affordable housing

Affordable housing advocates in Colorado Springs are worried.

We’ve all seen what gentrification has done to neighborhoods in Denver, where housing prices are so high, workers there are seeking affordable options in other cities, losing the culture and character of neighborhoods in favor of expensive McMansions and luxury apartments.

Gone are the neighborhood stores, the diversity, the local conversations, the sense of place. In their place: neighborhoods that could be in any city, anywhere in the country.

We don’t want that to happen here. We love our city and its diverse neighborhoods; we love events that bring us all together like PorchFest and NeighborUp. But as redevelopment projects kick off in areas of the city long ignored by developers, there’s growing anxiety: How do we retain character, culture and affordable housing for all our residents?

Without an anti-displacement policy, neighborhoods in Southeast Colorado Springs, Ivywild, Patty Jewett or Fountain could see new development projects that drive out current residents in favor of those with deeper pockets.

We’re already seeing it. Last year, residents of Emerald Towers Apartments received a mere 60-day notice to find new places to live so new owners could renovate the building for wealthier residents. They were seniors living on fixed incomes, and they protested, but ultimately were forced out.

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Gentrification is here — like it or not —  and not just in Ivywild, the Emerald Towers neighborhood. And as developers see dollar signs in older apartments, we’re going to see more of it. We need to make sure redevelopment is done the right way.

Flight from Denver’s skyrocketing prices creates affordable housing shortages in Colorado Springs — adding to an already intractable problem. We’re crrently short about 25,000 units,according to the latest estimates. The average apartment rent is around $1,100 now, and that doesn’t include many amenities. The average home price is now around $300,000, once a realistic price for a high-end, luxury home in the Pikes Peak region.

As Colorado’s booming economy and awesome quality of life attract attention from businesses, investors follow. When the city became the No. 1 place to live according to U.S. News & World Report, developers paid attention. Apartments changed hands, renovation crews moved in and rents rose.

We need solutions. We’ll have trouble attracting quality businesses and the necessary workforce if the current dynamic doesn’t change. We’ll have businesses looking for less expensive places to move when their workforces can’t afford housing.

But those businesses bear some responsibility for the crisis. While housing and rents are on the rise here, wages aren’t. Most Millennials (already struggling with high student loan debt) won’t be able to afford homes for a while as prices continue to rise. Higher wages could ease the housing crunch. Recent studies show that improving wages doesn’t mean cutting staff; for long-term workers, it’s a big boost.

Businesses and city officials should work with developers to create the kind of mixed-use housing that has people from all demographics living together: the working poor, the mid-level workforce, the high rollers. Not only will mixed-income housing allow people a place to live, it will also create the kind of conversations necessary to address poverty and low wages in Colorado Springs.

Other cities are looking for affordable housing solutions; it’s time to do more than talk in Colorado Springs. Let’s find solutions to keep our city available to everyone, improve wages, while also talking about ways to manage growth and development.

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