If you talk to long-time residents or past residents of the bay area in San Francisco you hear a lot of the same stories. Those that stayed and were able to support their families had to acclimate or start something with the big players of the area. Or to put is simply, they got high paying jobs, we’re able to afford the expensive housing, and are likely thriving in the culture there because they can afford it.Those that couldn’t afford the changes in rent are now being pushed to the burbs, if not the street and it’s creating a lot of friction.
The thing is that Homelessness, and those experiencing it, is not higher in places like San Francisco, but reflective of other communities and areas in the United States. Including my city, Fort Collins.
The difference may be largely in tourism and visibility. In San Francisco affluence and poverty sit next to each other, and it’s very visible to visitors to the city. For those in Fort Collins experiencing homelessness, they are often hidden. They stay with family, sleep in cars, or find places in wooded areas to camp, rest, or simply sit. Fort Collins, significantly smaller in size, has the ability to also discourage camping, while a city of San Francisco’s size would lack some of those same resources and also hidden locations.
Regardless of visibility, the problem is similar. As tech companies move in, and rent increases, it becomes increasingly harder for people to make it. Fort Collins, and Colorado, has had a boom in the number of people moving to the state, along with an increase in the cost of living. Due to the legalization of marijuana and the business that has developed from it, the popularity of Colorado has also increased. Then compound it with its natural beauty, progressive views, and friendly people….you see the appeal of moving here.
It’s also much cheaper here than in many parts of California, and other coastal areas such as New York so it’s appealing as a relocation option.
Except many of those that have lived in Colorado for their whole lives or have been here for more than a decade are feeling the crunch of trying to survive.
I’m not excluded from this.
When I started college in 2011 I could easily find places to rent in Denver for $400 or less. I actually had the ability to choose an apartment, near downtown and close to my school for $600/month and it was luxurious for my needs. Today, 2016, similar apartments in that area rent for upwards of $1200 a month. Meaning the cost has doubled, but income hasn’t.
Fort Collins isn’t looking much different, when I moved here in 2012 we could easily find 2-bedroom condos and homes for rent for well under $1000/month. Today we would be lucky to find anything for less than $1200/month and most likely would pay $1500 or more. We’re not even near major metro lines, businesses, or airports. Instead we’re an odd suburb-like city that mostly functions on its own and for a select clientele.
To break down the issue, it’s that there is no minimum wage specific for Fort Collins or Denver, but rather a state-version that is a whole $8.31, if you aren’t a tipped worker. Federal minimum wage is $7.24, so we’re a little better, but not much.
According to Huff Post in a May 2016 article ( a year earlier it was $19.89), one would need to make $21.21/hour just to make rent. At the moment I make about half that.
To be self-sufficient in Larimer County Colorado, meaning to earn enough to live comfortably, not rely on income-based housing etc. A family of four would need to make over $72,000 annually and this is BEFORE DEBT, so if you have student loans, increase by your monthly payment.
This breaks down to $17.01/hour for 40 hours a week for EACH adult, if you have a 2-parent household. As a single parent you need to make about $30.68/hour or over $64,000 annually.
This also reflects on the cost of homes and who can afford them. My fiance and I earn too little to qualify for a loan big enough to actually purchase anything in Fort Collins that is worth living in. Anything “cheap” enough is a mobile home, a condo with limits on the loans it qualifies for, and maybe a plot of land. It’s a dream I have always had, and one that is probably less and less of a reality.
The extra fun part is when you don’t earn enough to afford everything, but you earn too much to continue qualifying for things like medicaid, food stamps, and income-based housing. Which ultimately means your extra dollars are then used to help you barely get by.
And it’s not just the public feeling fenced in, but small businesses struggle as rent prices rise and wealthy startups are able to move in. Including my favorite asian imports store that is now a tattoo parlour. BECAUSE in Fort Collins, a tattoo business has become more profitable than groceries, clothing and knick-knacks. It’s more popular among the affluent college students as well.
That is when you wish and pray and meditate and apply and get extra credits etc. etc. for that better job that is not guaranteed and not available and you slowly the the existential dread…
Anyway, this is a blog, and somewhat opinion, but the reality is that Colorado is in a position that something has to change or we will be reaching crisis levels in need, and ability to get by. Maybe rent-caps are the answer, and cities investing in more affordable housing and maybe increasing the minimum wage, along with single-payer healthcare.
Which would mean that we could afford to live in a location that we want to live. It would also mean that our taxes guaranteed a health safety net, for everyone, no excuses.
If we paid for university people like me wouldn’t have a request of $700/month debt payment I can’t pay. Maybe we could also make sure our universities were teaching the best level of education to make sure they were educating for real jobs and opportunities.
Perfection is impossible, but we’re so far behind the rest of the developed world as a nation, that we need to figure out some priorities and act on them or we will lack the ability to ever catch up.