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Rising rents making it harder to find housing in Weld County

January 5, 2019

GREELEY, Colo. (AP) — Luz Barreras has to balance the budget for her family of six constantly. She’s always fearful of her car breaking down, and she wasn’t able to do much of anything this Christmas for her five girls.

Earlier this year, their budget was less precarious. Barreras said she was lucky to find an affordable apartment about five years ago southeast of the Greeley Mall, with four bedrooms. Even though living quarters have been tight, with her daughters ranging in age from 12 to 20, she’s been thankful just to have a roof over their heads. Previously, they’d made a two-bedroom apartment work, and they pulled through a period of homelessness before that thanks to the shelter, Room at the Inn.

Working in housekeeping, caring for the children and their apartment, where maintenance was practically nonexistent, Barreras was able to see her oldest daughter off to the University of Northern Colorado. Her daughter hopes to go into psychiatry or social work and help others.

In the summer, her 20-year-old daughter got a part-time job to help pay for the costs of studying. The family’s rent was suddenly raised to nearly $900 each month. When she spoke with management about the seasonal and part-time nature of her daughter’s job, they refused to budge on the new rent.

Barreras is one of hundreds, if not more, in Greeley and Weld County struggling to find a place to live in a tight rental market as average prices continue to climb. Local experts say the resources to help those who need affordable housing most — the elderly, people with disabilities, veterans and single parents — simply aren’t keeping pace. With half of renters’ incomes burdened by ever-rising monthly housing costs, the path to home ownership is looking less like an uphill battle and more like an unscalable wall.

Tom Teixeira, as executive director of the Greeley-Weld Housing Authority, has overseen help for several families like Barreras’. He estimated about 40 percent of people in Section 8 housing through the Greeley-Weld Housing Authority are either elderly or living with a disability. Most households are headed by a single parent.

The annual income for tenants benefiting from the housing authority, in both its Section 8 and public housing programs, averages about $19,580. Teixeira notes that the authority isn’t even given the budget to help all the families they’re authorized to help, a number set by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. That number hasn’t changed since about 2001, he said, and in the past five or six years, the authority hasn’t even been budgeted enough to help all those families.

Though the average rent in Greeley is less than it is in Loveland and Fort Collins, Greeley is quickly catching up. According to the Colorado Multi-Family Housing Vacancy and Rental Survey, the average rent in Greeley increased by about 60 percent in the past five years — from $715.79 in the second quarter of 2013 to $1,146.51 in the second quarter of 2018. In the same period, the average rent increased about 39 percent in Fort Collins and by 34 percent in Loveland. In roughly the same time period, from 2012 to 2017, the earliest year for which American Community Survey data is available, the median income for Greeley households trailed behind, increasing by about 19.6 percent.

Marie Gutierrez, site manager of the Island Grove Village Apartments, said they see the need for affordable housing all the time. The Section 8 affordable housing complex is at capacity, with about 350 residents. As of late December, she said, there are 45 people on the waiting list. And those are the ones who are willing to wait.

“There’s a desperate, desperate need for affordable housing,” she said. “We have people coming in here on a daily basis looking to pick up an application, and once they find out just how long the wait lists are, they’re really bummed out.”

Dick Maxfield, property manager of Island Grove Village since 1988, said the city’s growth, in combination with growth across the Front Range, has been driving up prices in recent years. Low-income families have been scrambling to keep up, he said.

Lydia Van Thiel, a supervisory case manager at Volunteers of America in Greeley, agreed. Serving veterans, Van Thiel sees many people on fixed incomes having fewer and fewer places to find housing. Of the 96 people served by the Greeley office, 26 veterans are in precarious housing situations and getting homeless prevention assistance from the Volunteers of America.

“We’ve been seeing a lot more homeless prevention recently,” she said. “Landlords have the opportunity to raise rent and get what they’re asking for, so the people who can’t necessarily afford those rents don’t have options at that point.”

Families and individuals spending more than 30 percent of their income on housing are considered cost-burdened by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. Cost-burdened families have little income left over for food, travel, child care, clothing and other basic necessities like hygiene products. According to the American Community Survey, about one third of Greeley households, renting or owning, are cost-burdened. Among renters, about half of Greeley households are cost-burdened. As rental rates continue to rise, renters have little hope to save up for a down payment on a house.

Barreras was recently approved for a house from the Greeley-Weld Habitat for Humanity. Until then, her oldest daughter plans to continue helping with rental payments, explaining she expects she’ll stick around with her mom for a while. Barreras’ excitement is only magnified by that of her daughters’, including one who wants to get a puppy — something they could never do moving from one affordable apartment to another.

Without Habitat, Barreras said she never could have imagined owning a home.

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This story is from a Greeley Tribune series, Life on Edge , about Weld County struggling to make ends meet.

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