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Habitat project makes a dent in Woodland Park's affordable housing shortage

November 3, 2017 Updated: November 4, 2017 at 7:12 am
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Workers pressure wash the railings to Teller County's Habitat for Humanity Clock Tower Condos, a 9-unit affordable housing complex in Woodland Park on Friday November 3, 2017. The complex is set to open Saturday. (Photo by Dougal Brownlie, The Gazette).

Repainting the walls of her children's bedroom and rearranging the furniture in her Woodland Park mobile home, couldn't erase April Salsman's memories of her ex-husband's abuse.

The 37-year-old mother struggled for six months to try to leave those memories behind by finding a different place for her and her two kids to live in the area, where monthly rents often exceed $1,000.

"We just didn't have very many options," said Salsman, a department manager for a local lumber yard and hardware store. "Even for someone who really has no debt like I do, there's just nothing out here."

Salsman caught a break when she qualified for the Clock Tower Condos, a nine-unit Habitat for Humanity project in Woodland Park that's slated for completion later this month.

The complex, at Henrietta Avenue and Laurel Street just north of the city library, will provide a permanent place to live for seven families and two transitional housing units that will be rented to people working through Habitat's homeowner education programs and eligibility processes.

But even with the opening of the condos, the organization's biggest project yet in Teller County, there's still a pressing need for affordable housing in the area. As rents and real estate prices rise to all-time highs in Colorado Springs and throughout the Front Range, Ute Pass residents are grappling with the same problems.

While the term affordable housing is widely interpreted, it generally means that a person is spending no more than 30 percent of their income on a place to live. In Teller County - where many people hold working-class jobs at restaurants, retailers and other businesses - some residents are spending 60 percent to 70 percent, said Jamie Caperton, executive director of the area's Habitat organization.

"These aren't destitute families. They're working families. But they're having to work really hard to make it," she said. "People just don't understand the immense need for affordable and attainable housing here in our community."

A 2016 study found a shortage of 1,262 affordable housing units in Teller County. That figure includes more than 900 units that will be needed through 2025 to ensure that households are spending 30 percent or less of their income on housing.

The median rent in Teller County is about $1,400, according to the report.

A 24-unit affordable housing complex at the northern end of the city is slated for completion in early December. The complex, at Valley View Drive and Colorado 67, was developed by nonprofit AmericaWest Housing Solutions. Aside from Habitat's efforts, it's the first affordable housing project the area has seen in more than 20 years,said Keith Meier, a project manager for AmericaWest.

"It filled up in a day and a half," Meier said. "There's a huge demand for workforce housing up here.

The one-, two- and three-bedroom apartments have been rented to families and individuals that earn 60 percent or less of the area median income, which is about $60,000. The state awarded AmericaWest a tax credit worth more than $420,000 for the project through a program that offers breaks to developers as incentives to build more affordable housing units.

Habitat typically builds two or three homes each year for low-income families in Teller County. The goal with the Clock Tower Condos, which have been in the works for about 19 months, was to provide more homes with a single project, Caperton said.

More than 600 volunteers worked upwards of 16,000 hours to complete the project. The organization paid about $100,000 to purchase the property, which housed the Lofthouse Inn in the 1990s. Grants and other donations totaled nearly $450,000.

The seven resident families will be able to move in later this month. Homeowners will pay mortgages of about $650 a month, Caperton said.

"In Teller County, that's very rare," she said.

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Contact Rachel Riley: 636-0108

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