Across Colorado, the mounting housing affordability crisis has left thousands of people without homes. Many more are overburdened by the steep cost of rental housing, or are forced into substandard living conditions. A shortage of developable land contributes and deepens the problem: in rapidly-growing metro areas, the availability and cost of undeveloped land is a significant barrier to developing new affordable units.
According to a recent study, 50% of Colorado renters are cost burdened, meaning they spend more than 30% of their income on housing (Shift Research Lab, 2018). In order to afford a two bedroom rental in Colorado, a full time worker must earn at least $21.97 an hour (NLIHC, 2017). The price of land represents one of the most significant costs associated with housing development, at an average of 18% in the U.S. (Shift Research Lab, 2018).
In the midst of this challenge is a tremendous resource: many of Colorado’s diverse congregations of all faiths believe deeply in addressing the housing crisis and building opportunity, and happen to own thousands of acres of underutilized land. In just Denver, Jefferson, Arapahoe and Douglas counties, congregations own more than 5,000 acres of undeveloped land. Some of the land has never been developed; other parcels have sat vacant since the 1950s. In many cases, congregations are mowing or maintaining these lots at significant cost, with no real benefit to the church or community.
Because this is a relatively new concept for most faith-based communities, we are currently implementing an educational and outreach campaign, working closely with congregations on a series of workshops and charrettes to design housing, childcare and other projects that meet community needs.
As a result, we developed a streamlined process and technical assistance package that will help this first set of congregations explore housing options, identify development models that meet their needs and the needs of the community, and prepare them to quickly evaluate feasibility and begin working with developers.