The Adventure Inn, located near Main Avenue and 35th Street, could become a part of the solution to Durango’s housing woes as soon as the end of this year.
La Plata County commissioners voted unanimously Tuesday to approve the use of American Rescue Plan Act funds – a $100,400 grant and a $70,000 no-interest loan – by the Community Investment Alliance to pursue converting the motel into bridge housing.
The project is in preliminary the stages as a due diligence process gets underway.
The Community Investment Alliance is an Aurora-based nonprofit, which in 2021, was cofounded by Jenn Lopez, the founder of Durango-based housing consulting firm Project Moxie. In partnership with other Durango service providers such as the La Plata County Collaborative Management Program, the Neighbors in Need Alliance and Manna soup kitchen, the Alliance is seeking to take advantage of state funding to develop housing solutions.
The project is similar to, albeit not the same as, the city of Durango’s conversion of a former Best Western hotel into affordable housing units. La Plata County will not own the Adventure Inn – the Best Western is owned by a private developer – and the units will be transitional bridge housing, rather than affordable rental units.
Bridge housing is also not a shelter, which is an emergency service on the continuum of care.
The model provides individual housing units, in this case hotel rooms, to people with an acute need for affordable housing. The temporary housing element is integrated with other supportive services to help residents find a long-term housing solution.
Houselessness often occurs as the result of sudden changes in income or expenses. But the harm that ensues once someone is without a house can be swift, sending one into a cycle that can take years to escape.
“Usually once someone becomes unhoused, their job is at risk, education for kiddos is at risk, it's just a rolling stone,” said the Alliance’s CEO Kathleen Van Voorhis. “So bridge housing brings them into a room.”
It can easily take a year before someone can obtain a long-term affordable housing unit in Durango.
The idea with bridge housing is to keep rents as low as possible – likely somewhere in the range of $500 to $700 per unit monthly. Master leases would be held by partners such as the La Plata County Collaborative Management Program and Manna, organizations that expend upward of $2,500 per month to keep an at-risk person in a hotel.
Preliminary plans for the site would include an on-site property manager who would live in a separate apartment, as well as other 24-hour staff.
“We’re putting you in a secure place where you’re safe, where we can work with you and our partners to ensure that we are connecting you with community resources who are also working with you on housing navigation,” Van Voorhis told commissioners Tuesday.
The Alliance made a $2.75 million offer on the property, which was accepted June 19. The $70,000 loan will be used as earnest payment on the property while the $100,400 grant is used to perform a more in-depth due diligence process.
The allocation follows a $159,800 grant approved by commissioners in May to conduct community engagement and initial property analysis.
The purchase and sale agreement is contingent upon the Alliance’s ability to find other funding for the purchase. La Plata County is not funding the purchase itself.
On Tuesday, Lopez told commissioners that state officials were “very encouraging” about the prospect of using funds from two state grants established in 2022. The Legislature passed two bills establishing grant programs with a combined total of $243 million available.
The five-year outlook of the project, at this preliminary point, relies primarily on state funding. If funding were to dry up, Lopez said the backup plan would be to convert the units into affordable housing.
Lopez also described the project, her third motel conversion, as the “least risky one I’ve worked on,” and said the small scale, quality of the building and location make it feel “very feasible to us at this point in time.”
The Alliance is not anticipating any zoning hiccups with the city given that the building is already a motel.
In the past, proposals or murmurs of offering services to houseless people in Durango have been met with derision and vociferous protest.
The bridge housing model provides a different service from those that fall under “emergency services” such as an overnight or warming shelter.
“Creating safe communities for all residents is a top priority,” Van Voorhis wrote in an email to The Durango Herald. “We're excited to collaborate to construct secure environments using our current resources. Our aim is to provide stability to those experiencing housing insecurity, and we believe that this initiative requires the involvement of every member of our community.”
Commissioner Marsha Porter-Norton applauded the effort to address homelessness in La Plata County, invoking an oft-repeated point that the county is committed to not walking away from the problem after the closure of the Purple Cliffs camp in September.
If all goes as planned, the Alliance hopes to have units available for occupancy by the end of the year.