Housing Authority helps local governments to attract, promote and secure affordable housing

By Guest Columnist Patrick Dillon

The Surveyor

One out of every three children in Colorado lives in a household with a high housing cost burden, and one out of four renters in our state pays more than 50 percent of their income to housing, according to LiveAffordablyColorado.org. These facts are putting many of our neighbors within our community and all across the state just a major bill or health crisis away from housing insecurity, or even homelessness.

The 2017 Out of Reach Report produced by the National Low Income Housing Coalition shows a minimum-wage employee in Colorado has to work at least 75 hours per week to afford a fair-market one-bedroom rental, or 95 hours a week for a two-bedroom rental. The expression that it is expensive to be poor is very true in Colorado for many.

The problem isn’t that we uniquely suffer from a lack of housing options in Colorado, or that we don’t have enough job openings to ensure people can work for their housing. It is simply our current housing options are far too expensive for many of our neighbors in Berthoud, Larimer County, and across Colorado. Let’s take a slightly closer look, Larimer County, where minimum wage currently sits at $10.20 an hour doesn’t allow someone to easily afford a two-bedroom rental in our county where you need to make at least $19.15 an hour not to be considered cost-burdened by housing.

What is making our housing situation even more of a stubborn silent crisis is, the future may not be the answer to this problem. The Colorado Department of Labor expects over 70 percent of new jobs created over the next decade to have an annual salary of less than $36,000 dollars a year. Not including the fact the current rate of affordable housing being developed in state would take 100 years to meet the needs of Colorado, according to LiveAffordablyColorado.org

Many of the studies focus solely on renting, because buying a home is almost impossible for the vast majority of low-income families, limited income retirees, and neighbors with disabilities in need of housing supports. These realities have led me and many others in the community over the past six months to seek out firsthand what being almost priced out of the community you call home looks like here in Berthoud.

Jodi Boyer, the community manager for Berthoud MHP RV Horizon, which has 39 trailer homes, offered her take on the current state of housing for her community, saying “realistically our entire community struggles with affording housing as the cost of living keeps increasing.” She went on to share, “seniors relying on social security seem to be hurting the most, and single-family wages aren’t meeting the needs, putting them at risk for housing crisis.”

The decisions some families have to make to keep a roof over their heads can be emotional, Boyer shares. “The question becomes for many, do I pay for food or medication?” One of her residents, 71-year-old John Randall, a retired truck driver, still works part-time because Social Security doesn’t cover all the expenses. “If they raise it again, I don’t know if I can make,” talking about a possible lot rent increase. “I’m gonna have to sell it [this home], no choice”

This is just one of the personal stories that made me ask a simple question – what could be done? What can be done on a local level to support our struggling Berthoud families? So, like a typical 25-year-old, I went to Change.org and created a petition seeking others to say they agree too, that we need affordable housing. After 151 online signatures I stumbled into the Colorado Department Local Affairs Affordable Housing Guide for Local Officials. This guide talks about the powers of local governments to attract, promote and secure affordable housing. The housing authority option stuck out to me, so I reached out to Loveland to see if Berthoud residents are applying for their housing-support services. Bluntly the answer is yes, at least 55 Berthoud families. These families are waiting years to get the help, due to lack of funding. Plainly speaking, Berthoud families are leaving, or trying to, Berthoud because they can’t afford to stay.

So under Colorado Revised Statute 29-4-204, it allows for 25 or more citizens of any given city to petition their local government to hold a public hearing on the creation of a housing authority. The board under this statute must determine whether within a community there is unsafe, unsanitary housing within a community. If so, they must also look into the physical condition and age of the buildings; the light and air available to the inhabitants of such dwelling accommodations; the size and arrangement of the rooms; the sanitary facilities; and the extent to which conditions exist in such buildings which endanger life or property by fire, among other factors. To say the least, it is a long process, but some of the perks of authority are being able to apply for loans, grants, and contributions Berthoud has no way to access currently. An authority can also acquire property by lease, purchase, eminent domain, gift, grant, bequest, or devise. Not including that a housing authority is much like a business and can borrow money on terms.

Honestly, it is a complex policy that has had amazing impacts for many in Loveland, Fort Collins, Longmont, Estes Park, Johnstown, Windsor, Milliken and Greeley, to name a few nearby neighbors with housing authorities. So the question becomes again, why not Berthoud? After knocking on many doors across Berthoud, meeting people who were, in fact, homeless or very much at risk of homelessness in our community, I submitted the signatures needed. Whether you agree with this policy or not, you should come and be a part of the conversation focused on affordable housing for Berthoud. I don’t know if this is the best answer for Berthoud, but doing nothing is not the answer any one of us should accept either.

 

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