Weld County has been my home for 45 years, and I love this community. When I recently discovered that Greeley and Weld County are No. 1 in the United States, it was in something that didn’t make me smile. Number one at what? According to USA Today reporting partner 24/7 Wall Street, as of June 2019, the Greeley Metropolitan Statistical Area, which includes all of Weld County, is the region most likely to be on the verge of a housing crisis.
Being No. 1 on a cost of housing measure is confirmation of what many of us have known for some time: the cost of housing in Weld County is expensive. I hear this from people in my church, from friends and people in our community. I bet you hear it, too.
Expensive housing is bad for almost everyone. Families have more stress when they can’t make ends meet or they must get that second or third job to pay the bills. Children are in trouble when parents spend less time with them; this isn’t good for school grades or helping them to become well-developed, industrious adults. Employers have a more difficult time when their employees are tired and distracted, unable to show up in body and mind, which leads to less than optimal performance and, even worse, accidents. Even local governments don’t do as well when people spend more money on housing and less at local stores, which decreases sales tax revenue.
United Way of Weld County, on whose board of directors I serve, is fully committed to heading off a meltdown and to helping lead us toward a cool down. We want to get to No. 100 on this measure rather than to stay at No. 1. What can be done?
We can dream big and build more affordable housing. The City of Greeley is planning for 5,000 new housing opportunities over the next several years, with everything from executive to moderately priced. Every jurisdiction in Weld County, from municipalities to Weld County government itself, can be dreaming big like this and planning for it. Located right down the street from my church in Evans, the Greeley-Weld Habitat for Humanity and Commonwealth Companies partnership Mission Springs will create 95 apartment and home ownership opportunities. This is a project to replicate.
We can offer more short-term rental and food assistance. When families experience a job loss, debilitating health condition or other source of instability, they need time to adjust. Short-term rental and food assistance allows for this. And we know it works. A number of Weld County emergency assistance nonprofits call program participants six months after the aid is provided to see if it helped them stay in their housing. More than eight times out of 10 it does.
We can help people get back into housing. Homelessness is costly. A 2011 evaluation of “Home & Healthy for Good,” a Massachusetts statewide program, found that maintaining a person in homelessness, including police, fire and emergency room department contacts and more, cost an estimated $33,514 per person, per year. The cost of housing, supportive case management, and ongoing health care was only $24,007, an annual savings of $9,507. We can save money assisting people into housing and we can help our local law enforcement and emergency services do the job they were meant to do, instead of being case managers for people who are living out-of-doors.
I hope that you will join me, United Way of Weld County, and our partners in moving Weld County from No. 1 to No. 100 on this at-risk of a housing crises list. You can learn more at www.unitedway-weld.org.
Angel Flores of Greeley is a member of the board of directors at United Way of Weld County. He is the founding pastor of Mosaic Church in Evans.