The long-awaited supportive housing complex, Espero Apartments, is taking shape near Greenmount Cemetery on the west side of town.
Residents and visitors might have noticed the building’s framework coming together in recent months on a mountainside west of downtown Durango – the result of more than seven years of planning. Housing Solutions for the Southwest, which is developing the project alongside Blueline Development, celebrated the progress with an old rite of passage for construction projects: signing a beam within the building.
“It’s beyond exciting,” said Elizabeth Salkind, the nonprofit’s executive director. “When you’re working on a project for this long, there are moments when it doesn’t feel real. ... To physically see its construction, for me, is life-changing.”
The apartment complex will provide 40 one-bedroom units of permanent housing on 1.33 acres, reserved for people who have disabling conditions, have been unhoused and make 30% or less of the area median income. Residents will have access to supportive programs related to housing, health and career development.
It is the first complex of its kind in the region, Salkind said.
FCI Constructors has framed the building to the third floor. The installation of waterlines, plumbing, Wi-Fi and other infrastructure is underway. Several mock units have been built and are ready for floor plan inspection.
Construction is on schedule and should be completed in October, she said. The nonprofit expects to begin signing leases with residents beginning in November through January 2022.
“We can move forward with the next steps, which are to really solidify our service partners and our resident selection – who in this community, that we see now, could actually be a resident,” Salkind said.
The $10 million project is funded by highly competitive, low-income housing tax credits. The city of Durango unanimously approved a 99-year lease and easements for the project in July.
During its approval process, several residents mistakenly conflated Espero with a permanent homeless camp or expressed concerns about drug use, crime and disruptive behavior.
Housing Solutions wanted to be clear: Espero is not a shelter, a treatment facility or transitional housing. People can rent units in the apartment complex for as long as they want. Residents will pay rent and must fulfill the terms of their lease agreements, just like any other renter.
The only difference is they also have access to on-site programming. Axis Health System will provide case management services. Manna will help address any food security issues as soon as residents move into a unit. And the Southwest Center for Independence will provide independent living services, like assistance with accessing public transit or applying for benefits, said Brigid Korce, program and development director for Housing Solutions.
The partners are setting up processes for easy communication and moving eligible people into units. They’re navigating multiple funding sources, each with its own regulations and strings attached.
“It’s more complicated than it sounds,” Korce said. “We’re trying to create a strong foundation and framework for the project’s success.”
Housing Solutions is in the early stages of a $250,000 fundraising effort to provide furnishings for units, Korce said.
Espero will fill a gap in the types of housing that Durango is able to offer, the nonprofit said.
The city of Durango is working to create a spectrum of housing, including a permanent campsite for people experiencing homelessness. Durango officials are also grappling with a lack of affordable and attainable options for renting and homeownership.
Espero represents a permanent home for people who might have found themselves without a consistent place to live or the support they need to live independently.
“What we’re hoping to have happen is that people see the importance of bringing these opportunities to people who often earn the lowest incomes and have the most barriers to getting into housing,” Korce said. “It benefits all of us as a community to provide that type of housing.”