Horizon Heights closer and closer to becoming a reality

Photo by Priscilla Waggoner Horizon Heights is an 18-cottage community for people who are unable to rent on the open market in Alamosa. The project was formerly known as Airport Road.

ALAMOSA — Last week, Dawn Melgares, executive director of the San Luis Valley Housing Coalition (SLVHC), provided members of the economic development community with an overview of the city housing project formerly known as Airport Road. SLVHC has agreed to manage and operate the housing development once it is complete and accepting tenants.

The housing development will now be referred to as Horizon Heights, a nomenclature achieved thanks to AI based on certain parameters, including an airport connection and, as Melgares put it, “connection to those who are facing barriers based on their own choices but are now looking to make improvements in their lives, so they are looking to reach new horizons.”

And now, as the shell of the one- and two-bedroom cottages at Horizon Heights are put in place, the project is closer and closer to becoming a reality.

Melgares started her presentation by addressing a public misconception: all who live at Horizon Heights will be required to pay rent, with certain income limitations in place.

Specifically, the project requires renters’ income to be at or below 80% Area Median Income (AMI) for a person or household to qualify for a unit. AMI is defined as the midpoint of a specific area’s income distribution and is calculated on an annual basis by the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).

The income referenced is the gross income for all household members. For a single-person household in Alamosa, 80% of AMI is $48,720 or roughly equivalent to a full-time job at $23.42 an hour before taxes or deductions. For a four-person household, 80% AMI is $69,600 or the equivalent of all jobs held by household members totaling an average of $33.46 an hour.

The Colorado Housing and Financing Authority (CHFA) — a state agency that provides affordable housing and community services across the state — sets the maximum rent allowed for someone earning 80% AMI at $1,305 for a one-bedroom cottage and $1,566 for a two bedroom.

Although it is not yet a set number, the city and SLVHC anticipate rent at Horizon Heights to be approximately $400 per month for a one bedroom, 350 sf cottage, and $550 for a two-bedroom, 500 sf cottage.

The mission of the project has been the same from its conception.

Horizon Heights is a housing project meant to fill the gap of what is available in the community today. It has been built to help those who are struggling to find housing but run into a myriad of different barriers for a myriad of different reasons.

The goal is to remove these barriers and support those who have fallen into that gap to build a positive rental history that will help them in the open housing market after one to two years.

As the project is largely outcome oriented, renters get no more than two years to create this history for themselves and, ultimately, show other landlords that they are good renters regardless of what might have happened prior to their involvement with Horizon Heights.

With this mission in mind, the team has set up restrictions and preferences for entry into this housing project.

The restrictions to entry into Horizon Heights include those who, in the last five years, have been convicted of felony drug charges and or felony charges that include injury to a person or property.

Others who have been convicted of the following will be prohibited from living at Horizon Heights, regardless of when they were convicted, including those who are convicted sex offenders, those convicted of drug manufacturing or distribution, murder or attempted murder and/or have a chronic violent criminal history.

Melgares states that the list of restrictions is currently being worked on and will be submitted to the city once it is complete. Referring again to the mission, the project's goal is to remove barriers to housing while keeping others in the housing development safe. As a result, SLVHC is paying great attention to all considerations in their decisions.

Those who come from the following situations will be given a preference in renting, including youth transitioning out of the foster care system with no rental background, individuals with disabilities, veterans and housing voucher holders including Section 8 and Veterans Affairs Supported Housing (VASH).

Also, preference to entry will be given to those individuals working with partner agencies within the Valley or similar agencies outside the Valley, such as homeless shelters, where they are working with the services to be housing and job-ready; “justice involved”, where they must provide evidence they are working the programs that are required; Behavioral Health; those coming from domestic violence shelters, and those working with veterans assistance groups.

Melgares, who is extremely knowledgeable when it comes to Colorado Statutes governing affordable housing, says that — per Colorado law — if someone who applies falls in a preferred category, they can be moved up on the wait list over someone who does not fit the preference lists.

“All are welcome to apply if they fit the AMI income limits,” she says. And if no one on the wait list fits the preferences, a household without a preference will be selected based on the time of completed application and in order of submission.

Again, the program is focused on an achieved outcome over a maximum period of two years. Toward that end, for those who are living at Horizon Heights, Melgares said there will be conversations every six months, involving recertifications of income, an inspection of the cottage and conversation about program requirements required for renewal.

Returning to the mission, Melgares emphasized that Horizon Heights is to be used as “short-term permanent housing” to support those in need who have fallen into “the gap” to gain positive housing references on both timely rent payments and basic maintenance (housekeeping) of the cottages.

In other words, Horizon Heights is a steppingstone to get into market-rate housing. Toward that end, there will be a concentrated effort toward working with partner agencies to gain access to all available resources to help make life improvements for the residents at Horizon Heights, depending on individual circumstances.

Horizon Heights has been an ambitious project from the beginning and continues to be. According to City Manager Heather Sanchez, the goal is for the development to be ready for rental sometime in July of 2024.

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