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COLUMN: Potential solutions for the affordable housing crisis

By: Rachel Stovall
September 21, 2017 Updated: September 21, 2017 at 4:05 am
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We have an affordable housing crisis in Colorado Springs. We have known this for some time.

As housing prices continue to rise, everyone is looking for solutions. Traditional for profit builders can't offer any. Their profit making standards are only met when they build high end housing. This is due to costs, worker shortages and requirements to avoid lawsuit.

Enter a surprising new source of problem solving ideas for affordable housing: The arts/culture industry.

Shocked? Like you, I applaud and admire the talents of artists. I like seeing the dancer on pointe. I enjoy music. I love paintings. I don't, however, think of art and culture as a economic driver of revenue. I also don't think of arts and culture as a community that can build affordable housing.

And like you I am dead wrong.

Colorado Springs has a certified creative district. According to Claire Swinford - Art and Cultural Director of the Downtown Partnership - this district brings over 1,500 jobs and a stunning 58.5 million annually to the economy of Colorado Springs. So arts and culture is not only making money, it's contributing to our local economy.

Look over a snapshot of the contributions of our local arts/culture industries at:

Leaders in the Colorado Springs arts and culture industry have found a working solution to prevent homelessness among the most vulnerable in their community. They have found a new patron of the arts in an exciting new way. Artspace - a nonprofit that uses real estate development to create affordable places where artists can live and work - has an initiative endorsed by the State of Colorado. In a collaborative initiative - they seek to create catalysts for further economic development of art. Nine projects initiated across Colorado by 2019 will culminate in around $45 million of investment by multiple partners and agencies. Low-income artists and their families will benefit from the apartments and work spaces and be empowered to work.

One of those affordable housing projects is planned for Colorado Springs. The talks are quite promising and preparation to move forward is happening now.

I am excited to see a model for affordable housing that does not remind us of the horrible housing projects of years past. By encasing the affordable housing units within non-subsidized housing, the residents have the chance to be surrounded with prosperity and learn from it. This could yield drastically different results than the projects to prison pipeline that plagues some other cities like Chicago.

I wonder if this is an opportunity for other industries in the market - besides for profit developers - to benefit by filling the demand for affordable housing. It could be that creating affordable housing, is a task to be taken on in a non-profit , non governmental way. Nonprofits can do many things that for profit builders and for-profit businesses just can't. Nonprofits can collect grant funds, governmental subsidies and rental or mortgage fees. Perhaps for profit companies can create non-profit foundations and serve their industry worker population while making a profit with the additional streams of revenue. Why not help others and get paid for it?

I attended a meeting recently where the leaders of the River North Art District in Denver ( RiNo) shared how they have brought this partnership of affordable housing and great city development to life. They took a dilapidated area of unwanted warehouses and transformed it into a booming area with some of the highest value in Denver. They work regularly with incoming developers making sure that affordable business and residential space is included with every new developer coming into their art district. This includes the non-profit developer Art Space.

I am convinced that the private and nonprofit sector can solve the problem of affordable housing not only in our city but the nation. Let's track the progress in our city and see if we can reproduce it. We have seen some promising results in Denver. In Colorado Springs, The Downtown Partnership and their developing relationship with ArtSpace is pointing the way.


Rachel Stovall is a longtime community advocate and organizer. Also a fundraising, media and marketing consultant, Rachel is most known for singing with her dance band Phat Daddy and the Phat Horn Doctors.

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