By Joe Thompson
We all know that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. The national housing crisis is most definitely on the crazy train. In our local community of Longmont, a recently published report revealed that housing is on average over 31% of income. When you factor in other necessary payments per month (childcare, car, utilities, cell phone, insurance etc. etc. etc.) it becomes clear that most people are simply working to keep a roof over their head with barely anything left.
This creates a situation of hopelessness and I believe is contributing to the “great resignation.” People are sick and tired of being sick and tired. The wealth disparity is growing exponentially and somehow, we, as a society, believe following the same approach (again, one that has failed time and time again) will solve this housing crisis. No, it will not. It will only serve to make more properties available by investors who are only trying to enrich themselves. They will, of course, say they’re trying to help people, but everyone, including themselves, know that is not the truth. How have we not seen past this façade? How do we continue to accept the co-existing narratives that tell us the “market” is driving pricing and that there really is not much we can do about it? How have we not completely upended the mortgage process, building materials, energy efficiency, etc.? This is all possible and much more. What would need to be done for this to happen? Simply, a complete re-write of how loans are made, how housing is built, who benefits, and (in my opinion) the most important piece of this puzzle: how is the community truly formed.
There are successful models of communities all over the world-changing the issues outlined above for the better. Longmont’s ability to do so begins with embracing the concept that our current system of finance, building, and energy needs a complete overhaul. As Buckminster Fuller said, “You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something build a new model that makes the old model obsolete.” We as a society can and must change how we view housing and communities. Is this a big task? Of course, it is. Is it possible? Without a doubt.
Too many families in Longmont are being forced to relocate due to housing costs and many potential citizens are choosing other locations to live since they can’t afford to reside in Longmont. At the last City Council meeting of 2021, we heard from many members of the community in support of Prosper Longmont and its mission to address the affordable and accessible housing issues we are facing. We heard from an executive at a local hospital describe how they cannot attract talent due to the cost of living in Longmont. We heard representatives from the local higher education community lament why their students and potential students are choosing other locations. While I understand that many within the community do not see this as an issue since it does not currently impact them. Maybe they own their house, have rental properties, or simply view this as the “free market” running its course. (No time to delve into the fact that our current market is a mutation of government assistance/subsidies and an overall rigged system that does not allow companies to fail but instead bails them out and keeps zombie companies alive with artificially low interest rates.) The truth of the matter is, Longmont is only viable because of the entire community and all its amenities. If more amenities shut down or relocate, how long will Longmont be Longmont?
This is my first attempt to bring a completely fresh perspective to the entire housing crisis. While many people are addressing this issue, I’m starting to become somewhat jaded with the business-as-usual approach. Building high-density housing that fits the model of some data analyst’s spreadsheet of “obtainable housing” does nothing to solve this. It just checks some boxes and makes rich people richer. Are Longmont’s families better off? Do they have affordable childcare close to their homes? Is there an energy source for heating and cooling that is environmentally progressive and cost-efficient? Do they have hope and are they optimistic about the future because of the efforts underway by Prosper Longmont and other like-minded groups? We must as a community learn to stop viewing issues in isolation. Otherwise, the larger issue of community members not seeing that hope and optimism will fester over time. We must tackle all the issues that families are being faced with. As part of Prosper Longmont, I’m heading the community outreach and advocacy subcommittee. In that role, I will be gathering stories from community members about their struggles and issues with housing and living in general. We can streamline this information to propel Prosper Longmont and City Council to act in a much more fortuitous manner that will bring long-term value to this community we love so much. Our ancestors faced problems much larger than this and we’re here because of their ability to come together and solve problems. Necessity is the mother of invention and right now the need to upend the housing and community structure is imperative. I look forward to hearing from many of our community members and helping Prosper Longmont achieve the goal of creating a healthier, happier, and more sustainable community.