Area housing meeting sends clear message
GLENWOOD SPRINGS Some 250 people gathered in a house of prayer Monday to hear from fellow area residents who have hardly a prayer of finding affordable housing.Congregations and Schools Empowered, or CASE, hopes to change that, and challenged elected officials from Aspen to Parachute to create a regional housing authority to address the problem.”We’re losing skilled and critical people who are struggling to find housing in the valley, and so they’re leaving,” CASE member Marie Hale said to an audience sitting in pews at St. Stephen’s Catholic Church.Some who were in attendance want to continue living here but described their housing situations as highly challenging. Elsa Gonzalez, who grew up in Carbondale, said she is having to work two jobs while raising three kids as a single mom, and has had to keep moving whenever the rent goes up.”It’s hard because you can’t keep your kids in one school because you keep moving,” she said.Some mothers broke down in tears as they struggled to describe the difficulties they face making ends meet. Jackie Noel, 18, of Glenwood Springs, told how her mom lost her job and they lost their home when she was 14, so she had to go to work busing tables.”For the past three years I’ve been helping pay rent and food for my family so we can just get by,” she said.Several speakers voiced concerns about how hard it is for those growing up here to have any chance of living here as adults.”I just hope that something can happen so that young people like me have the chance to get an apartment or a home at an affordable price,” said Nick Garay, 20, of Silt.Hale said the housing problem also is affecting seniors on fixed incomes, and young professionals who stay a year or two and then leave.Gary Pack, superintendent of the Garfield County Re-2 School District, told of Re-2 hiring four people last spring, only to have them resign before school started in the fall because of high housing costs. Two new hires lived in tents for weeks before finding a place to live.Hale said a regional solution is best because it would allow city and county governments to “share the pain” required to solve the housing problem.One challenge, said Garfield County Commissioner John Martin, is the objections from people who don’t want affordable housing built near where they live.Martin and others said the local housing problem has been studied enough and it’s time to take action. He said Garfield County is projected to reach a population of 100,000 in 15 years.”They’re coming. We’d better get ready,” he said.But Pitkin County Commissioner Dorothea Farris said that elected officials also must consider the importance of protecting open spaces while trying to meet housing needs.”How environmentally sensitive is this going to be?” she asked.CASE challenged participating elected officials to attend another meeting May 24 to focus on providing solutions to the housing problem. While they were receptive to that, some also noted the challenge in getting communities to agree on solutions.”Somehow we have to get them all on the same page, going in the same direction. I think that’s going to be difficult but if we get it done we’ll get some housing,” said Glenwood Springs City Council member Joe O’Donnell.Pitkin County Commissioner Rachel Richards pointed to what can be done, saying Aspen and Pitkin County have jointly created more than 2,600 affordable housing units, taxing themselves to pay for it.Some housing developers also spoke up at Monday’s meeting, including Rockwood Shepard, project manager for Related WestPac, which recently bought the former Bair Chase property south of Glenwood Springs. He said Related is one of the nation’s largest developers of affordable housing, and plans to see what it can do on its new property to help meet the local need for affordable housing.”We came here tonight to find out what the needs are,” he said. “It’s pretty easy to see what the needs are.”
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