The Housing Hunt: Low income workers face challenges as rental units become more costly, scarce | SteamboatToday.com

The Housing Hunt: Low income workers face challenges as rental units become more costly, scarce





Cleotilde Villa and Rual Sanchez's (middle) home in the Dream Island mobile home park is a base for the couples family which includes, from left to right, Gamaliel Gonzales, Nancy Parra, Porfirio Emanuel Parra, Keila Villa Parra, Julie Cesar Parra (small child front). Rocio Farias, Alejandro Parra, Runi Parra and Alex Parra.
John F. Russell

— In Chihuahua, Mexico, where Edgar had his own dental practice, he never had to worry about where he would be living the next day.

LiftUp offers assistance services

A man is living in a cave on Emerald Mountain.

A young couple would sleep with their backs against a tree until the frost scared them off.

A young man slept on the banks of the Yampa River.

Others camp for weeks on Buffalo Pass.

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These people in these challenging living situations have all recently visited Angela Mackey at LiftUp of Routt County seeking financial assistance for housing, or just help finding a place to live.

"A lot of people are living in storage units, and a lot are sleeping in their cars," Mackey said.

Many of the homeless individuals have full-time jobs but haven't been able to find a place they can afford.

"Even if they find a place, for a lot of them, it's just too expensive," said Mackey, the case manager at Lift Up.

LiftUp offers rental and utility assistance to community members.

Mackey said while requests for assistance used to range from $500 to $700, but now total thousands of dollars.

LiftUp has offered more than $30,000 in rental assistance this year.

It recently helped one person who was living in a storage unit make the rent on an apartment.

LiftUp offers temporary, emergency financial and non-monetary assistance through local its local community food bank and thrift store, and the Community Care Fund.

To learn more about services offered at LiftUp, call 970-870-0727.

He did not have to shed some of his personal possessions as he moved from one rental unit to another with less space.

He lived in his own home with his family.

He did not share a small trailer with three other men he barely knows, including a young man who pays rent and sleeps on a twin bed inside a small the laundry room.

In Steamboat Springs, this is his new reality.

To make a living here and escape the extreme violence in his home country, Edgar has had to adapt and make sacrifices.

"It's been a radical change; it's been a very, very big change," Edgar said earlier this month in the small Dream Island trailer he considers himself lucky to have found.

He and another Mexican immigrant, Martin, had been living together in another trailer when they were told they needed to leave, because the space would be rented to someone else.

Before lucking out and finding another home, Edgar had been resorting to couch surfing.

The uncertainty surrounding his living situation, Edgar said, causes despair.

A ranch hand, Edgar is among a growing group of Steamboat residents who have seen their living situations change dramatically because of rising housing prices and the scarcity of rental units.

The community is starting to see things it hasn't seen for several years.

Some community members have spent the summer camping in the National Forest on Buffalo Pass and Rabbit Ears to save money.

Large employers also are feeling the housing pinch and are scrambling to continue renting out defunct hotels in the city as workforce housing.

Lot fees at some of the city's trailer parks continue to rise, leaving some of Steamboat's most affordable housing out of reach for low-income workers.

And some workers have even chosen to leave the community altogether, because they didn't feel they could make it.

Sheila Henderson, executive director of Integrated Community, fears what will happen if something doesn't change soon.

"We're losing our workforce," Henderson said. "I already know of four families that have moved away this year from Steamboat to Denver because of this. I've had a lot of people leave and tell me they are going somewhere else. That's what the consequences are."

Some of the families and workers who haven't left face tight living quarters, higher rent and changed lives.

Waitlists

At the city's recently sold Iron Horse Inn, where studio apartments rent for $600 per month, the phone rings daily.

"People are desperate to get in," Iron Horse manager Jason Belyea said at an informal meeting of residents in August.

The empty hotel building on the Iron Horse recently became such a hot commodity that the Sheraton Steamboat Resort agreed to rent the entire property for seasonal workers, many of them immigrants working on visas.

In a similar move, property management company Resort Group leased out the defunct Alpiner Lodge in downtown Steamboat Springs for its seasonal workers.

Resort Group had been looking as far away as Hayden and Craig for places to house workers.

As the ski season approaches, prospective renters who have secured jobs won't find many options in the Steamboat Today's classified page.

The four options Tuesday included a one-bedroom apartment at the base of the Ski Area for $1,600 per month, three-bedroom homes for $2,450 and $2,500 and a bedroom in a three-bedroom apartment for $700 per month.

Tight quarters

Alejandra Telemantes has often scanned the classified pages of the local newspaper, but never liked what she found.

She moved from Las Vegas to Steamboat to get away from a big city she thought was "too crazy."

Here, she works two jobs and lives in a two-bedroom apartment, which rents for $1,000 per month, with her mother, her 11-year-old son and her 33-year-old brother.

She shares a room with her son and her mom.

"We all work and contribute toward the cost of the rent," she said.

But living in tight quarters with family has its downsides.

Sometimes, her son wants to practice playing the violin when others in the household want to watch TV.

"It can be very stressful," Talamentes said. "We try to coordinate to do things at the same time together."

That means they find movies everyone would like to see and schedule time for her son to play the violin.

Talamantes has browsed single-bedroom apartments before, but she said she cannot afford the rents, which can often cost more than $1,000 per month.

She has friends who have found themselves in similar situations.

The prospect that her current apartment could be sold adds uncertainty to her living situation.

Sheila Henderson, of Integrated Community, said the living situations created by the housing crunch impact entire families.

There are mental health tolls, as children grow up in cramped quarters without a space to call their own.

The parents also find themselves moving often from place to place.

As the rental scarcity continues, efforts are underway to add more capacity.

More capacity

Integrated Community and local business leaders are praising a planned apartment complex that will add 48 affordable units to the city's inventory in the near future.

The project from the Yampa Valley Housing Authority and Overland Property Group recently got a huge boost when it earned $11 million in low-income tax credits from the Colorado Housing Authority.

They will be the first low-income housing units built in Steamboat in more than 15 years.

Henderson expects the units will fill up quickly.

Planners of the project projected in May that rents for the two-bedroom units would range from $710 to $1,065 per month, and rent for the three-bedroom units would range from $820 to $1,230.

Rents would vary based on the renters' household income.

Henderson said more units of this kind are the "first and best answer" to addressing the city's growing housing problem.

As developers plan new projects, some local families are taking their housing needs into their own hands.

Adding rooms

Raul Sanchez has left his mark on many of the trailers in Dream Island.

He's renovated kitchens and put in new floors.

Most recently, he wanted to use his skills as a handyman to expand another, more affordable trailer in Sleeping Bear Mobile Home Park. But he and his wife, Cleotilde Escobedo, ran into some unexpected problems.

The building permit required for the expansion, which would have doubled the size of the trailer, cost nearly $9,000.

The cost includes county and city permit fees, a 1 percent county use tax on materials, a plan check fee, and city use and excise taxes.

"It's frustrating," Sanchez said as he flipped through the architectual plans for the expansion.

Working with Integrated Community and the Routt County Regional Building Department, the couple was able to get the price down to approximately $5,000.

But the cost of the permit has still kept the project on hold.

"We'd live a lot more comfortably in that bigger trailer," Cleo said in their current trailer, where Raul's son, Martin, prefers to sleep on the couch.

For now, the building materials the family saved up will remain on the side of the trailer for the winter.

Meanwhile, Edgar is hoping his own housing situation lasts, and he can someday bring the rest of his family to Steamboat, a place he loves living.

"I would love to (find my own place), and I'm working to try to bring my family here as well, but for money reasons, it's been difficult," Edgar said. "I can't go back (to Mexico), because in Mexico, theres a violence and a situation that you don't even want to see."

In the meantime, he and Martin will continue to adapt.

In their trailer, a wall was recently put up to convert a portion of the living room into a small bedroom for Martin.

For now, Martin says, the room suits him just fine.

He tries not to think about what would happen if he has to move again.

To reach Scott Franz, call 970-871-4210, email scottfranz@SteamboatToday.com or follow him on Twitter @ScottFranz10

LiftUp offers assistance services

A man is living in a cave on Emerald Mountain.

A young couple would sleep with their backs against a tree until the frost scared them off.

A young man slept on the banks of the Yampa River.

Others camp for weeks on Buffalo Pass.

These people in these challenging living situations have all recently visited Angela Mackey at LiftUp of Routt County seeking financial assistance for housing, or just help finding a place to live.

“A lot of people are living in storage units, and a lot are sleeping in their cars,” Mackey said.

Many of the homeless individuals have full-time jobs but haven’t been able to find a place they can afford.

“Even if they find a place, for a lot of them, it’s just too expensive,” said Mackey, the case manager at Lift Up.

LiftUp offers rental and utility assistance to community members.

Mackey said while requests for assistance used to range from $500 to $700, but now total thousands of dollars.

LiftUp has offered more than $30,000 in rental assistance this year.

It recently helped one person who was living in a storage unit make the rent on an apartment.

LiftUp offers temporary, emergency financial and non-monetary assistance through local its local community food bank and thrift store, and the Community Care Fund.

To learn more about services offered at LiftUp, call 970-870-0727.