HBA panel discusses affordable housing, community health

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As the influx of new residents continues in Colorado Springs and around the state, it makes sense that building more houses and apartments would help ease the lack of affordable housing.

But figuring out how to provide affordable, good quality homes for different income levels in El Paso County is not as simple as just building homes.

Even if more units are built, the health of the overall community could be impacted negatively if certain steps are not taken to make sure it meets standards.  

Community health as one factor of affordable housing was discussed on Nov. 17 by an expert panel exploring issues of housing affordability in the Pikes Peak region.

The panel was hosted by the Colorado Springs Housing & Building Association at Centennial Hall for housing advocates, building industry representatives and local elected officials.

The panel was made up of Tatiana Bailey, executive director of the UCCS Economic Forum; Tom Binnings, senior partner at Summit Economics LLC; Laura Nelson, executive director of the Apartment Association of Southern Colorado; Todd Anderson, a longtime builder and developer in Colorado and former president of Challenger Homes; and Aimee Cox, CEO of the Community Health Partnership and former Colorado Springs community development manager.

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“The goal can’t be to just put up houses wherever they can fit them in some sort of crisis mode,” Cox said in her presentation. “Poor quality housing, poor planning and a poor housing policy has negative effects that go beyond the cost of just being cost-burdened in the community.”

According to Cox, 35 million homes in the U.S. have at least one health or safety hazard, and 20-30 percent of asthma cases are linked to home environmental conditions.

In addition, more than 2.4 million homes have lead-based paint hazards that put children at risk of lead poisoning.

These were just a few of the national statistics Cox cited on health hazards in housing.

“Eighty percent of our health is really determined by our access to social and economic opportunities — our jobs, the resources and support available, homes, our communities, the quality of our schools,” Cox said. “Housing … has to be treated differently.

“As we move toward increasing housing inventory, which we need to do, we also want to create … safe, decent accessible housing in Colorado Springs,” she added.

A 2014 Affordable Housing Needs Assessment by the City of Colorado Springs found in that in El Paso County, there was a deficit of 24,513 units in the affordable price range for households earning up to $67,000 per year.

The deficit is projected to increase to 26,447 units by 2019, Cox said.

“When we talk about affordable housing, this isn’t just for extremely low-income people,” Cox said. “It’s for everyone in our community.

“That said, the needs for people at the very, very low income levels — making between zero and $17,000 a year — are significant. There were 16 units available for every 100 households [in that income range].”

Cox also said that 50 percent of renters in El Paso County are cost-burdened by paying more than 30 percent of their income on housing.

Read more about HBA panel discussion on affordable housing in the Nov. 24 edition of the Business Journal.