The Colorado Springs RV ban is like trying to put a finger in the hole of a dam that is about to burst.
The ban creates hardships for the most vulnerable but does not contribute solutions to our housing and homeless crisis. Many of the citizens impacted are elderly and disabled. Fining low-income citizens or moving RVs out of the city when few alternatives for housing exist is a continued move toward the criminalization of poverty.
The city’s Homeless Action Plan, which proposes a Homeless Court, is supposed to be a move from criminalization of the poor, and a move toward compassionate and sustainable solutions.
The lack of affordable housing, coupled with economic inequality and low wages, are part of a national, as well as a local crisis. All sectors of our community must come together to solve these issues — the city, the county, the state, the federal government, the nonprofits, the faith communities, and yes, the private sector as well.
“Housing wage” is a measure used to calculate the affordability of housing. Affordability is based on the minimum wage needed to afford a modest 1- or 2-bedroom apartment, without paying more than 30% of income. Those who pay more than 30% of their income must make hard choices about which necessities to pay for. Those who pay 50% or more of their income for housing, and many do, are at high risk for homelessness. Nationally, the housing wage needed for affordability is $22.10 per hour. At minimum wage, a person would have to work 3 jobs, or 122 hours per week for 52 weeks each year to achieve affordability.
Shockingly, there is no county or city in the United States where a person earning minimum wage can purchase affordable housing. Nowhere!
In Colorado, the minimum wage is $10.20 per hour, but the housing wage needed is $23.93 per hour. Only 36% of renters can reach affordability in Colorado. We in El Paso County have a lower affordable housing wage of $19.62 per hour. A person would need 2.3 minimum wage jobs to afford a modest 2-bedroom apartment. And if child care is needed, a low-income worker might have to pay one third of their income for child care, making work impossible.
Low inventory of affordable housing is another issue. There is little incentive for builders to build low-income housing. The United States will need to build 328,000 apartments each year through 2030 to reach a goal of providing low-income housing. We in Colorado Springs lack enough inventory as well.
There has also been public disinvestment in housing for several decades. We have not built public housing since the early 1990s. The current federal budget proposal includes significant cuts to programs that have helped reduce homelessness and that the states rely on to provide housing options.
These circumstances are evident in the rise of homeless families with children in our community. We know that homeless families are often invisible and undercounted. The school districts report more than 1,000 homeless students in our schools. Family Promise reported that for the two months of August to October, 118 families were turned away from shelters, and 118 families with 1,828 children were wait listed for transitional housing.
The crisis we face is certainly huge and complex. I thank The Gazette for coverage of these issues.
I am also grateful for the work of our city and its partners to increase shelter beds and appoint an affordable housing task force. The solutions will not be quick or easy. I implore the City Council, however, not to punish and push the most vulnerable people out of sight while we are working on solutions.
Colorado Springs resident Susan Bolduc is a member of Lutheran Advocacy Ministry and The Colorado Springs Faith Leaders Table.