At a town hall meeting at the Antlers Hilton last Wednesday, the Colorado Blue Ribbon Panel on Housing identified a number of ways for the city to improve its affordable housing options. Made up of public, private-sector and non-profit representatives, the panel advised the city to look into creating affordable housing throughout the community, rather than in a single neighborhood. It also recommended a look into its "drive until you qualify" situation whereby people commute into city centers for work, but have to wait for affordable-housing assistance to live anywhere near there.
"Our first concern is that any community has a good, healthy housing balance, and what we are hoping is that we can convince Colorado Springs to do a needs assessment," says Kathi Williams, director of the Colorado Division of Housing and a panel co-chair.
Williams says the best way to understand the need for affordable housing is to identify wage rates across the city, and see where the housing stock falls short. A family in need of affordable housing typically spends more than 30 percent of household income on rent, leaving little money left for things like car and health insurance.
According to Valorie Jordan, division manager of the city's Housing and Community Development department, the city has not completed a needs assessment for affordable housing since the late '90s. She says it plans to have another study done within a year's time, this time looking at the need areas instead of investigating the complaints of frustrated renters, as it did in the last study.
Gene Montoya, executive director of Colorado Springs' Housing Authority, says there is a "strong need" for affordable housing. Every year, the Housing Authority receives more than 3,000 vouchers from the federal government that it can use to subsidize local housing. Montoya says a three-year waiting list containing nearly 7,000 families had recently built up.
The Housing Authority responded by purging its list, sending letters to the 7,000 families asking them to renew their appeal for housing assistance.
"The numbers were so long," he says, "it wasn't reasonable."
He expects that only half of the families will reply, which will shorten the list.