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Construction of the 187 luxury units, a 53,840 square feet apartment complex at 609 S Cascade Ave in the south end of Downtown Colorado Springs. Chancey Bush/ The Gazette)

A sliver of land on the southeast side of downtown Colorado Springs is now earmarked to become affordable home and work space for artists and creative professionals.

But as rents in town skyrocket and the need for affordable housing units follows suit, the project is still likely years from completion.

The project initially aimed to create up to 70 “live/work” apartments alongside additional studio spaces. It will be built at 315 E. Costilla St., the former home of Rocky Mountain PBS, said Laurel Prud’homme, vice president of communications for the Downtown Partnership of Colorado Springs.

The city’s Downtown Development Authority bought the PBS building this month for $1.8 million and will hold on to the property until Artspace — a Minneapolis-based nonprofit that specializes in building affordable housing for artists — is ready to buy it and take over the project, Prud’homme said.

“We do know that they are working on obtaining some federal grant money and that process can be a yearslong process,” Prud’homme said. “It’ll probably be a few years before we see it completely converted over, but whether it’s two years from now, three years from now or five years from now, there’s so many pieces and parts in play that it’s really hard for us to put a number on that.”

Colorado Springs renters paid a record-high average rent of $1,231.24 a month this July, August and September, according to a recent report from the Colorado Division of Housing and Apartment Association of Southern Colorado. Rents have reached record highs for each quarter of 2019.

Past estimates showed a projected shortage of 26,000 affordable housing units in Colorado Springs for 2019. In September, Mayor John Suthers reiterated his call for the city to add 1,000 affordable housing units each year. Past estimates projected that the city was averaging about half that number.

That unit shortage is only one metric for the city, however, said Steve Posey, Colorado Springs’ HUD administrator.

“A more nuanced (and accurate) way to look at the shortage is to focus on the number of units in the market that are affordable,” Posey said in an email.

Using those statistics, Posey said that only 17% of apartments in Colorado Springs are affordable for households earning between $10 and $12 an hour. For those earning between $14 and $18 an hour, 62% of apartments in the market are affordable. And those earning between $20 and $22 an hour can afford 77% of apartments in the market, he said.

“In Colorado Springs, where rents have been increasing steadily, the percentages of affordable apartments for lower-income households are likely to remain low, at least for the time being,” Posey said. “At some point, wages and rents will be more closely aligned, and the percentages will go up.”

Prud’homme said it’s not immediately clear whether the project — which will sit on a nearly 1-acre site — will still house 70 units. That number will likely change, she said.

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The building will likely house at least 50 affordable units, early studies indicate, said Susan Edmondson, president and CEO of the Downtown Partnership.

Timeline and size aside, the project is still a step in the right direction, said City Councilman Dave Geislinger.

“It is making a dent. Every unit makes a dent,” Geislinger said. If it keeps 70 people off the streets and out of the shelters, that carries a lot of benefit to the community.”

Plus, the very idea of creating work spaces and housing for artists and other creatives is pretty cool, he said.

“There’s a lot of momentum in Colorado Springs right now in pushing for arts and pushing for a more vibrant art community,” he said.

Already downtown is a state-certified creative district, Edmondson said, but the southeast side is in line for a greater transformation.

“We expect to see a lot going on in that area,” Edmondson said. “Not just arts and creative industries, but we think that you’re going to see new development and a lot of other things going on.”

Still, the citywide affordable housing shortage is “much, much bigger than the dent that’s being made,” Geislinger acknowledged.

To tackle the larger issue, however, Geislinger said the city is making progress in changing the underlying attitudes surrounding affordable housing.

To the city’s benefit, fewer residents still grasp the ever-dreaded “not in my back yard” attitude, Geislinger said.

City officials and other experts have acknowledged that the shortage won’t be solved solely by construction and instead government, nonprofits and businesses must embrace an all-of-the-above approach, which includes partnerships and incentive packages.

“There has been a lot of really good foundational movement in the last two years in the superstructure of affordability and attainability that wasn’t there two or three years ago,” Geislinger said.

The development authority cemented its purchase of the building on Oct. 11, Prud’homme said.

The agency approved up to $750,000 in December 2017 to locate a site for the project — which is required to be downtown — and for preliminary design work.

conrad.swanson@gazette.com @conrad_swanson

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