I am always excited when guests are coming in from out of town. There always has to be a gathering and who I invite to the gathering is likely the most important part of the affair.
I watched with great interest as invitations began going out for the Housing Solutions From Across America event recently. I could see builders, an apartment association, HBA, nonprofits, media, homeless client service providers, developers, housing organizations, and city officials, as well as various government agencies preparing to learn from the guest speakers.
The first day, we heard from Bart Mitchell. Mitchell is president and CEO of The Community Builders, a Boston-based nonprofit that is the largest provider of mixed-use and mixed income housing in the United States. Their work spans hundreds of residential and commercial properties in cities (and suburbs) across the country.
The idea of mixed-use development may be new to you. Mixed-use housing development blends residential, commercial, institutional and entertainment zoning within a housing community. It sounded like a great way to transform abandoned industrial areas around town.
Bart also talked about mixed-income housing. This can be apartments, single-family homes, and even entire neighborhoods, saying "We can create healthy communities where people of all incomes reside." I was intrigued. This certainly was better than the huge "housing projects" with all impoverished families that I heard about growing up.
The next speaker was J. Arthur Jemison, the city of Detroit's director of housing and revitalization. Jemison told us of the success Detroit is experiencing in creating affordable housing. He encouraged the group to articulate a shared vision for affordable housing. This vision can have mixed development, mixed incomes, plus the continuation of section 8 and other programs that Colorado Springs uses.
He encouraged all in the group to continue meeting and collaborating saying "Housing production is a big tent where your issues regarding housing can all live together. Build to meet your need."
The second day of the summit was hosted in the First Presbyterian Church. This gathering of hundreds included all from the day before. They were joined by stakeholders from all over the community like universities, churches, and senior organizations.
Instead of lecturing, Mitchell and Jemison shared their impressions of our city. Both told us that we were actually ahead of many cities that had found widespread solutions to these problems. Having nonprofits aligned in a continuum of care was also praised as being "ahead of the game", to address senior displacement and a small but growing homeless problem.
Challenges were expressed. Homebuilders had shared extensively about tap fees and cumbersome construction defect laws driving up the costs of creating inexpensive housing. Mitchell told us that having a construction defect law that gives individuals up to nine and half years to sue after a condominium has been built was "extreme" on the national scale. Those in attendance were encouraged to take this problem to lawmakers.
It is key for Colorado to amend or get rid of those extreme construction defect laws.
The Housing Solutions From Across America event expressed our housing issues as manageable. We heard from experts like Doug Snyder of Volunteers of America that are creating housing opportunities for those who need them all over the United States. We also heard about federal tax credits available for builders and how to find them.
Our community needs more housing meetings including building industry professionals. Solving problems regarding poverty may be hard, but creating an atmosphere for builders to want to build in Colorado Springs is not. Local builder and nonprofit developer Chuck Murphy said it well, "This was the best meeting of this type I have ever attended."
I agree. I hope that the builders, apartment associations, HBA, nonprofits, media, homeless client service providers, developers, housing organizations, and city officials, as well as various government agencies continue meeting together. What a gathering! We appear to have invited the right mix of people to make Colorado Springs a place where everyone can afford to live.
Rachel Stovall is a longtime community advocate and organizer. Also a fundraising, media and marketing consultant, Stovall is most known for singing with her dance band Phat Daddy and the Phat Horn Doctors.