This past Monday, local and regional leaders convened at the Aurora City Hall to discuss innovative solutions to affordable housing. The list of speakers represented a wide range of organizations including: Close to Home, Colorado Village Collaborative, Interfaith Alliance of Colorado, Urban Land Conservancy and EARTHinBLOCKS. Close to Home also brought in two storytellers, both women who have experienced homelessness at one point in their life and who today are proud homeowners. The symposium was led by James Gillespie, the Community Impact and Government Relations Liaison for Mile High Behavioral Healthcare. Gillespie welcomed the audience with strong words, and even stronger statistics. He reported that there has been a 322% increase in the number of school age children that are homeless today in Colorado.
“We are not talking about bricks and mortar or timber,” Gillespie said. “We are talking about safety, respite, health, dignity, solidarity and love.”
Close to Home kicked off the symposium by introducing Marsha Brown, who told the story of her path from successful business owner to living out of her car. After years of building her business, Brown felt she had finally reached success. It was then that she received a phone call that her son had been hit by a drunk driver. His girlfriend did not survive the accident, and Brown’s son had major brain and muscular injuries. Brown immediately shut down her business to care for her son. “That is just what you do – it’s a no brainer. We lived off of my savings and a lot of community support … six months later and we are homeless.” Brown explained that she was then introduced to transitional housing, which was a new concept to her because it was simply not a part of her previous life. She then lived in public housing, and by October 2017 had purchased her own home. Her story of strength, resiliency and reliability clearly struck a chord with the audience. Homelessness can happen to anyone.
Cole Chandler of Beloved Community Tiny Home Village and Nathan Hunt of Interfaith Alliance spoke next on behalf of the Colorado Village Collaborative (CVC). Cole Chandler spoke specifically towards the benefit of temporary tiny home communities for those experiencing homelessness. Chandler cited that there is currently a 7.2 million unit shortfall of affordable housing units in the United States, and following the success of Beloved Community Tiny Home Village – Chandler believes he has found a solution. The cost to develop a tiny home ranges from $2,000 – $25,000 per unit – a minimal cost compared to many alternative forms of housing. “We have listed to the voices of people on the streets and we have heard them say ‘we just need a place to survive.'”
Hunt of Interfaith Alliance spoke specifically towards an innovative solution to address the affordable housing crisis called the Congregational Land Campaign. Hunt explained there are currently more than 5,000 undeveloped acres of land owned by faith communities in Colorado. Hunt believes this land is meant to be stewarded for others, and has teamed with Radian to develop a variety of housing models that could support individuals in need of affordable housing. These models range from tiny homes to permanent support housing to owner occupied units.
Our very own Aaron Miripol, President & CEO of Urban Land Conservancy (ULC), presented next. Miripol explained the importance of owning the land in order to ensure permanent affordability. Through ULC’s community land trust (CLT) we purchased land and sell the building and/or development rights to community partners. We own the land under a 99 year ground lease, which ensures long term affordability for future generations. Miripol told the history of CLTs, and their success across the country. To date there are nearly 300 CLTs in the United States.
The symposium also included EARTHinBLOCKS, an organization building compressed earth blocks for communities in need. We also heard from Theta, a woman who experienced constant domestic violence, which led her to a battered woman’s shelter. Theta was able to file for divorce through Project Safeguard, which allowed her to slowly get back on her feet. By 2008 she has purchased her own condo for very little money. Theta recognizes that this is not possible in today’s market, which is why she supports alternative solutions to affordable housing.