Mobile Home Park

Felix Asiedu stands outside of his home on Jan. 30, 2019, in the Sunset Mobile Home Park.

Felix Asiedu

The story of how Felix Asiedu made it from Ghana to Bozeman involves two things: a library and a love of fishing.

When Asiedu moved to the U.S., he didn’t know of any other place but New York City, so that's where he went. He couldn’t cope with city life, he said, so he started looking for another place to live.

So he went to the library, did some research and came upon Bozeman in a book. Asiedu wanted a better life, and he hoped he could find it here.

“When I researched Montana, I thought I’d fit in,” he said.

There are plenty of outdoor activities here, which Asiedu said he loves. Canyon Ferry is one of his favorite places to go fishing.

“So I made the decision to move here,” he said. “It was the best decision I’ve made in my life.”

He has been in Bozeman more than 20 years and said he works as an environmental services associate at Bozeman Health. Asiedu has been in the park for a good chunk of that time, seeing Bozeman and the park go through a lot. Now 69 years old, he has been there longer than most.

Hearing that the park may be bought out was a huge shock, he said. But one thing is for certain: He is never leaving Bozeman.

Bozeman is his home. It’s where his friends are. And despite some of the negative consequences, he thinks growth has been good for the city. It’s starting to make Bozeman a modern town, he said. It “pays dividends” to live here.

He spoke of Bozeman romantically, as if it were the love of his life.

“I’m not going to leave Bozeman, no way — over my dead body,” he said. “I don’t want to leave my wife.”

William Gonzalez, Sunset Mobile Home Park

William Gonzalez stands outside of his home on Jan. 5, 2019, in the Sunset Mobile Home Park.

William Gonzalez

When William Gonzalez heard from a neighbor out by the park’s trash can that Sunset may be shut down, he said he called his wife, who he is separated from, and mother-in-law immediately to ask if they knew of a place he could live.

They didn’t.

An immigrant from Panama, Gonzalez has lived in the park for about 12 years with his two young daughters. He said it has been a nice place to live. The neighbors are friendly, and it’s near his daughters’ school.

A construction worker specializing in masonry, he has also put some work into his trailer, with new sheet-rock on the walls, new flooring and a stone backdrop behind the fireplace. It’s become a home, he said. His daughters even made him build a cozy little house for their two cats, Foo Foo and Panama.

It’s frustrating knowing that he might have to leave after putting in so much work, he said, but he is going to wait until everything is official before he starts looking for another place to live.

While Eslinger said she isn’t aware of many vacancies in other trailer parks in Bozeman and several trailers at Sunset are too old to meet other parks’ requirements, HRDC was quoted $1,000 to $1,300 to move a trailer. That’s well within the anticipated relocation budget.

He said he has always had good experiences with Hope, and all he wants is to keep his trailer, if possible.

“If he can find a way to move this to another place, I’m fine with that,” he said.

Jason Mittelstedter, Sunset Mobile Home Park

Jason Mittelstedter, a 37-year-old antique dealer, bought his trailer in the Sunset Mobile Home Park a year ago. He says the money he has saved living at the park is “tremendous.”

Jason Mittelstedter

Statues and paintings fill an entire room in Jason Mittelstedter’s trailer.

He buys and sells antiques for a living, after pouring concrete for well over a decade. He said the trailer is just right for him. It was a great price, he could escape his roommates and he has just enough room for all his antiques and art. He has caught about a dozen mice since he moved in, but he doesn’t mind. 

He likes that it was an investment, and he feels like he isn’t losing money by renting a space. It’s his own.

While some residents felt more shocked to hear the news they might have to leave, Mittelstedter has more flexibility. If he can stay in his trailer, he’ll fix it up and remodel it, he said.

Because of his job buying and selling antiques, he is used to keeping an eye out for good deals. That is what he has tried to do in looking for housing, but deals are few and far between. There was a trailer for sale in Gallatin Gateway he was looking at, but it was only 8 feet wide, and he couldn’t have a washer and dryer there.

Mittelstedter, 37, grew up in the Gallatin Valley and has been in the area his entire life. He remembers when most of Oak Street was a dirt road. He thinks growth has been good for the economy, though he said it isn’t good for everybody.

There are other places with good economies and cheaper housing, though. He might go to a place like Idaho or Washington — there are places he has never been but would like to explore.

Steven Rice and Gage Carnefix, Sunset Mobile Home Park

Steven Rice, 26, and Gage Carnefix, 22, stand on their porch on Jan. 25, 2019, in the Sunset Mobile Home Park.

Steven Rice and Gage Carnefix

Crayon drawings cover the walls in Steven Rice and Gage Carnefix’s kitchen.

When Rice’s mom got bored, she’d draw them, he said. Fish with one big eye on their bellies were one of her favorite things to draw, in all colors and intricate designs.

She died last August of complications Rice assumes were associated with alcoholism. It was also maybe just her time to go, he said.

He likes to keep little reminders of her around the house — the drawings in the kitchen, little frames she had hung up. Rice and Carnefix, his partner, keep her room exactly how it was when she was alive, with all the Precious Moments figurines she liked to go buy at pawn shops set up around the room. They have a memorial in her closet with Mexican prayer candles constantly burning, as she was part Mexican and loved them.

She had the same room ever since she and Rice moved into the trailer about 10 years ago, when Rice was 16. Rice loves Bozeman, but he is not sure if he’ll be able to stay here. His dad was just diagnosed with cancer, so he has to go to Arizona for a month to be with him. After that, he is not sure where he’ll go. He could end up in Arizona or maybe Colorado. He has heard Butte has really good housing prices, but he has never been there.

He said he respects Hope, who watched him grow up and gave him one of his first jobs. He doesn’t blame Hope for wanting to redevelop the park, but he said he is worried about what is going to happen. Leaving his job at Applebee’s for a month and possibly having to look for a new place to live, even with assistance, is a huge financial burden.

With all the tough things happening to him lately, Rice said it can be hard to keep going.

“There’s days I want to give up, but I don’t,” he said. “I’m 26 years old. If I give up now …”

Support Local Journalism

To see what else is happening in Gallatin County subscribe to the online paper.

Abby Lynes can be reached at alynes@dailychronicle.com or 406-582-2651. Follow her on Twitter @Abby_Lynes.

Support quality local journalism. Become a subscriber.

Subscribers get full, survey-free access to the Bozeman Daily Chronicle's award-winning coverage both on our website and in our e-edition, a digital replica of the print edition.