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More than 800 Superior and Louisville residents living in government-subsidized or below market rate rentals were evacuated during the Marshall Fire, according to a local housing authority.
Most have returned to their homes, the Boulder County Housing Authority (BCHA) said, except for two families and two individuals. Those who haven’t returned are living with family, or are staying at a hotel or Airbnb.
One family’s home, which was subsidized by housing vouchers, was destroyed. But according to BCHA, all of the housing authority’s properties intended to serve low- and middle-income families were spared by the fire.
BCHA, a quasi-governmental entity, partners with the county to help manage its affordable housing stock. All of its 346 rental homes in Louisville were evacuated during the Dec. 30 disaster, according to a presentation to Boulder County commissioners last week.
Due in part to concerns over the cost of hotels, property managers and first responders had to persuade some residents to leave their homes, according to Norrie Boyd, the director of the Boulder County Housing Authority.
“People would not leave. They didn’t even have money to pay for their own hotel. BCHA agreed to cover their hotel costs in order to get them out. And that was the deciding factor for some people to even choose to leave their apartment,” she told county commissioners last week.
Another challenge, Boyd said, was transportation. Some people didn’t have cars. Others had disabilities that made it difficult to get on a bus.
Boulder Valley School District bus drivers and the transportation company Via helped throughout the night, she said, loading people onto wheelchair-accessible buses and taking them to hotels and the Red Cross emergency shelter in Lafayette.
The community helped ensure most residents didn’t “slip between the cracks,” Boyd said.
But the good news came with a downside: a tight housing market became even tighter.
Government efforts to free up housing
The Marshall Fire destroyed more than a thousand homes, leaving one resident confirmed dead and another suspected to have died in the fire. Many families are still displaced, including 828 students in the Boulder Valley School District, according to the district.
In an effort to free up more housing for those displaced by the fire, housing authorities have waived income restrictions. The housing authorities are also allowing people to rent month-to-month, instead of a year.
Most affordable rentals are available to families earning between 30-80% the area median income. In Boulder County, the median family income is $112,000, according to the U.S. Census. That number rises to $127,000 for families within Boulder city limits.
Housing officials said removing the requirement to have renters’ income verified is intended to expedite the application and move-in process for those who urgently need housing.
But these changes have had a relatively small impact. Fewer than a dozen affordable housing units have been leased out to families displaced by the fire, according to interviews with local housing officials.
One reason is there are relatively few affordable homes on the market to begin with.
Less than 10% of the City of Boulder’s housing stock is considered permanently affordable for low- and middle-income residents, according to city data
Boulder Housing Partners has 26 properties listed under the city’s affordable housing program. Boyd said the county housing authority has about 10 rental properties available.
“I’m not happy with the tight rental market. And it just got tighter,” Boyd said. “How are we going to serve the desperate need that has become even more desperate?”
Clarification: A previous version of this article identified the Boulder County Housing Authority as a private company. It is a quasi-governmental entity of the county.
Clarification: This story was edited to clarify the intention of the Boulder County Housing Authority‘s decision to waive income requirements for its affordable units in the wake of the Marshall Fire. By lifting the requirement to verify renters’ income, local housing officials say they’re helping lower-income residents who urgently need affordable housing get into it faster.