I commend our City Council members for their recent decision to grant Animas View Mobile Home Park $500,000 to help stabilize rent for residents.
This resolution reflects the type of forward-thinking policies our town needs to retain a stable working class, which has faced steep inflation, a tight housing market and stagnant wages for over a decade.
Ultimately, supporting the working class – which is the backbone of any community – will contribute to the stability of our entire region. This is particularly true in Durango, where our quality of life is dependent on the services that the working class provides.
I know the value of supporting the working class in tourist towns from firsthand experience. I was born in Telluride in the early 1980s, where I lived a truly magical childhood. However, by the time I was 8, rent was so high we were forced to move. Over the years, I’ve watched Telluride transform from a hidden mountain valley defined by deep community connections into a tourist mecca with relatively shallow social roots. Today, Telluride’s working class residents live either in overcrowded apartments or in satellite communities including Montrose, Naturita, Norwood and Nucla.
Growing up in Norwood, I came to realize that the geographic distance between wealthy homeowners and the working class also contributes to political and cultural divides that run just as deep as wealth gaps. As a teenager, I found that relatively rigid social divisions defined most gatherings, including sporting events, backyard barbecues and festivals.
In 2018, after years outside the region, I was hired at Fort Lewis College. Alongside my wife and three kids, I was thrilled to move home to Colorado. Walking along Durango’s Main Avenue, I felt transported back in time. As I watched families of different backgrounds and nationalities walk in and out of businesses, I could sense the same deep community connections that defined my first years of life in Telluride.
However, it was also clear that things were changing.
The night we pulled into Durango, we got a flat tire. The next day, AAA sent someone out to lend a hand. The service man stepped out of his car, squared me up, and said, “Welcome to Durango. I hope you brought a way to make a living.”
I thanked him for the warning.
“Hmm,” he responded, with a hint of disdain.
Since then, I’ve personally come to better understand our community’s high cost of living. As a professor, I live month to month. And many of my colleagues simply don’t make enough to envision a future here. As a result, FLC has a hard time hiring and retaining professors. Our staff and student body face a similar reality.
But FLC isn’t alone. Businesses across town struggle to keep employees because of the high cost of living. General inflation is up 4.2% since 2020, and home appraisals in La Plata County are up 20%. Put simply, life in Durango has become much more expensive in recent years.
I know that not everyone supports the city’s decision to back Animas View. However, it’s important to recognize that without tangible commitments to affordable housing, our strong sense of community in Durango could easily slip away. Supporting Animas View isn’t about supporting one neighborhood; it’s about reinforcing the backbone of our economy – the working class.
Moving forward, I would encourage our councilors to support more communities like Animas View. In doing so, they will ensure a better future for us all.
Benjamin Waddell is an associate professor of sociology at Fort Lewis College. He is also a father, husband, advocate for social justice and contributing writer for Rocky Mountain PBS, HuffPost, The Conversation, The Week and High Country News.