More teacher housing units open in Carbondale |

More teacher housing units open in Carbondale

Tatiana Flowers
Bill Lamont is recognized at the teacher housing ribbon cutting ceremony in Carbondale on Wednesday afternoon. Lamont, a former Roaring Fork District school board member, has been an advocate and community leader for teacher housing in the valley since 2007.
Chelsea Self / Post Independent

Three of four affordable staff-housing complexes are complete and another group of Roaring Fork School District teachers will soon have the opportunity to move into one-, two- or three-bedroom apartments — this time in Carbondale.

Community members, building architects and local teachers attended a ribbon cutting ceremony Wednesday to celebrate the opening of the 20-unit apartment complex on the school district’s property on Third Street in Carbondale.

The almost three-year initiative led by the Roaring Fork School District works to address the longstanding housing crisis in the Roaring Fork Valley and to attain and retain top quality teachers.

It’s a topic of discussion that comes up often during school board meetings. Amanda Martinez, who is moving into the newest complex, says the opportunity helps.

“I think the point is to promote longevity of teachers in our school district,” said Martinez, a sixth-grade language arts teacher at Carbondale Middle School.

“You hire young teachers or people who have young families, and the cost of living in the valley is so high that turnover becomes a negative factor,” she added.

According to the Garfield County Housing Authority, the median household value for a home in Carbondale is $448,000, while teachers in the valley could start out making as low as $36,000 a year.

Martinez and her husband both teach at Carbondale Middle School, “So we’re a family on two teaching salaries,” she said.

The two are moving into their Carbondale-based unit Aug. 6, and Martinez said if she and her husband had not been selected as tenants, in a few years they’d likely be struggling or forced out of the valley.

Martinez is entering her third year of teaching at Carbondale Middle School, and she says cheaper bills will allow her and her husband to save money, which will help make their dream of starting a family a reality.

The new affordable housing complexes were made possible by local taxpayers, who voted to approve a $122 million bond issue in November 2015.

Of those funds, the school district designated $15 million to build a minimum of 15 affordable housing units per community in Basalt, Carbondale and Glenwood Springs.

The district plans to provide 61 units total, once the last housing complex is completed at the Cardiff Mesa project, in Glenwood Springs across from Cardiff Glen.

“Before staff housing became available, we feared that we would have to relocate back to Denver so that we could afford to own a house once again,” said Nicole Forristal, a local kindergarten teacher.

“In just the short time that we’ve lived in staff housing, we’ve saved so much on gas alone because our commute is no longer an hour,” she told school district officials.

Local teachers have recently led rallies, as part of a much larger national movement, to protest low wages and the lack of funding for education in the state of Colorado.

The National Education Association ranks starting teacher salaries by state. For the 2015 to 2016 school year, it ranked Colorado starting teacher salaries at 39th lowest in the country. But when regional cost of living was accounted for, that number jumped from 39th to 46th.

“The affordable staff housing program is an important benefit that will help us recruit, hire and retain the best staff for our district,” said Jeff Gatlin, chief operating officer for the school district, in a statement on the district’s site.

Gatlin and 11 other committee members spent months developing guidelines for the housing project and he said the new addition has led the school district to attain new talent.

As previously reported by the Post Independent, a teacher or staff member must work at least 30 hours a week for the district to be eligible for the housing.

Under the rules, monthly rents are capped at 26-30 percent of a household income, whether that’s a teacher and another adult wage earner who doesn’t work for the district, or groups of district employees banding together as roommates.

Rather than the guidelines being based on the area median income (AMI), as many affordable housing programs do, the teacher housing program will establish rents based on the median income for district employees, Gatlin explained previously.

The last units are expected to open in Cardiff Glen in mid-October, Gatlin said this week.

Aside from recruiting and retaining teachers, school board member Matt Hamilton said it’s especially important to provide housing, particularly for young teachers.

“This is the kind of thing that leaves a mark on our community for a long time and is a positive addition,” Hamilton said.

“It’s really a phenomenal project,” he added.

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