Du'Wayne Hall moved from Utah to southeast Colorado Springs seeking a fresh start in his old hometown and a relationship with the estranged adult daughter he barely knew.
Fifteen years later, he’s almost 60; things haven’t worked out with his daughter and he’s looking to move on. But a fixed income and physical challenges have conspired with skyrocketing rents to keep him where he is: a bug-infested 500-square-foot efficiency in a complex where police are constantly being called and gunfire punctuates the night.
“At least the cockroaches are small,” said Hall, sitting at his kitchen table, several feet from a shoulder-high pile of boxes and belongings that claims most of the room. “They come through and spray for bugs once a month, and you can’t have anything in cabinets, or on the walls, or touching the walls.”
Hall got tired of reorganizing each month. He estimates he’s been living out of the pile for a year. “I don’t like it but I’m used to it,” he said.
Hall’s complex, Cedar Creek Club Apartments, is owned by Terry Ragan, whose portfolio of code violations and complaint-ridden properties is what affordable housing looks like in Colorado Springs. It lies just north of the U.S. 24 bypass near the center of the southeast quadrant, a cluster of 18 census tracts, two zip codes — 80910 and 80916 — and some 94,000 residents who make up about 21 percent of the city’s total population.
Statistics tell one story of the southeast, of a collection of neighborhoods that, when factored together and contrasted with the city as a whole, have higher rates of unemployment, gang activity and crime, obesity, smoking, diabetes and untreated physical and mental health issues. Forty-two percent of the city’s poor children and 34 percent of all poor residents live here. Census Tract 54, in the heart of the quadrant, was the state’s most deadly in one analysis of death certificates by tracts statewide, losing 24 residents to gunshot wounds between 2000 and 2011.
Other disparities that exist in southeast Colorado Springs aren’t so easy to quantify, however. To Jeannie Orozco, the story they tell is more about a city that seems to play favorites and then point fingers.
“Our sidewalks have been unfinished for a very, very, very long time. Our parks don’t have restrooms. A lot of our residents use public transportation; there are no jobs, no big employers here so they have to take the bus to work and the bus system just isn’t really good in our city,” said Orozco, a longtime southeast resident and community advocate who was recently elected to the Harrison School District 2 board. She recently completed a two-year project researching and identifying southeast’s needs, and the barriers to progress, as part of a federal BUILD Health Challenge grant.
“We have a whole community of kids here who’ve never been to the mountains 10 minutes away, that have never hiked or eaten a s’more. Colorado Springs has so many amazing things to offer, it would be great if everyone was included in them.”
Barely getting by
Born in Pennsylvania to a military family and raised in the Springs, Hall was a high school rebel who figured he’d turn his back on bad behavior and youthful burned bridges by enlisting in the Air Force. He envisioned traveling the world but wound up being posted to a base in Utah, where trouble found him soon enough — first, an on-duty accident and serious injury and then disciplinary discharge, an action Hall later challenged and had successfully overturned.
He’s got the paperwork to prove it, in a box in the pile, in case you don’t believe him.
Hall has pale blue eyes, long salt-and-pepper hair and the chiseled looks of a younger, wirier Tommy Lee Jones. A motorcycle accident 25 years ago crushed his right side and left him with a limp, tremors and traumatic brain injury that slows, sometimes scrambles, his thoughts and words.
“When people see me, they don’t see or hear a disabled person. I have to try to explain it,” said Hall, who walks with a cane.
He has his driver’s license, but can’t afford a car so relies primarily on public transportation. A trip to King Soopers, three miles south on Academy Boulevard, takes about two hours each way by bus, including the sections he must cover on foot. Hall must be judicious, and conservative, with his shopping list. Whatever he buys he’s got to carry back, and walking is a slow and painful ordeal.
As the crow flies, Walmart is much closer than King Soopers — about a mile away on South Academy — but it requires a quarter-mile walk from the bus stop on Chelton Road to the store’s entrance.
Hall works Fridays and Saturdays at a southeast food bank in exchange for groceries. The church that hosts the food bank isn’t close to a bus stop, so he takes a cab.
“It’s about $8 each way. It gets expensive, but what am I supposed to do?” he said.
The motorcycle accident, in 1992, resulted in a long-term workers’ compensation payout that represents the bulk of Hall’s monthly income of about $1,200, an amount that also includes modest benefits from Social Security and the Department of Veterans Affairs.
Hall is skating just above the federal poverty line for a one-person household, which means he’s doing better, financially, than 34 percent of his neighbors in census tract 52.01. Like about 30 percent of them, he doesn’t have health insurance, though he does use medical marijuana to treat his pain and the palsy in his limbs. When he moved into Cedar Creek three years ago, Hall’s fixed income afforded him some financial breathing room. Rent was $350. After a series of hikes, it’s approaching twice that now.
“Your income has to be double the rent for you to get approved anywhere. I couldn’t even get into this place now,” said Hall, who said he’s been unable to find an apartment — anywhere in the city — that he could qualify for, much less afford.
Money may not buy happiness, but it does buy options. Hall sees a lack of them when he looks around his apartment, his neighborhood, his city. It’s a perspective he never imagined having when he was a teenager growing up here in the 1960s and 70s.
“Trapped,” he said. “Not a good feeling.”
Cut off by the bypass
As is true of any area in any city anywhere in the world, though, how you see southeast Colorado Springs depends on where you look, and what you’re looking for.
Starkly contrasting demographics, and experiences, can be found side-by-side. The neighborhood with the second-highest rate of college graduates (23 percent) borders that with the second-lowest (9 percent); a tract where 83 percent of residents rent is adjacent to one where 75 percent own. In some areas, a few blocks is all that separates squalor and comfortable middle class, disaffection and relative contentment.
Less than a half-mile from Cedar Creek, the Park at Whispering Pines is home to 207 one- and two-bedroom apartments separated by a sliver of parking lot from one of southeast’s real world dividing lines: a four-lane highway that was supposed to change everything — and did, if you ask Minerva Boyungs.
“Before they built the (Martin Luther King Jr.) bypass, this was a thriving area,” said Boyungs, Whispering Pines’ property manager. “They built the bypass saying it’s going to bring more business, and you’ll be able to walk to everything.”
In actuality, said Boyungs, the two-mile leg of U.S. 24 completed in 1993 — a “gateway to the city” with breathtaking views of Pikes Peak for travelers heading in from the airport and points east — had the opposite effect on the neighborhoods through which it passed.
Not only did the bypass choke off pedestrian routes, it killed a burgeoning economy.
“It took the businesses away. Everything dried up,” said Boyungs, a petite woman in her mid-60s who prefers to be called “Sam.”
Boyungs moved to the Springs in 1976, when her husband was stationed here with the military. She spent years working at different apartment buildings in the city and raised two sons in the southeast, during construction boom times that saw the Springs evolve from a “small town” bounded to the east by farms and working ranches.
Her perspective is panoramic, and hard earned.
“My older son went to school at Sierra and he did fine, never had any issues,” said Boyungs, whose older son is a Colorado State Patrol trooper and younger son manages a local dialysis center. “But times change, I guess.”
Perceptions change, too, and not always in pace with reality.
Boyungs ultimately bought a home in a newer development outside southeast. Before starting her current position, soon after the apartment complex came under new ownership and management 2014, she announced to her sons that she’d taken a job in their old stomping grounds.
They tried to talk her out of it.
“I guess they just had been taking in what other people are saying about the area,” said Boyungs, who told her sons: “You were raised here. Has anything ever happened to you?”
Boyungs concedes that there are concerns that come with living where they do, “nestled” so close to places with infamous reputations. Poverty rates in the tracts surrounding the U.S. 24 bypass, east of S. Circle Drive, are between 34 and 38 percent, the highest in southeast.
But challenges, and crime, exist everywhere.
“I used to work up at Union and Dublin and I hated going in in the morning because we always had break-ins over the weekend. Here, it isn’t like that,” said Boyungs, who is helping oversee ongoing renovations and upgrades to the property’s dwellings and common grounds initiated by the new owner.
Whispering Pines’ tenants include young, working couples, families, single parents and retirees. Some are new to the area; others long-time residents. Many speak Spanish as their primary language; Boyungs and all her staff are bilingual. About 20 percent of renters are active duty military.
“It’s hard working people trying to make a living. That’s all it is,” she said. “I’m very lucky and very blessed that we have a good owner. He’s good to us and the community. These people have a good place to live.”
“Rough,’ but affordable
Max Frank and his girlfriend, Elizabeth Lockard, found their way to Whispering Pines in a quest for affordable rent. A recent graduate of the University of Iowa, Lockard was recruited to teach at Manitou Springs High School. Frank didn’t yet have a job in Colorado and Lockard knew she’d be making a bare minimum salary, so the couple set out last year to find a place, online, that would work with their monthly income of about $3,000, after $1,000 in combined student loan repayments.
“We wanted to have a single bedroom and we wanted to have space — at least 600-700 square feet for the two of us. As far as location, we just wanted to make sure her commute was bearable. Moving anywhere up north would have been tough,” said Frank, 24, a preseminary graduate who works full time in sales for a local solar company and hopes someday to become a military chaplain. “We found out that basically we weren’t going to find anything under $1,200 for the two of us outside of the southeast.”
The couple settled on a one bedroom, for $740 plus utilities, at Whispering Pines.
From looking at neighborhood profiles and data online, Frank was aware that the area was “kind of rough.” Before the move last summer, he called a Colorado Springs friend to see if he and Lockard, 23, made the right decision.
“I said ‘I’m living in this area. How worried should I be?’” Frank said. “He said, ‘Well, I live a couple blocks away from you ... just keep your nose where it belongs, mind your own business and don’t be running around late at night doing stupid stuff.”
Seemed like good advice no matter where you live, Frank thought.
“When you move to town, people are like ‘Where do you live?’ We figured out pretty quickly, saying ‘southeast’ warranted a certain reaction from people,” Frank said. “They’d go, ‘Where in southeast?’ Like, trying to figure out how bad do you have it.”
Rent’s gone up $40 a month since they arrived, but Frank and Lockard recently signed a lease for year two.
“We love our apartment. It was completely redone and we were the first people to use our shower or the appliances or walk on the carpet,” Frank said. “And we’ve adjusted our lifestyle accordingly. We don’t go running outside or take walks at night.”
For however long he and Lockard remain in the Springs, Frank said they’ll be staying put.
“We’re just happy to be in Colorado … and have an apartment with a massive bathroom with two mirrors,” he said.
Best lawn on the block
Less than three miles due east of Whispering Pines, down a wide, suburban street framed by newer single-family homes and neatly-landscaped yards, community activist and organizer Rachel Stovall sat on the couch in her home at Sand Creek Village and questioned the numbers and assumptions repeatedly used to define the area.
“The average income on my street is $75,000 — yes, I went and asked my neighbors — and the average house ranges from $180,000 to $270,000 for some of the largest,” Stovall said. “I’m sorry, but that’s not the ‘hood.”
As for pride of ownership and place: Each week during the summer, Sand Creek neighbors vie for the honor of hosting a traveling “best yard” sign.
“There’s a formal competition. At the beginning of the season, people break out all their tools and get their mowing on. We take it pretty seriously,” said Stovall. “My husband, Keith, has got to win — and he did get the sign one week.”
Stovall grew up in southeast and graduated from Harrison High School. She won’t deny that things have changed since the 1970s, when the Springs was 1 percent black and “finding one another was really hard.”
“To be black in Colorado Springs was to feel a little isolated. Our community has grown by leaps and bounds, but that (finding one another) is a problem we still have,” Stovall said.
When she was a child here, community was an outcome of church and faith as much as one’s street address. And parents weren’t the only grown-ups who’d lay down the law if they saw you stray.
“People would ask you about your grades and God forbid you act up on your street or something. These were the people who might give you a spanking. The expectations for us were high,” said Stovall. “That’s how you get people like Darryl Glenn and Regina Lewis. This is the community that brought forth these people. A lot of my schoolmates and their parents — if they’re still living — are still here, in the same houses, and very invested in the neighborhood.”
Much of the story of the southeast revolves around the military, which explains why some of its neighborhoods are among the more racially diverse parts of the city, Stovall said.
“Military men came home with wives from everywhere, and this area being relatively close to the base, this is where they lived,” she said. “But many areas of Colorado Springs are diverse.”
Stovall lived in the Deerfield neighborhood of southeast as a single mom, before moving to her newly-built home in Sand Creek Village in 1999.
“Deerfield is not considered a good neighborhood. I realize not everybody’s experience may be as positive as mine, but I never had an incident. Not once,” she said.
Same goes for her life here, in the neighborhood where she and her husband, Keith, are raising her three grandchildren.
“I intensely love our city and liking my neighborhood is part of that. That’s what made me choose this area for my children, and now for my children’s children,” she said. “If you read the paper you’ll be convinced that everywhere down here is dangerous, a ghetto, that everyone lives in a … hovel built in the '70s. And it’s just not true.”
That doesn’t mean everything is rosy all the time.
“It’s just like anywhere else. We’ve had vandalism. Somebody threw a rock and broke our bay window,” Stovall said. “But that could have been anything: bored kids ... or maybe someone mad because we won the lawn competition.”
Conrad Swanson and Burt Hubbard contributed to this story.