I. Could. Not. Believe. It.
Here I was, talking with Carolyn (name changed), one of the hardest working members of my congregation, with her sharing that she was on the verge of losing her housing. She is a single mom working two jobs and she still can’t make ends meet. If it wasn’t for a family member allowing her to rent her place at below-market rent, she could end up living in her car with her children.
If Carolyn, who works harder than anyone I know, is not immune from housing instability, who is?
“Housing costs far outpace wage increases across the Mountain West,” reads a January 11 headline. “Wages are rising across the Mountain West, but not as fast as housing costs,” reports Nate Hegyi of the Mountain West News Bureau.
The article further shares that the recent 2% to 6% wage increases in Mountain West states are no match for the significant rise in housing costs from June 2020 to June 2021. “More than half of the zip codes in Colorado, Idaho and Utah saw unprecedented [housing] price increases in 2021,” Hegyi continues.
This is not new news for Weld County. A 2019 Wall St. 24/7 report found that the Greeley MSA was the United States region most on the verge of a housing crisis. Since the Great Recession, our area has become the place where lower- and even middle-income families have the hardest time getting and keeping housing. Plus, the same study found Denver to be #2 and Fort Collins #3.
Weld County. Denver-metro. Larimer County. We live in an unaffordability trifecta.
When assembling this piece I recalled writing something similar in 2019. Go ahead; Google it: “Affordable housing crisis all too real in Weld County.” In the two-and-a-half years since, because of the pandemic, the rising costs of water, construction materials and labor, and other factors, the need for more affordable housing construction has become even more urgent.
Yes, there are promising signs. Greeley is pursuing a community-wide, 5,000 units-over-time housing plan, which includes an aggressive emphasis on affordability. Greeley-Weld Habitat for Humanity is looking to break ground on Hope Springs in 2023, which will offer 300 homeowner units affordable for teachers, fire fighters, and police officers.
Habitat for Humanity of the St. Vrain Valley is preserving and expanding affordable housing in The Glens in Dacono. High Plains Housing Development Corporation is increasing right-priced housing opportunities.
But we must do more. In Greeley, Evans, and throughout Weld County, we need an “all of the above” housing strategy, with our elected officials and city, town and county staff laying the groundwork and building public support for housing that we all can afford.
We can change codes to allow for the use of accessory dwelling units (aka ADUs or “granny flats”). We can let people live in tiny homes. We can build more traditional units, from condominiums to 5,000 sq. ft. executive housing to 1,000 sq. ft. cottage homes (see www.MissionHomesCO.com). We can construct more market-rate apartments and more complexes for older adults and families (see www.BrigitsVillage.org). We can create spaces for people who have experienced homelessness and need supportive housing. Manufactured homes. Co-housing. We can go “all of the above.”
There isn’t a single solution to our Weld County housing affordability challenge. But there are solutions. I hope that you will join me in figuring this out. To help: contact Shawn Walcott, United Way of Weld County director of household stability, at email@example.com or 970-353-4300. Or make a donation to United Way at www.UnitedWay-Weld.org/donate to support those that are bringing about solutions. Here’s to more affordable housing for Carolyn and us all.
Angel Flores is the founding pastor of Mosaic Church in Evans and the chair-elect of the United Way of Weld County board of directors.