Andrea Carlstrom

It is a well-known fact that Chaffee County, along with the entire state of Colorado, is experiencing a challenge in providing all residents with safe, secure and affordable housing.

Here at the Department of Public Health, we see firsthand, every day, that housing is not just about homes. Housing is about overall health and well-being – for our teachers, public servants, tourism industry employees and the entire community.

In 2018, I had the unique opportunity to participate on an advisory committee to create An Equity Action Guide: Creating Thriving Communities in Colorado which is a report generated by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment’s Office of Health Equity.

The Office of Health Equity’s mission is to build partnerships to mobilize community power and transform systems to advance health equity and environmental justice. Its vision is that every Coloradan has equitable access and opportunity to thrive regardless of who they are or where they come from.

This philosophy is at the core of our local and governmental public health system. In the report, one concept in particular that really resonated with me and the work that Chaffee County Public Health strives to provide in our communities: “Home is more than where the heart is.”

When there is a shortage of affordable housing, families and individuals have no other choice but to live in substandard housing. Paying for housing can force a trade-off – housing versus food, heating, and other basic needs.

If it is difficult to pay rent, mortgage or utility bills, we are less likely to afford and pursue medical care, which in turn promotes greater usage of emergency services.

Healthy and affordable homes promote good physical and mental health. Unfortunately, Colorado is one of the least affordable places to live in the country, ranking 45th in the nation when it comes to housing affordability, when comparing home values to household incomes.

Luckily, answers do exist, and we are working every day to determine how we can be part of the solution. One avenue is our new speaker series, “Housing and Health: Building Opportunity and Equity in Chaffee County,” which is being implemented under a grant from the state Office of Health Equity and in partnership with the Chaffee County Office of Housing and Development Department.

The intent of this speaker series, which brings nationally-known affordable-housing experts to Chaffee County, is to present potential – and practical – solutions to the affordable housing challenge.

Topics so far have included incremental community development, financial implications of development patterns, and lean urbanism. The topics were selected based on a survey of land use topics that are important to Chaffee County.

Free community sessions have already started in Buena Vista, Poncha Springs and Salida. But there’s still plenty of time to be involved, as the series will run through spring 2020.

So that everyone can participate, we hold these sessions over the lunch and dinner hours and provide free meals and childcare for attendees. Gas vouchers are also available to those who may need them.

We also hold drawings for gift cards at each event and are live streaming on Facebook Live on the Housing Policy Advisory Committee’s FB page, for those who can’t make it in person.

Our next event will be a workshop on Nov. 15 focused on how creative collaboration in our communities can jump-start affordable housing solutions.

Erick Mueller and Eric Bruno, two professors from CU-Boulder’s Deming Center for Entrepreneurship, will be leading a highly interactive, mind-stretching, inspiration-building workshop.

By using the power of entrepreneurship combined with your great ideas, together we can tackle the challenges of housing affordability and availability and leave with practical, tangible next steps to implement.

To stay up-to-date on the series, follow the Housing Policy Advisory Committee on Facebook, or for more information, please don’t hesitate to reach out to me, acarlstrom@chaffeecounty.org, or Becky Gray, bgray@chaffeecounty.org. Thanks to everyone who has already been involved. We look forward to seeing you at our next session.

Carlstrom is director of Chaffee County Public Health.

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