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Homes on the range




When talking about Fort Carson's upcoming $1.2 billion in construction projects, Ed Whitcraft takes a historical tack.

"This is probably the biggest thing to happen to Fort Carson since World War II," says Whitcraft, a Fort Carson director of public works, referencing the post's creation in the wake of Pearl Harbor. "You're going to have a total of 14 buildings being constructed at the same time."

The construction, which will begin in 2007, will include division headquarters for a two-star general, separate brigade headquarters, facilities for an Army band and new barracks for hundreds of soldiers.

Yet even a project of this size will answer just a fraction of the housing needs posed by the post's expansion.

Approximately 70 percent of the incoming soldiers are expected to live off post, most in the Fountain, Security and Widefield areas with some in Colorado Springs. Initial estimates show a need for 1,000 off-post owner units and 4,500 off-post renter spaces.

City officials in Colorado Springs and Fountain can't confidently predict who will move where and when, nor can they ignore a thorny reality: Colorado Springs has too much housing available while Fountain, where many of the soldiers will likely settle, needs more affordable apartments.

Over the past five years, Colorado Springs has maintained a 10 percent vacancy rate for its housing stock, owed largely to the post-9/11 economic nosedive, as well as to troop deployments to Iraq. The city's Affordable Housing Program manager, Chad Wright, says that Colorado Springs is looking forward to the expansion as a way to fill the empty housing. But he acknowledges the realities of housing a transient workforce.

"When you have people coming and going and needing new leases, it makes it more of a challenge to manage properties," he says.

Some apartment complexes in the city have started advertising specifically to incoming and returning soldiers. Cheyenne Creek condominiums on Cheyenne Road hangs a "Welcome Home Troops" sign on its front gate, and offers "$100 toward FREE GAS" and a waived application fee for potential military tenants.

Ten miles to the south, in Fountain, city officials anticipate that at least half the incoming troops will settle in the area. But the city of 20,200 does not have enough housing to accommodate the Fort Carson influx.

"They are going to need a boatload," says Fred Crowley, a business professor at UCCS who conducted a housing study for Fountain, which is the third-fastest growing ZIP code in El Paso County.

He estimates that on top of the 500-plus housing units added each year with normal growth, the city will need an additional 3,000 spaces for the Army. A third of those, he says, should be rentals.

In an effort to create more housing for the incoming soldiers, Fountain has begun negotiations with a private developer.

"It will be a great boom to the Fountain economy," says Lisa Cochrun, economic development director in Fountain.

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