Disabled homeless residents in Durango could be moving out of their tents and into a new 40-unit apartment complex within two years.
Housing Solutions for the Southwest announced Tuesday the Colorado Housing and Finance Authority granted the nonprofit and BlueLine Development low-income housing tax credits to build Espero Apartments in west Durango on city property near the Durango Community Shelter.
The tax credits will provide most of the funding for the complex, estimated to cost $10 million, said Elizabeth Salkind, executive director of Housing Solutions. Additional funding will be raised through the state, foundations and local donations, she said.
The nonprofit chose to build all one-bedroom units to serve single adults who are most likely to be camping around Durango, said Brigid Korce, program development director for Housing Solutions, a Durango-based nonprofit. The apartments can house two people at most, such as a couple or a parent and a child.
“It’s a better solution than more shelters or campgrounds for everyone in the community,” Korce said.
To qualify for the housing, residents must be homeless, have a physical or mental disability and earn 30% or less of the area median income, she said.
Korce said she expects the building will serve some of the longtime homeless residents who have been unable to qualify for other housing.
“We do have that handful of faces that we see year after year, after year. ... We just wonder how many Durango winters they can take,” she said.
The complex will not limit the amount of time residents can stay, and it will provide supportive services, through nonprofits such as Housing Solutions, Axis Health System and the Southwest Center for Independence, she said.
For example, Axis Health System will provide case management and peer mentoring, Housing Solutions will coordinate the other nonprofits and an AmeriCorps volunteer may organize events in the building. However, residents are not required to participate in services, Korce said.
The events are meant to build a sense of community, security and trust, which was key to the success of similar housing projects in other states that don’t limit how long residents can stay, Salkind said.
“When you don’t have to worry about where you are going to sleep, there is much more time to work on employment and stabilization,” she said.
BlueLine Development, a Montana-based company, plans to build a new complex on the city’s social services campus near Manna and the homeless shelter. The city has already committed to leasing the property for the project.
The property is directly below Greenmount Cemetery near the Durango Community Shelter. Construction could start in the spring, and the building may open in summer 2021.
The building could limit foot traffic through the neighborhood by providing a space for residents to be during the day, Salkind said. She also doesn’t expect to see an uptick in vehicle traffic because most residents won’t own cars, she said.
Homeless residents will be selected to live in the new complex by Southwest Colorado Continuum of Care, a group of representatives from nonprofits and governmental agencies that meet regularly, Korce said.
Residents will be selected based on their vulnerability. Vulnerability is assessed through a standardized questionnaire that measures life circumstances, such as being a victim of violence, Salkind said.
The federal Section 8 Housing Choice Voucher program will subsidize rent for residents. The program requires tenants to pay 30% of their income toward rent. Residents without income wouldn’t pay any rent, Korce said.
Housing Solutions has been working on the new apartment complex for six years. It was made possible this year by finding the right partners and refining the project to meet the community’s needs, Salkind said.
“The timing is right,” she said.