Aurora kicks off symposia series on affordable housing

AURORA — Aurora kicked off an affordable housing symposia series Monday morning to discuss innovative ways to provide more housing options.

The conference, which was held inside City Council Chambers, aimed to spark a conversation between community groups to find a collaborative solution. Several guest speakers presented their ideas for tackling the problem.

“Homelessness is on the rise here in Colorado and we really need to address housing solutions for everyone in our community,” said James Gillespie with Mile High Behavioral Healthcare. “So, we’re hoping to bring in some innovative models and fresh models to help investigate — are these maybe things that we can employ here in Colorado?” 

One idea that came up was tiny home villages. Cole Chandler from the Colorado Village Collaborative said the average cost of an affordable housing unit in Denver is about $250,000. His group can build a tiny home between $2,000 and $25,000, he said. 

Chandler said he believes these homes could serve as a solution for the homeless, couples, students, or small families, and could be used as transitional housing. He said the Denver metro area is about 68,000 units short of the number needed to house everyone. 

EarthinBlocks, a group that works with the Dali Lama to build houses in Tibet and China, as well as American cities, also presented an idea: The organization has a portable machine that creates blocks used to construct houses. The needed materials— sand and cement — are cheap and abundant and could cut down on the cost of a home, a representative said.  

The big question in Colorado, though, is where to build the homes as the value of land increases. The guest speakers presented a couple ideas for possible solutions.

The first is a congregational land campaign that uses undeveloped land owned by churches to develop affordable housing units.

The second proposal was land trusts, where a nonprofit group buys the land and then individual developers or homeowners pay to build homes on it. This cuts down on cost since about 18 percent of a home’s overall cost is the land it sits on, said Nathan Davis Hunt with Interfaith Alliance of Colorado. 

Gillespie said a combination of numerous ideas is the best way to truly find an affordable housing solution for Aurora.

“The real way we’re going to have an impact is to take a regional approach to work together across county lines and across city lines and really think about how we can pool our resources together to, frankly, get the most bang out of the taxpayer buck, but also, how do we house the most people with the resources we have?” Gillespie said.

Ana Temu