Crowded conditions in C’dale raise concerns
When is many people, too many people? In Carbondale, that’s the question being asked about crowded housing conditions in certain neighborhoods.
According to Mayor Randy Vanderhurst, the situation has already reached a critical level and the time to put maximum occupancy regulations on the books is overdue.
“It’s a matter of quality of life for everybody,” said Vanderhurst, referring to the impacts on both inhabitants and neighbors living near “instances of 22 guys in two bedrooms.”
The mayor says he’s also concerned about the strain on social services, stretching police resources thin, and overparking.
“If you look at the police blotter in Carbondale and the midvalley you’ll find a disproportionate number of Latino surnames connected to everything from DUIs to drug dealing,” Vanderhurst remarked.
“I’m not saying because you live with 10 other people that that forces you to go to a bar, have too many beers, then get in a car. But the stress when you live with that many people is probably greater than if you don’t.”
But Carbondale Police Chief Gene Schilling doesn’t see a direct link between overcrowded living conditions and most forms of criminal behavior. However, he does attribute those types of living conditions to being a factor in a 20 percent rise in service calls this year and about a 60 percent increase over the past three years.
“Just because someone lives in an overcrowded situation probably isn’t going to increase the likelihood of going out and stealing a car radio,” Schilling said. “But I do see a tie to more service calls for roommate conflicts and domestic violence. … I mean how many more fights might you have with a spouse if you lived in a room with another couple or two?”
The director of social services in Garfield County is also concerned. But her focus is on the vulnerable positions in which children might be placed.
“It’s certainly a stressor. If you have too many people living in too small a space, particularly if there are children involved, it ups the risk factor,” said Director Margaret Long. “I think less formal, less permanent arrangements are one of the causes of child abuse and neglect. … I’m less concerned about the numbers than the stability and the health of the people who choose to live together.”
What’s on the books
The Carbondale Town Council has so far not discussed regulations that would make sure the right number of people are living in a dwelling unit.
But some council members assert that having no maximum occupancy codes, which all other jurisdictions in the Roaring Fork Valley have, is the equivalent of inviting the type of crowding that is occurring in the older parts of Carbondale.
“By not saying anything, it’s almost saying, `Come on, bring it to us,'” said Councilman Mark Whalen.
Whalen concedes that there aren’t a “rash of unsolicited calls to Town Hall” on the issue. In fact, he’s only heard comments on the situation in the context of public meetings discussing affordable housing.
Nonetheless, council members say they see the matter as a public concern that should be addressed before it reaches crisis proportions.
“I wouldn’t say it’s divisive yet. But I want to curb it before it becomes a problem,” Whalen said.
Aspen, Pitkin County and Glenwood Springs all place a limit of up to five unrelated adults living in a single-family dwelling unit. In Basalt the number of unrelated adults living together in a unit is limited to three. But there are no maximum occupancy regulations for related adults living together in those towns.
In deed-restricted housing in Aspen and Snowmass Village, however, the rules are even tighter. Only one unrelated or two related adults are allowed per bedroom in Aspen. In Snowmass, only two adults per bedroom are permitted in all deed-restricted units.
Nowhere to go
But some contend that occupancy codes aren’t a solution when there’s nowhere else to go.
It’s not as if the inhabitants living in crowded conditions enjoy the closeness, said Long.
“I don’t think people are getting into overcrowded situations because they’re using money for frivolous things, unless you’d define food, clothes and medical attention as frivolous,” Long said.
Instead of punishing those who can’t afford to live more spaciously, some argue that a more productive solution would be to look for answers in places with more resources.
“If you want to keep golf courses green, want to keep hotels staffed, food services going, wages should support housing or partnerships should be created to build more affordable housing,” Long said.
Felicia Trevor, director of the Stepstone Center in Carbondale, questions what benefit there is in kicking people out of their homes without offering an alternative.
“If you’re really going to solve the problem, the focus should be on creating more housing options in Carbondale,” Trevor said. “Promoting more housing would be the proactive way government could address the issue.”
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