The city’s poorest residents can’t find affordable homes.
What we think:
City government and developers should work together to find a solution to help people transitioning from homelessness.
As rental prices react to an ever-tightening market, there’s a group being left out of the city’s economic recovery: those who have been homeless but now have the opportunity to have a place to live — with a guaranteed rent check signed by Uncle Sam.
Rental prices in Colorado Springs have increased 11 percent from this time last year, some experts say, and that means housing available using federal grant dollars for people transitioning out of homelessness is harder than ever to find, says Beth Hall Roalstad, executive director of Homeward Pikes Peak.
The problem isn’t a shortage of apartments or rental homes. It’s that vacancy rates are so low, landlords can be choosy about whom they rent to — and prices are above the average rates set by the federal government.
It’s an unsustainable system.
People can’t transition out of poverty if landlords won’t take a chance on them. And really, it’s not much of a chance. Clients of Homeward Pikes Peak come with vouchers guaranteeing rent payments; they come with wrap-around services, including addiction counseling, mental health assistance and job training.
Still, the tight rental market has left them behind. Landlords now require rental insurance — but these people don’t have any belongings. They also require all back rents from any past homes and that utilities are paid in full, and few agree to work with Homeward Pikes Peak on paying down the debt slowly.
Other cities have addressed the problem of rental housing — and reduced the number of homeless people on the streets. In Denver, the city requires developers to set aside 15 percent of all new multi-family construction for affordable housing, open to people and families with vouchers from the federal government. In Manitou Springs, city leaders have put a limit on the number of Airbnb units to preserve affordable housing.
From Colorado Springs? Silence.
There’s been no citywide effort to increase affordable housing as rents rise, no requirement to set aside units in complexes for people who need a home — and can pay the prices set by the federal government under affordable rental guidelines.
Instead, many landlords seem locked into stereotypes about the homeless: They create crime; they destroy property; they bother other renters.
Nothing could be further from the truth. In the past six months, Homeward Pikes Peak has received one complaint from its 62 families living in assisted rental units — it was for domestic violence. As Hall Roalstad says, that’s not a bad record.
Some of her clients can’t work due to mental illness or disabilities, but many can work — and have jobs. But they are stuck on a waiting list as Homeward Pikes Peak tries to locate landlords who will take the federal vouchers.
It’s a guaranteed rental payment, and during the Great Recession, it was easy to find landlords to take guaranteed rental payments — no matter who the renter was.
That’s not the case now, and the city’s most vulnerable population is left out of the economic recovery as housing options are continually squeezed because of higher rents.