Professor Esther Sullivan in a gentrified neighborhood

Access to affordable housing in Denver is a growing problem, but this professor is trying to solve it.

February 13, 2020

Esther Sullivan PhD, is one of seven inductees into the inaugural TIAA Chancellor’s Urban Engaged Scholars program, a designation which recognizes outstanding contributions to the Denver metro region through community-engaged scholarship.

Just this week, the Denver Business Journal named Esther Sullivan one of its 2020 40 Under 40 honorees, a select group of outstanding local professionals under the age of 40 who have achieved business success and made significant contributions to the community.


Through her research as an urban sociologist, Esther Sullivan examines the inequality of access to housing in at-risk areas, often unseen areas such as mobile home parks. Though mobile homes serve as the country’s single largest source of unsubsidized affordable housing, zoning regulations leave mobile home parks largely unprotected from urbanization. It’s a problem that is particularly acute in rapidly developing metropolitan areas like Denver.

As Sullivan notes, “Zoning communities into invisibility creates housing instability. But more than that, it creates social vulnerability, because it’s hard to care about what you don’t see.”

But Sullivan has done more than just examine the issue of affordable housing: She has lived it herself.

>> Denver Business Journal names Esther Sullivan among this year’s 40 Under 40

To better grasp the challenges faced by vulnerable populations, she lived for 18 months in mobile home parks that were being either closed or relocated. Sullivan wanted to personally understand the devastating effects mobile home park evictions have on entire communities. “Once I found myself in a mobile home park that then closed and I saw 200 families being evicted at once, I realized there is no academic work on this, and there’s hardly even any policy work on this,” says Sullivan.

So she decided to do something about it.

For nearly a decade, Sullivan’s work has helped advance policies that would protect mobile home communities. While volunteering with 9to5 Colorado to support residents at risk of eviction from a closing mobile home park in Aurora, Sullivan met with city council members, local representatives of the NAACP, and the Aurora Mayor to share her research in affordable housing. As a result of her efforts, the City of Aurora became one of only a small number of cities in the U.S. to declare a moratorium on the rezoning of all mobile home parks in their jurisdiction while they convened a task force to study the impacts of mobile home park closures in their city.

Watch the video below to learn more about Esther Sullivan’s research.