AARP is a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization that works to bring multifaceted support to more than 38 million individuals 50 and older. Though based in Washington D.C., the organization has offices across the nation that serve its members locally and at large in the areas of healthcare, housing, employment, retirement security and more. In Colorado alone, there are 682,885 active members, and in El Paso County there are 44,746.
One way the organization imparts positive change is through taking part in Community Conversations like those sponsored by the Gazette. Recently, AARP Colorado co-sponsored two different Community Conversations held locally at Pinery at the Hill. On Feb. 21, a five member panel, including City Council member Jill Gaebler, discussed the challenges of meeting needs of affordable housing in Colorado Springs. On Feb. 28, a six member panel including Mayor Suthers discussed the issue of homelessness.
“These are very complex issues with no easy solution, but we can learn from these conversations,” said Bob Murphy, State Director for AARP, Colorado. “Virtually everyone agrees there is a problem, and only by working together can we come to consensus about a solution. Community Conversations help build community will, which then gives leaders the political will to solve these issues that may seem intractable.”
More and more these days, Murphy shared, AARP’s members express that affordable, (he prefers the term “attainable”), housing is less and less possible to find in Colorado Springs, Denver and elsewhere in the state. The issues stem from a combination of a lack of affordable and available land that is equitably dispersed throughout the city, construction and labor costs, government policies and more.
“After eight years as the mayor and eight years as a city councillor in Lakewood, these issues are ones I know intimately; and I understand that it’s crucial to try to create and facilitate a policy that will hopefully help lead to more affordable housing,” said Murphy.
He stated that political leadership can act in terms of zoning, land use and deflecting NIMBYism. Too often affordable housing options are situated on the outskirts of a city, far from a bus line and from everyday conveniences like supermarkets, shops, doctor’s offices, and cultural and entertainment outlets. This can make it very difficult for seniors to operate a happy, healthy and enriched life. “Quality of life for our members, and for all individuals, begins with a dignified and attainably-priced place to live,” Murphy said.
A few possible ways to resolve the issue is to alter the permit and development review process with building codes, density bonuses and incentives that allow developers and individuals alike to benefit from attainable housing solutions. In September 2016, AARP Colorado advocated on behalf of the Denver’s Affordable Housing Fund. The program is now being implemented, and extends a 150 million dollar fund toward construction and development of attainable housing. The policy is a combination of a slight property tax increase and developer fee increase.
“Typically people say if you increase development fees, you increase the price of housing,” said Murphy. “But developers looked closely and thought this solution actually costs less than inclusionary zoning, where, for example, out of 100 units, 25 have to be affordable.” Developers were in favor of the program.
AARP will continue to advocate for policy solution such as zoning and comprehensive plan modifications. The City of Colorado Springs is now in the process of writing a new Comprehensive Plan that will be the guiding document for land use for the next decade. This is an opportunity to make attainably-priced housing a priority for the city. The concept of having a variety of housing and variety of neighbors is healthier economically, and allows for a flourishing workforce of policeman, firefighters, nurses and other professionals that enrich the community.
AARP has a very large group of motivated members and volunteers to whom this is a critically important issue. When they hear about the government looking at affordable housing policies, they will show up in council chambers and advocate for progress. “As mayor I would say communities either get better or worse, they cannot remain the same. One way policymakers can help make the community better is to facilitate a dignified place to live for their constituents,” said Murphy.
To learn more about AARP, call 303-764-5990 or visit AARP.org.