Housing crisis

Panelists say housing crisis will require the displacement of mountains and spirits – The Durango Herald

NIMBYism is an obstacle, but the real danger could be the demise of the middle class

A 1,347 square foot three bedroom, two bathroom home on Delwood Avenue in Durango was listed at $ 549,000 on June 4, 2019 and was under contract five days later. (Jerry McBride / Durango Herald file)

Changes in physical and philosophical landscapes may be needed to pull Durango and La Plata County out of the worsening housing crisis, some say the area has crept in over the decades.

At the Durango Chamber of Commerce meeting on Eggs and Problems held virtually on Wednesday, a panel of community leaders and housing experts discussed the need to create accessible housing for workers.

La Plata County Commissioner Marsha Porter-Norton discussed activities undertaken by the La Plata County Regional Housing Alliance to identify infrastructure and development opportunities. Some of these opportunities include the reallocation of spaces in and around the city, such as the large lot that houses the La Plata County Fairgrounds.

Plans to move the fairground to Durango Mesa, formerly Ewing Mesa, were discussed in January 2021, but development did not take off last year as planned.

“We want to move our fairgrounds,” Porter-Norton said. “… It’s a very expensive undertaking to put in place the infrastructure and relationships in place to make it happen. “

Porter-Norton suggested the fairground should be added to the list of opportunity ideas for housing development space. She recognized that the location of the fairgrounds is a “gem” for the community and that such a project would require a lot of public engagement and collaboration with the City of Durango.

Elizabeth Salkind, Executive Director of Housing Solutions for the Southwest, advocated for changes in policy and perspective to find creative solutions to the housing crisis.

“Our country is in love with single family residences,” said Salkind, who also volunteers with Housing Colorado. “… But we cannot, as a nation, possibly as a world, continue to live with this as our only ideal. It is not realistic. It was like a post WWII thing that everyone got on board with. But that’s just not our future for housing.

With all the talk about changing the way communities think about housing and the very layout of the community, one obvious obstacle to progress had to be overcome: NIMBYism, or the state of mind not in my garden.

Panelists acknowledged that some oppose affordable housing and that this opposition tends to attract more attention than positive reinforcement or support.

Porter-Norton described the opposition as stereotypical feelings such as, “I don’t want to live next to these people”, “Creating new workable housing is not the government’s job” and general resistance to change. .

HomesFund executive director Lisa Bloomquist said human nature does not welcome change because it can seem threatening to what we have become accustomed to. But what is really threatening is that if the middle class is not helped, it will disappear, she said.

Porter-Norton and Bob Allen of Allen and Associates said house prices had risen so much since they moved to Durango in the 1990s and 1980s, respectively, that they couldn’t afford to move into the city. region today.

Porter-Norton said the average teacher’s salary is $ 49,000; it might take two teachers living together to maybe barely afford a house in Durango.

Durango Mayor Kim Baxter said she had lived in areas prone to earthquakes and other natural disasters and it was not ideal to have emergency response personnel , like firefighters, outside the communities they serve. She said the definition of “community” includes everyone, not just a group of people.

“We want our plow operators, we want our garbage collectors, we want everyone to be able to live in our community,” Baxter said.

Builders – the people who would build housing for workers – face the same problem as other working class people. They’re billed out of town, Allen said in a chat message during the virtual meeting.

Bloomquist said the grants – even if they have a negative connotation – are necessary to spur development.

“Building is very expensive right now,” she said. “I think this is the crux of the biggest problem we have with the supply (of housing).”

The number of building permits for residential units in La Plata County declined after the recession began in late 2007. (Courtesy Bob Allen, Allen and Associates)

She said if it costs $ 250 per square foot to build a single-family home, a 1,500 square foot home will cost $ 375,000, not including land and infrastructure.

“If we want houses that are priced at $ 300,000 and it costs $ 500,000 to build, we’re going to have to give some kind of subsidy,” Bloomquist said. “… We as an affordable housing community need to come together to do whatever we need to do to make it easier to put more units on the ground. “

Regarding NIMBYism, Porter-Norton said more community forums need to be organized and a communications plan needs to be formed to engage the strong group of community leaders who are coming together to tackle the housing crisis.

Salkind said those voicing their opposition to affordable housing ideas or projects should be addressed individually to identify their specific issues and concerns.

cburney@durangoherald.com