Proposal includes transitional housing, addiction treatment and other services
The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated a housing crisis across Colorado as previously affordable enclaves have seen rental costs and home prices soar, and as a home buying spree in the resorts excluded low- and middle-income workers from mountain communities.
Meanwhile, homelessness in urban areas became more visible as the streets emptied of workers and tourists. Job loss, economic dislocation and a drug abuse crisis, all caused in part by the pandemic, have left more people homeless. Low-wage workers, hospitality workers, families with young children and people of color, who disproportionately face barriers to health care and homeownership, have been financially impacted while that high earners have seen their wealth increase. In Denver, the number of people in shelters who were homeless for the first time increased by 99%, according to Cathy Alderman, public policy manager at the Colorado Coalition for the Homeless.
Alderman joined Gov. Jared Polis and several Democratic state lawmakers on Capitol Hill Monday to talk about what they hope will be a balm for Colorado’s homelessness crisis: $200 million in federal money aimed at adding transitional housing, permanent housing with wrap-around services, and a center for addiction treatment and vocational training.
The Affordable Housing Transformation Task Force created last year was responsible for finding ways to spend $400 million from the American Rescue Plan Act that Congress passed in the spring of 2021.
Lawmakers on the task force — whose work was informed by housing and homelessness experts on a subgroup, of which Alderman served as vice-chair — produced a final report with specific dollar figures for most of their priorities, such as a revolving loan fund for property developers, grants to help nonprofits and local governments add affordable housing, and support for resident-owned mobile home communities.
But the final report, released in January, did not contain an agreed funding range for two priorities that would specifically address homelessness.
One of them was transitional or long-term housing. Members of the working group and sub-group had agreed on the importance of setting aside a certain amount of money to develop and build such accommodation for people leaving jails, jails, hospitals and shelters for the homeless; people fleeing unsafe home environments; and homeless people with mental disorders and substance abuse. However, they did not assign a specific amount to this recommendation.
Similarly, the task force’s final report recommended providing grants for new permanent housing with support services for the homeless population and people with disabilities, but it did not include a specific amount of funding for housing. permanent with support services.
Now the Polis administration is making available a total of $200 million in federal relief funds for those two recommendations, in addition to the $400 million originally allocated for affordable housing, said Rep. Steven Woodrow, a Democrat from Denver, during the press conference. The money will come from a treasury fund that lawmakers have designated to economic recovery and relief.
Under the plan revealed on Monday, the bulk of the funding — $105 million — would go towards converting existing properties into transitional or long-term housing. The bill to do so must be passed by the state legislature before the funding can be granted.
An additional $50 million will be made available for the permanent recommendation of the supportive housing task force, through a separate bill introduced this week that will be led by Rep. Iman Jodeh, a Democrat from ‘Aurora. This funding would be awarded to a developer of supportive housing in the Denver-Aurora metro area.
Supportive housing development would include addiction treatment, behavioral health care, and workforce training for homeless people. Stella Watts, graduate of Bridge House Ready-to-Use Programtouted such a “workforce solution” to help homeless people cope with issues like substance use disorders and find successful employment.
“They provide everything you need to get your life back, and they start the day you walk through the door,” Watts, who spoke at the press conference, said of Ready to Work. “They show compassion for you, and then…they offer a work-based solution to help end homelessness.”
Ridge view reassignment
Polis and lawmakers speaking Monday also discussed plans to repurpose the former Ridge View Youth Services Center, which closed in 2001. Senate Bill 22-211, which was officially introduced on Monday, would use $45 million in economic stimulus and relief funds to convert Ridge View into a facility serving adults with addictions who lack stable housing. The Arapahoe County campus would provide treatment for substance use disorders as well as medical care, job training, and transitional housing.
The objective, as explained in the text of the bill: “to ensure that persons leave the supportive residential community of Ridge View in active recovery and in better health so that they can transition to stable and community supports, as well as employment if possible.”
This legislation is sponsored by Sens. Rhonda Fields, a Democrat from Aurora, and Nick Hinrichsen, a Democrat from Pueblo, as well as Rep. Alex Valdez, a Democrat from Denver.
“By repurposing the Ridgeview campus, the state, in partnership with local communities, can focus on reducing homelessness, supporting access to addiction recovery, and access to behavioral and mental support,” Polis said. He stressed that such state investment was “unprecedented” and that it would be up to local communities to develop their own solutions to homelessness.
Costs hinder access to housing
Some of the other recommendations of the housing task force, including grants for local authorities to expand their housing stock and a loan program to help preserve affordable mobile home communities are about to become law.
But the cold, stark reality is that a number of Coloradans will likely continue to find themselves unable to access housing for years to come, despite state and federal investments.
Colorado home prices rose an average of 20.3% in 2021, slightly outpacing national rates, according to the March Economic Forecast by the non-partisan staff of the Legislative Council. “As real estate values jumped statewide, the Federal Housing Finance Agency reports the fastest appreciation rates in Pueblo (+23.8%), Colorado Springs (+22.3%) and Grand Junction (+22.1%)”, notes the forecast. Pandemic supply chain disruptions, a labor shortage in the construction industry, and soaring lumber prices continue to present hurdles for homebuilders.
In Denver, the average monthly rent for a two-bedroom apartment was $1,817 in March, according to data from List of apartments. This is nearly 15% more than a year ago. Colorado Springs saw the average monthly rent rise more than 12% over the same period, to $1,443 in March. In Aurora, the average rental cost for a two-bedroom apartment was $1,734, up 15.4% year-over-year.
“We’ve seen the impacts that the cost of housing is having in our state,” Sen. Julie Gonzales, a Democrat from Denver, said Monday at the press conference. “This pandemic has hit our communities hard, especially working-class Coloradans and communities of color.”