- Faith Miller
- Before Greccio’s intervention, Pandora Gardner says she “had really given up.”
The 53-year-old single veteran was between jobs, earning inconsistent wages as a temp worker as she tried to find work suited to her Certified Nursing Assistant training. But with a job where the money she made was constantly fluctuating, Gardner was having trouble renewing the lease on her hard-won apartment in Colorado Springs.
On the verge of moving out, Gardner stopped by the food bank at the main office of Greccio Housing, the affordable-housing nonprofit that owns her apartment. That’s where Gardner found an unexpected answer to her predicament.
Greccio’s eviction prevention program provides up to three months of free rent, utility assistance, case management and budgeting classes for people suffering a one-time crisis event. That includes job loss, illness, a death in the family, or another circumstance beyond one’s own control.
Through the program, Gardner received two months of free rent and help with the income verification process in order to renew her lease. Gardner says that process was unexpectedly complicated due to the fact that her hourly wages ranged from minimum wage to $15 an hour, making it hard to prove her income qualified her for housing. Greccio helped her with the paperwork, and she also received budget counseling and even a skills class to help her land a CNA job.
“I did everything they asked and it just gave me time to get the job that I needed,” she says.
The cost of rent in El Paso County has increased and the homeless population is at a high, topping 1,551 homeless people, compared to 1,415 last year, and 1,302 in 2016. That’s according to the annual Point-in-Time count — an undercount, as not everyone will cooperate with the surveyors, nor can all people be located. The number of homeless veterans has risen by 22 percent since 2013, according to the count.
Local nonprofits fighting homelessness cite a lack of affordable housing. A 2014 Affordable Housing Needs Assessment by the city of Colorado Springs and El Paso County predicted a deficit of 26,000 available affordable units by 2019 for households making up to 120 percent of the area median income (AMI).
Gardner is a case in point. Before leasing an apartment with Greccio, she had been on the waiting list for nine months. Greccio’s seven-year average vacancy rate is about 3.5 percent, but over the last year, the vacancy rate has averaged 2 percent, says Lee Patke, the nonprofit’s executive director.
Greccio owns 18 properties and manages three others, and has apartments for people making less than 30, 40, 50, 60 and 80 percent of area median income. AMI for a four-person household in El Paso County is $77,700.
Greccio’s eviction prevention program started as a pilot for Greccio residents in 2014, funded by Sisters of Charity Ministry. The goal was to intervene on at least 30 evictions over the next two years, Patke said. Greccio ended up serving 41 households, 35 of which successfully completed the program.
The program was such a success that it received an award last fall from Housing Colorado, an association for affordable-housing professionals. Now, Greccio plans to expand the program to non-Greccio residents starting this year. About $45,000 through a Community Development Block Grant from the Department of Housing and Urban Development will fund staffing for the program, and the rest of the money will come from Greccio’s own budget, nonprofits and private grant funding. The total budget for the program so far amounts to about $100,000, says Development Director Hayley Suppes, but Greccio still has applications and funding requests processing.
The eviction prevention program is now available to anyone in the city, so long as they make less than 80 percent of the area median income and live in land-use restricted properties, where landlords are required to keep the cost of rent under a certain amount depending on income bracket. Those living in non-restricted properties don’t qualify for the program, at least not yet.
“There is naturally occurring low-income housing that happens across the city,” Suppes says. “If we were opening up to anyone ... and that kind of inadvertently happened, word kind of got out that we were going to be doing this and we just had an onslaught of so many referrals, and so having that qualifier in there helps us to grow within our means, so we can have the greatest impact with the funding that we’re receiving now, with full intentions to receive more in the future.”
Gardner now works at Fort Carson, and lives in the Greccio-owned Citadel Arms complex near Academy Boulevard and San Miguel Street. She’s grateful for her clean, meticulously decorated one-bedroom apartment and marvels at the peaceful quiet of the building and community garden outside.
Gardner says she wants people to understand that homelessness can happen to anyone, even an older single woman like herself who doesn’t fit typical stereotypes.
“My rent was paid on time, I wasn’t having trouble that way, it just is the verification process is very strict,” she says. “I was really devastated, and I had really given up.”