Every few years the City of Colorado Springs completes a study on fair housing practices. There are federal funds on the line that the city can only access if it upholds those regulations. This year as part of the study, the city gathered stories from residents at an event called Close to Home using first-person interviews with residents. The stories will be submitted to supplement data gathered by the city in an effort to share experiences not captured by numbers and reports.
The city shared the recordings of those stories with 91.5 KRCC.
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Catherine Duarte, senior analyst for community development in Colorado Springs, spearheaded the project.
“While city staff tracks fair housing complaints on a statewide and federal level, this event is designed to capture the personal stories in Colorado Springs that aren’t reported or reflected in the data,” Duarte said.
The project was focused on learning about the barriers people face when choosing where to live.
"Finding a place to live without fear of discrimination is a civil right,” said Duarte. “Not having stable housing — that affects everything.”
In fact, Duarte said the fear of being evicted or being denied a mortgage, not only limits an individual's housing choices, but also makes it difficult to buy a house or rent an apartment. That’s because evictions show up on rental history background check and can also affect credit score, and without a mortgage, purchasing a home is nearly impossible.
“When the Fair Housing Act was established in 1968, we had separate water fountains, separate counters,” she said. “That's not what [discrimination] looks like now. It's much more subtle and much more ambiguous, so it's harder to pinpoint. But when people have experienced it, they know it.”
The Fair Housing Act prohibits housing discrimination based on race, color, national origin, religion, sex, familial status, and disability. In Colorado Springs, Duarte said a majority of the fair housing complaints come from people with disabilities.
“We look at patterns,” she said. “So we look at how this looks spatially. We look at homeowners by race and income, and it can be really stunning to see these old historic patterns just repeat themselves.”
According to Duarte, homeownership by race in Colorado Springs is starkly divided with the south and southeast areas of town being the most racially and ethnically diverse.
“And homeownership by race for white people, I mean, it's all over the map,” she said. “So we have to ask - is this what choice looks like? Is this really where people are choosing to live or is or is there something else going on? And that's that's the larger inquiry.”
Affordability in the city is also part of that larger inquiry. Duarte said fair housing and affordable housing intersect in many ways.
“These classes that the Fair Housing Act protects often experience disproportionate income circumstances. They have fewer resources historically and statistically,” she said.
“Over the past few years we've been up there in the top 10 list for highest growth rate of rental costs, so that's a concern.”
Recent data from Apartmentlist.com shows the median cost to rent a one bedroom apartment is Colorado Springs is $970. The cost of rent in the city has increased each month for the past five months. Home prices in Colorado Springs have gone up 7.3% in the past year, according to Zillow with the median price of homes sold being $295,800.
But Duarte said Colorado Springs remains relatively affordable when compared to other Front Range communities.
“But, when you compare that to the incomes of some of the most vulnerable people in our community it's still completely out of reach,” she said. “So that's where making sure people know their rights can make all the difference..”
Stories from the Close To Home project
Interviews have been edited for length and clarity
Madeline Benhmin struggled with her neighbor’s dogs. She said they weren’t kept under control in the tight quarters of their apartment complex and that triggered her PTSD from a dog attack as a child. She sought help from the landlord, which led to several lawsuits , but instead of getting relief, she ended up without a place to live.
Note: PTSD or Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder is considered a disability. Under the Fair Housing Act, a landlord “may not refuse to make reasonable accommodations in rules, policies, practices or services if necessary for the disabled person to use the housing.” It is the responsibility of a tenant to disclose any disability. Multiple calls from 91.5 KRCC to Animal Control about protocol for protecting oneself from animals were not returned.
J. Demetria Powell, or J.D. said she was evicted from an apartment for not paying rent, a charge she disputes. That eviction, and the lack of affordable housing in the city, has left her with few options.
Note: Under the Fair Housing Act, changes can’t be made to a lease unless both parties agree, and any agreements not part of the original lease should be in writing.
A woman who wishes to remain anonymous said she was the victim of domestic abuse. She applied for the Violence Against Women Act or VAWA, but she said the public housing authority took nearly a year to find her a new home — all the while, jeopardizing her safety.
Note: The Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) prohibits public housing authorities from denying housing to any person simply because they have been a victim of domestic violence, dating violence, or stalking. The act also says “survivors and their dependents are to be granted emergency transfers to any available safe unit if remaining in their current location gives them reason to fear for their lives and/or safety.” We contacted the Colorado Springs Housing Authority for some insight, and while he couldn’t address this specific situation, a spokesman said VAWA transfers are a high priority but the course of action depends on various circumstances.
Close to Home is made possible by the Pikes Peak Library District and Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) funds.