Trailer park

Cabins on the riverside section of the Phillips Trailer Park property, as seen in April, are pictured. County officials own the 65-acre, 40-unit property and are proceeding with steps toward its long-term redevelopment while also keeping in mind various public-health issues.

Key findings from a health assessment relating to the Phillips Trailer Park property, located a few miles north of Woody Creek, will be highlighted at Tuesday’s work session of Pitkin County commissioners.

And, in the same discussion, staff and commissioners plan to “drill deeper” into the big-picture of public health and its relationship to housing instability, according to a memorandum from county public health director Karen Koenemann. County officials, at a meeting in mid-July, spoke of the need for a health-in-all-policies approach to its decision-making processes.

“Disciplines and sectors traditionally outside the domain of public health, such as transportation, education, industrial development and agriculture, are generally unaccountable to health outcomes and have many competing priorities,” the memo in advance of Tuesday’s meeting states. “To address the broader determinants of health that contribute to poor health and vast health inequities, public health leaders must find ways to incorporate concern for and accountability to health outcomes into a wide range of decision-making and public policies.”

Koenemann goes on to write that the impact of housing is now widely considered by policymakers. “Housing is one of the best-researched determinants of health, and selected housing interventions for low-income people have been found to improve health outcomes and decrease health care costs.”

The Phillips property was owned, maintained and monitored for many decades by a longtime local family until early 2018, when Pitkin County government paid $6.5 million for 65 acres with the stated goal of keeping it out of the hands of private developers and preserving it as affordable housing. The community consists of about 10 units on the property’s “riverside,” accessible from Highway 82, and 30 units on its “hillside,” accessible from Lower River Road. The 60-person community is split by a picturesque section of the Roaring Fork River teeming with wildlife and riparian habitat.

Last year, a team of consultants was hired to assess the property from a health angle and other perspectives. The consultants have been presenting their findings and offering suggestions on how to proceed with the community’s redevelopment over the course of several meetings this year. Commissioners have provided direction, but nothing has been etched in stone. 

Many concerns relating to lot ownership, structure removal and relocation, infrastructure replacement and potential compensation for structures on the riverside that officials believe must be removed because they sit within a flood plain have yet to be decided. Other dwellings on the hillside also may have to be removed if they don’t meet federal housing standards and can’t be relocated to more suitable areas.

However, commissioners have indicated that they prefer a “no net loss” option in lieu of reducing the number of units on the property or a massive expansion. In addition to preserving spaces for 40 units, officials are looking to create opportunities for new lot development on the hillside and perhaps a lower area on the north side of the river (the current riverside section is on the south side) that could mean an end result of between 50 and 60 units overall.

A health impact assessment, or HIA, on the community was completed in March. The findings of that study, which partly relies on data from a residents’ survey, will be discussed with commissioners.

Koenemann’s memo says that discussion points concerning the Phillips property and its relationship to public health will center on:

  • Housing instability, mobile home park residents as half-way homeowners and the importance of land ownership.
  • Aging in place and the involvement of senior services.
  • Climate change and sustainability.
  • Housing conditions.
  • A reminder of what the Pitkin Board of County Commissioners has already achieved by purchasing the property.

“Housing costs [in Pitkin County] are … high compared to Colorado overall, and Pitkin’s self-sufficiency standard — the income needed to purchase a family’s basic needs, including housing — is the highest in the state,” says a summary of the HIA. “Housing is identified as a key public health priority, and a recent study predicts that the shortage of affordable housing in the area will worsen in the next decade.”

According to the assessment, Phillips residents are most concerned about being forced out by increasing costs. The consultants have previously reported the potential cost to residents for purchasing their lots and paying back the county, over time, for much-needed infrastructure improvements, including new water and wastewater systems.

“The health impacts of housing instability are numerous, significant and well documented,” the summary adds. “For mobile-home park residents who are ‘halfway homeowners’ — who own their unit but not the land on which it sits — housing instability is especially fraught by the potential to lose equity or homes that cannot be moved when privately owned parks such as Phillips are sold.

“This status and its consequences may exacerbate health impacts, especially for retirees,” the summary says.

While the work session is slated to begin at 1 p.m. Tuesday with a discussion of waste and recycling fees at the Pitkin County landfill, the portion relating to public health and the Phillips community is scheduled to start just after 3 p.m.

Andre is a reporter for Aspen Daily News. He can be reached at andre@aspendailynews.com.