THE LARIMER COUNTY HOUSING CRISIS AFFECTS US ALL.
For more than 60 years, United Way has been the “community’s chest”, a convener, an agency committed to building capacity in the nonprofit sector and funding high-impact human service programs on behalf of our donors.
Our vision is that Larimer County is a place everyone can work, learn, play, AND afford to live.
Our mission is to lead philanthropy in our community, ensuring that gifts of time, talent, and treasure address today’s greatest needs – and reduce tomorrow’s. In 2019, United Way of Larimer County launched a new Public Policy Committee to advocate for policies that support the organization’s mission to decrease poverty and strengthen the community.
COVID-19 exposed the fragility of our economy and its relationship to housing security. When thousands of residents’ paychecks stopped in April 2020, rent payments stopped too. With Federal and State CARES Act funding coming to the housing assistance community in 2020, United Way of Larimer County leveraged those funds through eviction prevention fundraising to keep people in their homes. In just five months, we raised more than $150,000 and helped more than one hundred families stay in their homes this winter.
THIS IS THE TIP OF THE ICEBERG.
What lies beneath, and what will continue to emerge, is an expensive housing market, expensive building materials, wages that haven’t kept up with our cost of living, and unattainable housing for many people living at or below self-sufficiency wages in our community. As the City of Fort Collins states on page 11 in their February 2021 Housing Strategic Plan,
“Affordable Housing ensures an adequate supply so community members do not spend more than 30% of their incomes on housing.”
By simple math, with the average cost of rent in our community being approximately $1,450 month, one needs to make more than $50,000 annually to afford living here—an income that excludes new teachers in our school district, bus drivers, restaurant workers, social workers, and more.
IF WE WANT A COMMUNITY THAT SUPPORTS A DIVERSE WORKFORCE TO SUPPORT A THRIVING ECONOMY, OUR HOUSING POLICIES MUST FOLLOW SUIT.
Households who are asset-limited, income constrained, and employed (ALICE) live with the chronic anxiety of having to make tough decisions everyday – child care or food? Rent or prescriptions? Given these daily decisions, many Larimer County residents do not find our area the best place to live, work, learn or play. Without solutions, these will be questions we continue to face. We must make progress.
United Way of Larimer County’s funding focus areas include increasing access to quality, affordable child care, 3rd-grade reading proficiency by the end of 3rd grade, high school completion, household financial stability, household economic mobility, housing stability, and food stability. Living in a safe, affordable home is the bedrock of not only surviving but thriving.
If we want to reduce tomorrow’s human service needs, we as a community need to create regulations, priorities, and programs for affordable housing, to include a robust path to housing stability through expanded availability of affordable homes, policies that support equitable housing, training, mentoring programs, and educational resources.
UNITED WAY OF LARIMER COUNTY’S RECOMMENDATIONS TO CITY, TOWN, AND COUNTY GOVERNMENTS
It is common knowledge that developable land in our municipalities’ city limits or growth management areas is shrinking. Larimer County policymakers and residents have invested in more than 85,000 acres of open space and parks, and more than 1,000 miles of trails. We must maximize all available land to keep pace with the demand for workforce and affordable housing.
- All land that can be developed for housing needs to include a healthy mix of affordable/accessible housing with proper zoning and investments in childcare, transit, open space/parks, other critical services for working families.
- As an example, Colorado State University has created a redevelopment plan for the former Hughes Stadium site which could house hundreds of working families and provide critical services within walking distance, as well as preserve 70 acres of open space.
- When considering zoning changes, balance protecting viewsheds with the opportunity to build vertically or include a variety of density and heights. The cost of our historic attachment to viewsheds, low density, protected historic streetscapes, and other luxuries with our limited land availability is worth analyzing against the need for housing inventory.
- Developments and housing projects need to build or be redeveloped at ALL price points through a variety of tools that include but aren’t limited to subsidies, vouchers, and more. One size fits all housing is not a solution. As wages vary in our County, so must housing affordability. This includes expanding mixed-income and mixed-use development to end income segregation and reduce the stigma that comes with exclusively low-income/affordable housing developments.
The lack of affordable, accessible housing is a detriment to our community’s diversity, the quality of life for many of our essential workers and their families, our roads, and our environment. With over 33% of our workforce commuting in from surrounding towns, without aggressive and intentional plans, we will be on par with our neighbors to the south in Boulder where more than 75% of their workforce must commute in every day.
We appreciate our community’s commitment to a high quality of life and making Larimer County a wonderful place to live, work, learn and play for everyone.
A Larimer United supports resilient communities that thrive. A strong local United Way is able to address the root causes of racial, social, and economic inequity across our diverse community while working together to meet today’s greatest needs, and reduce tomorrow’s.