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The challenge of finding housing

Donna GrayGlenwood Springs correspondentAspen, CO Colorado
Esme Heller, 3, draws on the kitchen floor as her mom, Olivia, cooks dinner Wednesday evening in their Glenwood apartment. The Hellers rely on HUD to be able to afford to live in the valley. (Kara K. Pearson/Post Independent)
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GLENWOOD SPRINGS Kim Walker’s furniture has been in storage for more than a year now. So have her daughter’s toys. They live in a one-bedroom motel room in Glenwood Springs and pay $1,000 a month. While it’s the same rate one would pay for an apartment in town, it doesn’t include a kitchen, nor does it involve a deposit of first and last month rent. That’s what makes it affordable for Walker.”I’ve lived in the valley for 15 years. We’ve camped out and stayed with friends. We’re homeless,” she said. “We have no place to call home.”Despite the fact Walker has a good job at a retail store in town, she still can’t make enough to get into her own home. “Seventy percent of my paycheck puts us into the motel,” she said.Olivia Heller, a third-grade teacher at St. Stephen’s Catholic School in Glenwood Springs, has a place to call home, but only with a government housing subsidy.Heller, who has a 3-year-old daughter, is in a bureaucratic Catch-22, however. “Every time my salary goes up my rent goes up,” she said, because the federal Housing and Urban Development subsidy bases her rent on 30 percent of her salary. “Eventually I won’t qualify, but I’ll still be below the cost of living to afford a place … You’re kind of damned if you do and damned if you don’t.”She also chose to teach in a private school, making about $10,000 less a year than a comparable job in the public schools, because St. Stephen’s provides her with half-price child care.Housing essential personnel such as teachers, policemen and firemen has long been a concern in the valley. That is especially true in school districts that have seen upwards of 20 percent annual turnover in some cases, even in places like Aspen, where wages are higher than in other districts.”Housing continues to be a problem,” said Diana Sirko, superintendent of the Aspen School District. “This spring one consistent message in several of our resignations has been, we love it here, we’d love to stay, but our inability to own a home here means we feel like we need to leave the area and go to a place where we can build up some equity over time and have our own home. It’s an issue and will continue to hurt us in our ability to attract and retain the best and brightest.”Walker and Heller will tell their stories to a group of elected officials from towns and counties from Parachute to Aspen at 7 p.m. Monday at a meeting hosted by CASE – Churches and Schools Empowered – a community action group that hopes to call attention to and spark a community-wide movement to provide attainable housing for workers in the valley. The meeting takes place at St. Stephens Church in Glenwood Springs.”We really feel we need to work together as a valley to work on this problem,” said Tom Ziemann, director of Catholic Charities in the region and an organizer with CASE. He said the “political will” to take strong action is lacking here.CASE organizers will also appeal to mayors and county commissioners to collaborate on providing housing for workers.


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