Durango took steps Tuesday toward its first housing complex focused entirely on supporting unhoused and disabled populations.
The Espero Apartments, planned for a site near Greenmount Cemetery, will offer housing, health and career services for people experiencing homelessness. Durango City Council approved lease agreements and easement requests during a meeting Tuesday, after a public hearing in which several Durango residents spoke in opposition to the project.
“It’s just so exciting that we are now at the stage of talking about the intricate details, like construction and easements,” said Elizabeth Salkind, executive director of Housing Solutions for the Southwest. Housing Solutions and Blueline Development are co-developers on the project.
The Espero Apartments, which will be on 1.33 acres, include 40 one-bedroom apartments for people who have disabling conditions, have been unhoused and make 30% or less of the area median income. The permanent supportive housing model aligns with national best practices for effective transitional housing, the development team said.
The project, about seven years in the making, already has the city’s approval, outside funding and completed design plans. City Council voted unanimously Tuesday to approve technical aspects of the project, including a 99-year lease and easements for utilities and emergency access.
The $10 million project is funded by highly competitive, low-income housing tax credits. The city of Durango will not incur any construction or operating costs.
Construction will begin in late summer or early fall. The project will take about one year to complete.
During public comment, several residents expressed concerns about drug use, crime and disruptive behavior connected to people experiencing homelessness.
Doug Lyon opposed the project. He expressed concerns about its proximity to Greenmount Cemetery, especially after seeing a person, who he said was homeless, sleeping in the cemetery near his mother’s grave.
“I cannot take a risk that my 86-year-old father will be accosted by some homeless guy while he’s visiting my mother,” Lyon said.
Councilor Chris Bettin said the project was the “antithesis” of those concerns.
“This particular piece of the puzzle ... is such a critical piece in the community that helps people find a way into a more supportive and sustainable future in the community,” Bettin said.
Stan and Carolyn Mason mistakenly conflated Espero with a separate permanent homeless camp proposed on a nearby site by the Neighbors in Need Alliance. NINA’s proposal could be a replacement for the current camp at Purple Cliffs.
Unlike the NINA proposal, Espero is not a homeless shelter or camp. Nor is it a treatment facility. Tenants will be recommended by community partners for permanent housing at Espero and selected based on a needs assessment.
Tenants will have access to health, job and nutrition services on-site as needed. Blueline Development will act as the property manager, and security will be present on-site. Tenants pay a portion of their income in rent, and the state covers the cost gap, the development team said.
“We’re not a homeless shelter. We’re not a treatment facility. We’re not a camp. We’re people’s homes. They have the same rights and responsibilities as you and I have in our homes,” said Brigid Korce with Housing Solutions.