In housing struggle, Yampa Valley residents live out of cars, and even a fire station

Scott Franz

Three children under the age of 5 and their parents are living out of a car in the Yampa Valley despite the father having a full-time job.

A homeless seasonal worker is walking barefoot through the streets of Steamboat Springs after his housing ended at a downtown lodge.

And a Routt County commissioner reported one of the county’s new department heads is living at the fire station in Stagecoach while he secures permanent housing.

These were just a few of the many stories shared Tuesday that put human faces to a housing struggle that continues to affect a variety of people in the Yampa Valley.

“Our awareness of the problem continues to be raised, but our ability to address it doesn’t keep up,” Routt County Commissioner TIm Corrigan said Tuesday. “It’s obviously frustrating from our perspective.”

Corrigan’s comments came after the commission held a roundtable discussion with Sheila Henderson, executive director of Integrated Community, about ongoing housing struggles for low-income workers in the area.

While the focus was largely on low-income workers, the conversation expanded to housing challenges faced by the greater community in general, and the challenges elected officials have trying to address them.

Elected officials also said they too have noticed that rents seem to have gone up dramatically even since April.

“It seems like overnight, prices are escalating,” commissioner Cari Hermacinski said. “It feels almost like 2007 again with the scarcity and pricing.”

Henderson said her organization is in the homes of low-income residents weekly.

She told stories of Steamboat residents who pulled water from the Yampa River just to flush a toilet that didn’t have running water.

She said she’s seen housing situations that are overcrowded, with multiple families living together in a space designed for just one.

The tight spaces and cramped living situations lead to social and mental strains for parents and children, she said.

“We’re seeing a lot of unsafe living situations,” she said.

And Henderson recounted how after leaving a recent meeting downtown about housing, she couldn’t make it back to her office down the street without bumping into three individuals who were having housing issues.

One man from West Africa was dealing with a $600-a-month increase in the cost of his rent. Another woman was also facing a rent that was skyrocketing.

Henderson praised the recent collaboration between the city, the county and the Yampa Valley Housing Authority that led to the construction of The Reserves affordable housing project.

The brand new housing development, which opened last month, is already completely full.

“These families are excited. It’s changing their lives,” Henderson said. “It’s lowering their expenses. It’s allowing them to pay medical bills and not coming to LiftUp.”

But The Reserves does not have enough units by itself to address the needs of all of the area’s low-income workers.

Integrated Community saw 100 applications come in for the housing development. But there are only 48 units, and some of the applicants didn’t qualify for a variety of reasons.

Henderson said she’d like to see The Reserves model replicated in the future.

“It’s all about supply,” Henderson said.

Commissioners also discussed other possible solutions.

Hermacinski wondered if homeowners could be incentivized somehow to rent out empty rooms.

And Corrigan said the county has looked into the availability of buildable lots for potential affordable housing projects in nearby communities such as Yampa, Hayden and Oak Creek.

But he said until there is a “robust” public transportation system with the population to support it, projects in those communities may not materialize.

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

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