Housing Solutions celebrates serving Southwest Colorado for 40 years, with 40 brand new affordable housing units! Espero Apartments has been in development for many years, with construction beginning during the pandemic. Despite this tremendous challenge, Espero is on schedule and budget and will be completed by the fall of this year, housing 40 residents. Espero is funded with multiple public and private resources, including local funding, donations, foundational funding, and government funding, including the Colorado Division of Housing and Low Income Housing Tax Credits through the Colorado Housing and Finance Authority (CHFA). All 1-bedroom units are reserved for people exiting homelessness, earning at or below 30% AMI, and living with a disability. Housing Solutions for the Southwest and BlueLine Development are co-developers of Espero Apartments, with the City of Durango donating the land. Service partners include AXIS Health System, Manna, Southwest Center for Independence, and members of the local Continuum of Care.
As the Executive Director of Housing Solutions for the last ten years, no year has been both as challenging and rewarding as 2020. The good news is that housing programs are growing, bringing in multiple sources of rental subsidies, units, and programs to SW Colorado. For example, Housing Solutions is significantly expanding the Housing Choice Voucher Program (commonly referred to as “Section 8”), which currently provides approximately $1.5 million in rental assistance to the region each year. One of the challenges is that people struggle to locate units that meet the payment standards for the program. As a result, Housing Solutions consistently advocates for increased payment standards, but increases are not keeping up with the recent exponential increases in rent. This reality underscores the need to create new and preserve existing affordable housing.
Housing Solutions provided hundreds of thousands of dollars in additional emergency rental assistance funds to respond to the pandemic while being nimble enough to change our service model to assist people in many different ways. The flexibility, innovation, and persistence of the Housing Solutions staff made it possible to increase the agency’s capacity. I never envisioned building a bubble with an outdoor heater to allow staff to continue to meet with clients outdoors through the winter. Responding to the housing crisis has required adaptability, creativity, and patience from the entire Housing Solutions team and the people we serve. Despite our increasing capacity, there is a need for unprecedented collaborative efforts to address affordable housing across the region. The time has come to make bold, lasting, and impactful changes to improve housing opportunities. The communities in SW Colorado are up to the challenge.
Each day, we work with residents who share experiences of substantial rent increases, loss of rental housing because their home is being sold or transitioned into a vacation rental, and the frustration of would-be first-time homebuyers in this highly competitive market. Housing for workers of all types and income levels is crucial to the fabric of this community. Our housing counselors assist clients who are making difficult choices about essential needs, including food, healthcare, medicine, transportation, and housing. The counselors’ knowledge about local resources can be tremendously helpful. The Community Emergency Assistance Coalition (CEAC) program increasingly works with people who have never sought emergency assistance of any kind, earn a “livable” wage, but are housing cost-burdened.
In response to the pandemic, communities, governments, organizations, and individuals are rethinking almost everything, from bump-outs downtown to housing. I am encouraged by steps taken nationally, in Colorado, and by our local leaders to address the housing crisis. Positive changes include revisions to housing policy that promote affordable housing, laws that protect renters in Colorado, expansion of rental assistance programs, property owner assistance for unpaid rent, and significant collaborative efforts locally to address housing needs. Potential funding opportunities, proposed policy initiatives, and a collective desire to address housing affordability make me hopeful.
On behalf of every community member the agency has worked with, I want to express my sincere gratitude to those who have supported and trusted Housing Solutions over the last 40 years. The list of supporters and collaborative partners includes those serving a role on the Board of Directors, funders of all types, other agencies, community leaders, local businesses, and many more. Another thank you goes to the Housing Solutions staff, past and present. Their hard work, every single day, has kept the agency effective and relevant for 40 years and into the future.