Wednesday forum will address Colorado Springs affordable housing crunch

Colorado Springs has always prided itself on lower housing prices than other Front Range cities, but that has changed fast in the last couple years. As the city’s housing market has gone white-hot, affordable housing has suddenly become scare as playoff wins for the Broncos in the last two years, fueling the city’s homeless problem and creating a price crisis for lower- and even middle-income residents.

The median price for a house in Colorado Springs hit a record $295,000 in January after a fourth quarter rise of 10.8 percent on a year-over-year basis – one of the nation’s biggest rises in home prices.

Rents also have skyrocketed, hitting a record high of $1141.00 a month last year after nine straight quarters of gains.

"With no houses for sale, with millennials wanting to rent, with all the fabulous amenities that are coming with it – millennials like walkable communities, so they want downtown – and then you couple that with baby boomers retiring, you’ve got an extreme demand and not near enough supply," said Laura Nelson, the Apartment Association of Southern Colorado’s executive director.

City officials say they expect a deficit of 26,000 affordable units in 2019 and the projected construction of only 545 in 2018 and about 450 for 2019. At that rate, it’ll take about 50 years to meet this year’s shortage.

So what do we do about it? Do we rely on the market to fix it, or do we need the city and nonprofits and other organizations to help?

Laura will be one of five panelists who will tackle those questions in a Gazette Media forum on affordable housing Wednesday.

The AARP and Springs Rescue Mission will co-sponsor the event, to be held at The Pinery at 6 p.m. The event is open to the public, and we’ll be soliciting questions in advance on the Gazette’s web site.

The forum will be followed next week by a Gazette panel on homelessness, which has direct connections to the affordable housing crisis. Mayor John Suthers will be among 7 panelists focusing on what’s being done about homelessness at that forum, also at the Pinery, at 6 p.m. Wednesday, Feb. 28.

There’s plenty to talk about. The affordable housing crisis is already triggering flash points.

Last November, all the residents living at the 55-and-older Emerald Towers Apartments were evicted by the owners who wanted to refurbish the apartments so they could charge higher rents in this seller’s market. The residents only found new apartments after city council intervened, and a groundswell of organizations and businesses stepped in to donate moving costs, security deposits and first month’s rent at new apartments.

City Council President Richard Skorman warned at the time that the root cause of those evictions – a hot housing market that’s left renters price-burdened and cash-strapped – is only getting worse.

"The affordable housing crisis is here," he added. "This is the tip of the iceberg."

Even the answers come with problems. The Ridge, a 60-unit project for low-income tenants proposed in the Broadmoor Bluffs area, has been criticized by neighbors who fear it will hurt property values, among other concerns.

"While the city wants more affordable housing, every time somebody goes to build one, the neighborhoods come out and have a big fit," Nelson said. "Everybody wants it, but they don’t want it in their neighborhood."

So come be part of the solution Wednesday, joining these panelists in what we hope is a sprightly, constructive, honest discussion of where we go from here:

Laura Nelson is the executive director of the Apartment Association of Southern Colorado.

City planning director Peter Wysocki worked in planning departments in Nevada and Wyoming and Texas before coming to Colorado Springs. His staffs have won several awards for their work in urban planning.

Colorado Springs HUD administrator Steve Posey is responsible for program development and administration of HUD funds for Colorado Springs.

Lee Patke is executive director of Greccio Housing, which focuses on the acquisition, rehabilitation, and management of affordable rentals in Colorado Springs.

Jill Gaebler is the District 5 representative on the Colorado Springs City Council. Gaebler formerly served as the development director of Greccio Housing.

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