No major health issues have been identified at the Phillips Trailer Park community that Pitkin County purchased for $6.5 million in early 2018 with the goal of preserving the property as affordable housing.
Still, county staff and consultants began the resident outreach and redevelopment process for the 40-unit community nearly one year ago with an onsite open house that emphasized health perspectives.
And the future of the property will continue to be measured through that “lens,” so to speak, as evidenced by a commissioners’ work session Tuesday in which officials pointed out that discussions surrounding Phillips mark the first instance in which the county is applying its new “health in all policies” approach to land use and community development.
At the meeting, Karen Koenemann, the county’s public health director, talked about that approach and a health impact assessment that was conducted following a survey of the trailer park’s residents. She was joined by Lisa Headington, who worked on the assessment and summarized its findings.
Water and wastewater infrastructure, and fire safety, have been mentioned as primary problems the county will have to tackle once it begins the physical work of improving the property. But reducing the stress of the trailer park’s residents by providing them with a better place to live while maintaining the community’s affordability is a big-picture, much-desired public-health outcome on which county officials appear to be focused.
“I want to take a moment and commend the county for looking at Phillips as an opportunity to actually increase health equity in this community,” Koenemann said. “Preserving affordable housing in the community – that is a gigantic step. …With all of the pieces that we’ve been learning about Phillips, there will be a lot of challenges and barriers, but I think just taking a step back and acknowledging what [commissioners] did when they chose to preserve this affordable housing was pretty instrumental in preserving health equity in this community.”
Koenemann explained that health equity “thinks about giving everyone the same opportunity to attain their highest level of health.” It creates a sense of fairness so that everyone has the “bike” that can be ridden toward a place of good health, she said.
“Inequities are created when there’s barriers and conditions in which we live,” she said.
Koenemann noted that in recent years, many mobile-home parks across the state have been purchased and transformed into something other than affordable housing.
“People have been forced … to move from those communities, and the impact to the people of that community is pretty severe when we think about the stress and housing instability that they felt.”
Headington, a Denver land use and environmental planner, spoke of the increasing use of health impact assessments across the nation and the world as tools in government decision-making. The growth of such assessments in the United States grew out of dissatisfaction with government studies like environmental impact statements.
“While there are over 500 EISs and EIAs done in this country done every year, they tend to ignore human health impacts. They may focus on toxics and on things like changes in air pollution, then not take that next step and talk about the asthma rates that may change as a result or even something like how a highway slicing through a neighborhood can sever critical community connections and social networks, and the impacts on public health that those things might have.”
As for the actual assessment of Phillips Trailer Park, Headington spoke of how the survey’s sample size was small, with only 18 respondents. The community has an estimated 58 to 60 residents, but many of them work several jobs and are unable to take the time to respond to consultants’ questions.
Those who did respond identified cost as a concern: They want to be able to continue to afford living in the area. Many also are interested in purchasing the land beneath their structures.
Generally, they love the close-knit community and its location, situated halfway between Aspen and Basalt. The 65-acre property is cut in half by the Roaring Fork River, with 30 units on the sunny hillside and around 10 on the shaded riverbank.
What’s unhealthy about the community? Chiefly, the “uncertain future,” according to Headington.
With the consultants recommending removal of all the riverside spaces, many residents have expressed worries in recent months as to whether their homes can be moved to the hillside, and if so, what spots will be made available to them.
Others are wondering whether the county will reimburse them for equity of their properties if their homes are deemed unsuitable for relocation. The residents who want to remain would like to see improved fire safety and bus service, as well as waste-hauling services, the survey indicated.
On the positive side, there is no “stigma” associated with living in the trailer park, Headington said. The residents like being there.
Commissioner Patti Clapper, a longtime resident of Smuggler Trailer Park in Aspen, spoke of the perks associated with mobile-home living compared with other areas. Kids can play in the streets, and the neighbors look out for one another, she pointed out.
Headington suggested that in looking at future development plans, the county should continue its engagement with the residents. Spaces for social interaction and a community garden will give them amenities they currently don’t have. The county also could extend its senior services to many of the community’s residents who are over 60.
Another suggestion that arose during the meeting was the possible commission of a residents’ survey in other trailer parks located within the county, with an eye toward getting a better feel for what will work, and what won’t, at Phillips.