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City should stand up for affordable housing 

There is perhaps no better proof that the free market doesn't magically solve all ills than the affordable-housing crunch now facing Colorado Springs (see "House of Cards," this week).

It's time that city leaders recognize this reality and dedicate the money necessary to help leverage the private and federal funds needed to build and maintain affordable housing in our growing city.

Currently, there are no city funds dedicated directly toward the provision of permanent low-income housing. The city money that is spent, roughly $230,000 a year, goes largely toward paying the salaries of those who administer federal housing programs.

While this is an important city expenditure, it does not begin to provide new apartments or homes for the increasing number of people in this city who need a roof over their heads.

Why is the time now for some local government intervention?

As the city by the peak boomed in the last decade, the private housing market built complex after complex of high-end homes that catered to the growing ranks of relatively well-heeled professionals moving into Colorado Springs.

At the same time, private developers did not build a comparable number of homes and apartment building accessible to those who wash the cars, serve the coffee, pack the groceries and defend the national interest of those buying more expensive homes.

Meanwhile, the city is losing federally subsidized apartments that have long kept the bottom from falling out of the local low-end housing market.

Affordable-housing advocates have seen this trend building for years. But this month, a group of concerned citizens from a wide range of interests -- representing developers, real estate agents and citizen activists -- will present the Colorado Springs City Council with a report that quantifies just how bad the problem really is.

According to that report, it's pretty bad.

As home prices doubled in the last 10 years, the number of people unable to afford those homes increased by one-fifth, according to one part of the report, prepared by a Denver-based consulting firm. In total, the report says, Colorado Springs needs roughly 37,000 more affordable rental units and about 27,000 more low-income homes.

The total price tag, according to the consultants, would come to about $6 billion. But that's only if the city wants to tackle the problem comprehensively -- an unlikely outcome given the high price tag.

Of course, the city doesn't need to come up with the entire $6 billion. In fact, it would only need to spend a fraction of that over the next several decades to make a good start leveraging federal, state, private and non-profit dollars. But it's time for the city to come up with some a real-money, via a dedicated funding mechanism like a sales tax or real estate transfer fee that would help local city agencies and non-profits buy, build and administer low-income units.

While some argue that the city can pay for affordable housing from its general fund, the same pool that provides basic city services, we favor a dedicated revenue stream. Now that federal housing funds are being slashed, local non-profits need a fund they can rely on as they try to pull together complex housing deals.

Whatever means the City Council chooses to tackle this issue as it analyzes the housing reports to be present to Council on Oct. 11, it is imperative that it take concrete and aggressive steps. Meanwhile, it's time that taxpayers begin to make a more concrete contribution toward buying the bricks and mortar needed to shelter the growing number of working poor in Colorado Springs.

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