Pamala True with her Labrador, Choco. He is one year and three months old. He has probably moved seven times by now in his short life. Photo by Elizabeth Key

The current housing crisis in the Roaring Fork Valley is putting many working-class locals on the brink of homelessness. Wages are falling far short of the Valley’s cost of living; long-term locals are having their housing sold out from under them; and unique communities are being washed out as a result.

Lynn Kirchner has owned Amoré Realty in Carbondale since 1993. For the past nine years, she has run Carbondale Homeless Assistance, an organization that aids the Valley’s homeless with securing food and other necessities. Kirchner has noticed a growing category of the almost homeless over the past four years. She offers seminars and educational events to raise awareness about the crisis in the Roaring Fork Valley. She says homelessness in this valley is often caused by displacing “incidents,” as opposed to substance abuse or mental illness.

Kirchner gives the example of a recent incident involving longtime locals, “He was renting a three-bedroom, 2.5-bath house for about $1,500 a month, and it’s an incredible deal, but his landlord realized he could sell the house for close to a million dollars … so he just put two long-term tenants that have been with him 15 years out on the street in 30 days…” Kirchner explains that the market value of what those tenants had is now akin to $3,500 per month.

To be considered in a secure, self-sustaining financial position, a person must have enough savings to pay their bills for 18 months without income, says Kirchner. People who attend her seminars often find this statistic shocking when they realize the almost homeless category includes their demographic. An increasing percentage of the population lives paycheck to paycheck, or only has a few months of savings.

Kirchner says, “One missed day of work, one flat tire, one sick kid … puts you in that almost homeless category because you do not have the means to sustain yourself. That is the way the majority of the working class live in our valley … people are living on the edge.”

Landscape gardener Pamala True moved to Carbondale in 2004. She is a longtime local who has fallen into the recently but not chronically homeless category. Since June, she has lived in her tent with her dog, Choco. True has experienced several displacing “incidents” where her long-term rentals suddenly became unavailable.

True says, “The greed is through the roof. There is no compassion in raising someone’s rent $1,000 a month or doubling it … I feel like we are losing a lot of our community spirit. Everything is about money.” Not only have the rents become unaffordable, but the practice of requiring first, last and security deposits has also become a standard. This approach puts renters in a position where they must come up with thousands of dollars upfront.

When asked if she intends to leave the valley, True says, “Carbondale is my community. I love Carbondale, Carbondale is my home. I don’t want to leave my home … It takes years, two decades, to develop being part of a community.” If True leaves the Valley, she not only loses her community but her source of income from her landscaping clientele.

The pandemic has inspired a mass migration of city dwellers to rural territories. Newcomers compete with locals for decreasing housing inventory, exacerbating the inflated rents. The extreme demand for housing has Carbondale constructing apartment blocks reminiscent of urban areas. Still, these new housing options do little to satiate housing demand. 

True says, “Carbondale is soon going to be gone, and there will be all new people here. Unless you own a house that you bought a long time ago, then we are just not going to be able to afford to live here.” She asks, “Where is the compassion? It is very sad and tragic to me because Carbondale is so special, and we are losing it so fast.”

According to Kirchner, there is a general lack of services and solutions for this housing crisis. “It’s got to be a county-wide, area-wide commitment,” she says. The I-70 commute adds expenses — especially with the increasing cost of gas — and extra time away from home. It also increases the likelihood of homelessness-inducing “incidents” for Valley workers.

Many long-term locals are defeated by this new housing dynamic. True has nowhere to go and no family safety net. She is camping out with a positive attitude, hoping for a helping hand from her community. “It’s just really grim,” she says, “and a lot of locals are dealing with this.”

Pamala True invites the community to contact her with any housing options, including pet/horse and house sitting, by calling 970-309-7113.