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Affordable Housing Challenges in Rural Communities

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Many people are under the impression that Habitat for Humanity only builds in Colorado’s urban areas. 

However - due to unique needs and geographic and economic pressures – Habitat for Humanity is alive and well in rural Colorado, with twenty-two affiliates serving rural communities. – more - would take you to the article of affordable housing challenges in rural communities.

With the help of partnerships with the USDA, Adolph Coors Foundation, and Anschutz Family foundation, these affiliates build more than thirty homes each year which are sold at no profit to local qualifying families.  With service areas as diverse as the summer playgrounds of Estes Park and Durango, the ski resorts of Vail and Aspen, and the mountain communities of Salida and Montrose, the challenges facing these affiliates are many.  However, there are three issues that consistently rise to the top as affiliates work to address affordable housing needs in their communities.

Substandard existing housing

Statewide, low-income families far outnumber the available rental units affordable to them.  In rural areas, this ratio is further complicated by the fact that many of the housing options that are affordable to families are dilapidated, insufficiently heated, unsafe, or lack adequate amenities.  Affordable options often include summer cabins that have not been winterized, aged mobile homes in disrepair, and water and heat sources that compromise health.

Lack of affordable, buildable land

Land in Colorado continues to be at a premium, despite the slumped real estate market.  Higher wealth individuals both in and out of state seek refuge and recreation in Colorado’s beautiful rural areas, driving up prices in communities where service wages remain low.  Land that is affordable is often unbuildable, requiring rock blasting, retaining walls, or other expensive site infrastructure to make housing feasible.  These same affordable lots are often in remote locations – an additional challenge in areas lacking public transportation.

Local economies

In Colorado, many rural economies are cyclical in nature, driven by the engine of seasonal sports such as skiing, rafting, and hiking.  Extreme weather conditions also come into play, as some professions such as construction, snow removal, and wildfire protection have only a short busy time.  However, many rural economies revolve around the service industries, which are dependent upon tourism.  It is common for the average worker to be laid off for more than three months of the year.  With this lack of stability in income, it is difficult to gauge and maintain affordability and housing.  At the same time, the need for affordable housing is drastically increased, as these multi-million dollar industries rely on the availability of local labor.

Rural communities are the backbone of Colorado.  In order to preserve their character and prevent urban flight, it is imperative that there be affordable, decent housing solutions for working families.  Habitat for Humanity affiliates are not just building homes in these areas – they’re building sustainable communities.

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