Affordable housing should be top priority for Colorado leaders

I have been a Chicano activist my entire life. I come from a long line of them. Through the 1960s and 1970s, my family and hundreds like us fought to ensure that more of us had better access to quality homes and neighborhoods. We took to the streets. And we ultimately settled in communities many of us have called home for decades. While our progress wasn’t perfect, it was meaningful.

When did Colorado become a place where the majority of us cannot afford a decent place to rent or buy? A place where fewer and fewer of us cannot make ends meet no matter how hard we try.

But that is the unfortunate space where far too many families have arrived. Mine is one of them. That is why I was overjoyed to hear Governor Polis make housing a top priority in his address to Colorado. My Latino community, and many more, will benefit from building more homes that people can afford in the neighborhoods they choose.

None of my children have had an easy time with housing in Denver despite all of them having good educations and solid employment. But my daughter has had the roughest time. She is a Denver Public Schools teacher. She is a single mom. And she is one of the thousands and thousands of people who simply can’t afford to live in the city.

The only decent apartment she could find that had a rent that didn’t decimate what she earned each month was in Brighton. That location would have not only forced her to spend additional money on traveling to and from her work, but would have also increased her childcare costs as my husband and I would not have been close enough to help with her son, our grandson. She and her son live with us now in a small Chaffee Park bungalow.

Being resourceful Denverites, we decided to build a small home in our yard as a solution to our housing problem. My daughter and her son would keep our family home, and my husband and I would move into the new backyard unit. We felt lucky that with the income from the small business I own, the work my husband does, and my daughter’s teacher’s salary, we could swing this solution that kept us all together.

Our solution was quickly stifled by barriers we continue to face due to local restrictions. The red tape strangling our process has made it more costly and delayed our ability to move into a home that better fits our needs. We need a statewide solution that streamlines a homeowner’s ability to make important housing decisions. Had the policies Governor Polis spoke to been enacted when we started this process, I believe we would be living in our new backyard home, and my daughter would have a place for her and her son.

Certainly, this isn’t the future we want for ourselves. We must have more housing options – townhomes, duplexes, triplexes, apartments – and those options must be affordable for more families. Our essential workers who teach our children, rescue our homes, clean our streets, rush us to the hospitals, and care for us when we are in those hospitals must be able to live where they work. This isn’t a grandiose idea. It seems like part of what we were fighting for back in the 1960s.  And what we will have to start fighting for again.

Policymakers at the state capitol have talked about the need for more affordable housing options for more Coloradans. Now they need to put their plans on paper and advance their solutions. My family can’t wait. And neither can others living in every part of Colorado. This isn’t a city problem. Or a country problem. This is a Colorado problem, and our leaders should address it.

Nita Gonzales is a longtime Denver resident and activist, and the Daughter of Corky Gonzales.

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