Working poor in Aurora still having trouble finding affordable places to live

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AURORA | In 2013, Comitis Crisis Center, the only 24-hour, four-season shelter in Aurora was at 99 percent capacity. In that year alone, it provided nearly 15,000 shelter nights in its family wing and a little over 18,000 shelter nights in its emergency shelter wing.

“We call it Comitis Tetris,” said program spokesman James Gillespie of the shuffling that goes on to keep families together with the 25 beds that can accommodate them for up to five months at the program’s Anschutz Medical Campus location. The agency has 97 beds total that  also provide shelter to runaway and homeless youth, veterans with families, and that are used for emergency overnight shelter. 

 Comitis is among a number of agencies in Aurora who are finding it difficult to provide housing for the homeless and near-homeless in the city, a problem that has been exacerbated by the metro area’s soaring rental market. Roughly two out of three people that stay at the shelter are not chronically homeless, according to Gillespie, meaning they have become homeless in the past year.

“There’s not enough affordable housing,” said Craig Maraschky, executive director with Aurora Housing Authority. He said his agency has been struggling to place homeless families through Aurora At Home, a collaborative program that provides rental assistance to at-risk families.

“It’s a supply-and-demand issue. People that have Section 8 vouchers in Denver, they can’t find housing in Denver and they come to Aurora,” he said.

Melinda Townsend, a deputy city director of housing and family services with Aurora’s Housing Authority, added that even units that once took Section 8, or subsidized housing, are no longer available. She has heard of properties where rent fluctuates daily based on market rate.

“It’s a landlord’s market. It’s very hard. Our folks who are homeless don’t usually come with stellar credit histories, or past rental histories, which is a barrier for them,” she said.

She said the agency has not been able to house all of the 15 families it has worked with since last April. She said the agency is still looking for rental units for two of the families, and that one staff member has visited over 100 units on behalf of the applicants with no luck.

A 2014 point-in-time survey showed that homelessness impacts families particularly hard. The survey, which was conducted by the Metro Denver Homeless Initiative, found that 53 percent of the respondents lived in households with children.

What’s happening in Aurora and throughout the metro area follows a nationwide trend. From 2007 to 2011, family incomes across the country decreased by 8 percent, while the cost of housing rose 15 percent, according to the same survey.

Aurora received a grant in June to participate in a Supportive Housing Toolkit program, which will bring the city together with consultants to create affordable housing projects and programs to be pitched to investors in December.

“We have significant gaps in affordable housing,” said Aaron Gagné, manager of community development in Aurora. “The big three areas we’re working on are housing for families, veterans, and those who are either homeless or at risk of being homeless.”

Contribute to the Comitis “Adopt-a-Room” campaign at coloradogives.org/adopt-a-room