On a blue-skied and sunny Thursday, the Espero Apartments, a supportive housing project at 1053 Avenida del Sol, opened to much applause. The housing complex is Durango’s first dedicated entirely to low-income, unhoused and disabled residents.
A host of speakers, community members and the large team who made the project happen cheered as Housing Solutions for the Southwest Executive Director Elizabeth Salkind and Brigid Korce, development director for Housing Solutions’ housing and homelessness programs, cut the red ribbon.
“What I’m realizing in the middle of my 3 a.m. dreams is just how many little parts and pieces it took to make this happen,” Salkind said.
The multimillion dollar project is years in the making and will feature 40 units of supportive housing with clinical services located in the complex.
“Housing is health care. That’s why we’re here,” said Dr. Stephanie Allred, senior clinical director with Axis Health System, which will be providing those services.
“As a psychologist, I am very knowledgeable about all kinds of treatments that are really effective for trauma recovery and substance use recovery and treating mental health conditions,” Allred said. “But most of those have zero effectiveness if somebody is not in a secure and safe home.”
The grand opening began with a land acknowledgment followed by seven speakers, including Durango Mayor Pro Tem Barbara Noseworthy and La Plata County Commissioner Matt Salka who spoke in support of the project.
“It’s been a long time coming and so very needed,” Noseworthy said.
People who earn 30% and below the area median income or who have experienced homelessness or have a disability are eligible for the subsidized housing.
A $1.4 million grant from the Colorado Division of Housing’s Homeless Solutions Program will ensure that rent continues to be affordable for Espero residents, said Andrew Atchley, housing specialist with the Colorado Department of Local Affairs.
For those who have been involved in the development of Espero Apartments, the process has been long and at times frustrating. Espero is a second attempt at a supportive housing complex after an initial project never came to fruition.
Zoe LeBeau, CEO of BeauxSimone Consulting, which works with communities to create supportive housing, attributed the lack of initial traction to misunderstandings about the projects.
“I think, in retrospect, the primary reason was the community just wasn’t ready for it,” LeBeau said. “And it was partly they didn’t really understand what it was. It sounded scary.”
LeBeau took a moment to outline expectations for the complex.
“Really what we’re talking about is multifamily rental housing that is absolutely beautiful, livable, trauma informed, safe, secure, (a) healthy place for people to heal from trauma that is not time-limited,” she said.
But she cautioned against thinking that one supportive housing project would be a panacea for homelessness and the ongoing housing crisis.
“You have a building full of human beings like the rest of us,” LeBeau said.