Since March 2015, PlaceMatters has been working at the Ponderosa Mobile Home Park in North Boulder, CO, around issues of affordable housing, community engagement and communicating complexities. Through our grant with HUD-EPA Sustainable Communities Initiative and a subsequent contract with Trestle Strategy Group, we had the pleasure of working with the Ponderosa community and the City of Boulder to navigate the complexities of annexation for the parcel of land that currently offers a valuable asset for low-income residents.
The community of Ponderosa is unique: 69 trailers are located on a privately-owned parcel that falls under the Boulder County jurisdiction but is surrounded by the City; residents enjoy wonderful views of the foothills, river and park access, a community garden, and can walk to shops, bus routes, and bike paths.The community offers affordable, single family units that are not subsidized by affordable housing programs or the government. The residents know they have something special, which is why many of them have been here for over twenty years.
The issue of affordability in Boulder has been at the forefront of the regional conversation and for good reason. Trulia.com reports that the median selling price for a home in Boulder, CO from May to August 2015 was $538,000. In 2014 the Boulder Weekly reported that the large number of high earning households in the community is creating higher housing prices and a dwindling stock of affordable housing units. As part of addressing affordability, Boulder has looked to preserving mobile home parks as an asset.
As residents have noted, they are proud to own their homes and that they are not subsidized. They appreciate having their own space, not in a multi-story apartment building and value having room for their children to play in a stable community. From their perspective, the park is a very different life than other affordable housing types.
However, Ponderosa, like many mobile home parks that are owed by a single landowner, certainly does have issues to confront. Aging infrastructure can be overly burdensome for a single landowner or cause drastic rent hikes to cover. Road improvements and flooding concerns can also be factors. The City of Boulder is working with the landowners to find innovative and collaborative ways to address these issues and keep the residents of Ponderosa in place.
Our work on this project started with compiling research on practices and land use policies for mobile home parks across the nation. PlaceMatters reviewed existing policy for mobile home parks across the nation, area experts in mobile home park issues and created a resource guide for mobile home park policy considerations, common issues and area experts. The research led us to understand that
Colorado has relatively few protections for residents and unfavorable land use policies for parks. It also showed how parks can become places where residents thrive from an appreciable asset.
Research provided the base knowledge that we needed to engage with the community. Marine Siohan and Anne Kuechenmeister had the opportunity to work with Ponderosa residents alongside Trestle. Annexation is a complicated process that is difficult to understand. The community was also starting in a place of mistrust for city government. The team knew that building trust and communicating complex issues, while learning about what the community needs and values were, would be critical pieces to guide the annexation scenarios that were recommended. In order to build trust and learn about the community, PlaceMatters sought to shift the power dynamic of interactions between the team and residents.
Meetings were held in the community, in a comfortable outdoor space, in English and Spanish, using low-tech community methods. This was the basis for integrating power shifting techniques to open up dialogue.
PlaceMatters used a variation of PhotoVoice, a process of collecting input telling place based stories through photos. Residents used red and green frames to take photos of what they wanted improved and what they value and appreciate in the community. Red frame symbolized what they would like to be changed about their community and green frames represent what they value. Residents taught us what was important to them about the community and what they would like to change. This helped us understand values and community assets while building trust.
Using photography to communicate also assisted in breaking down language barriers between English and Spanish and made enabled people with different levels of literacy to equally participate. In addition, the activity was accessible to youth and adults, and resulted in nuances being communicated in a way that may be lost in a traditional written survey.
Alongside static photos, we also worked with residents to videotape their stories and connections to Ponderosa and the surrounding community. Through storytelling residents have shared their vision for the future and what they value about their community. Sharing residents’ voices has given city leaders a better understanding of who lives here and why the opportunities that the park affords them is so valuable. We are excited to announce that after seeing the video and hearing information on the park, the Boulder City Council has stated that they are not willing to move forward with annexation if it means that residents will be displaced.