The number of high-poverty neighborhoods in Colorado Springs rose from six to 22 between 2000 and 2015, a study conducted by the U.S. Census and published by the Joint Center for Housing Studies of Harvard University has found.
In the Springs, low-income neighborhoods used to occupy high-density urban areas, but, following a recent national trend, the study found that the city’s poor have increasingly dispersed into the city’s outer edges: fragmented neighborhoods with potentially limited access to public transportation or support programs. The study did not specify what outlying neighborhoods the growth has occurred in, but defined “high poverty” areas as those where 20 percent or more of the population lives below the federal poverty line.
As more neighborhoods are becoming classified as high-poverty, individual families in Colorado Springs are experiencing noticeable financial struggles as well. According to a 2016 study by the Pew Research Center, Colorado Springs saw a 6.5 percent decrease in individuals occupying the middle class between 2000 and 2014.
The United States Census Bureau reported the median income for a Colorado Springs household to be $61,190 in 2016. The standard of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) for low-income household is 80 percent of the median household income of the area, while very low-income is defined as 50 percent of the median household income of the area.
Using this definition, a household that brings in less than $48,952 annually in Colorado Springs is considered low-income, while a very low-income household cannot bring in any more than $30,595 per year.
In a survey conducted by the rental service Apartment List, average rent for a Springs-area apartment is now $1,060.84 a month — unaffordable to those with the above very low-income status.
Low-income housing, provided by organizations such as the Colorado Springs Housing Authority and Greccio Housing, have strict guidelines for individuals and families to be waitlisted for placement in an affordable home. While Greccio requires applicants to meet HUD’s definition of low- or very low-income, the Housing Authority alters their standard of family income based on the number of individuals in a household, such as $36,800 for four people. Neither organization currently has housing availability.
The problem isn’t just helping those who are already low-income. With few affordable housing options, a shrinking middle class and skyrocketing rent prices, many people are at risk of finding themselves in poverty.
The need for affordable housing in Colorado Springs is only expected to increase over time. “As real incomes decline while housing costs remain the same, the need for affordable housing options in Colorado Springs and El Paso County increases,” reads The City of Colorado Springs and El Paso County’s 2014 Affordable Housing Needs Assessment. “The increase in cost burden and rise in low-income households suggests that the supply of affordable housing does not currently meet the demand for affordable housing.”
With the city bus service, Mountain Metropolitan Transit, most heavily concentrated in and around downtown, low-income individuals and families are not guaranteed to live near a bus route, therefore potentially becoming isolated from resources such as food banks, donation centers, and job counseling that often exist in urban settings.
As Colorado Springs is a sprawling city, it may become increasingly difficult to extend assistance to high-poverty neighborhoods if they start popping up on the edges of town. With financially struggling households shifting out of the public eye and into less traveled outskirts of Colorado Springs, the next steps the city must take to support its growing impoverished population remain unclear.
*Originally Published in the Colorado Springs Independent.