Low-income seniors living in Littleton's Geneva Village, a city-owned, age-restricted housing complex, say they are left with few options if a council decision forces them to move.
Colorado Community Media met with 12 of the 20 residents living in Geneva Village following an April 26 city council meeting where proposals to sell or renovate the property were discussed with staff.
Residents have worried what might become of their homes since fall 2019, when notices taped to tenant's doors informed them that the city would stop filling vacancies in the complex "pending further decisions."
Though the property remains business as usual, according to city staff, residents said they fear being displaced by a sale or renovation in years to come.
"It's scary because you don't know if you're going to have a place to live or not," said Mary Hanson, 72, who has lived in Geneva for three years.
All 12 residents said they live on a fixed income, either from social security or pensions. City staff estimates Geneva's 20 residents pay an average monthly rent of $375, though some pay more than $400 depending on the unit.
The average rent in Littleton for a one-bedroom apartment ranges from around $1,700 to $1,900 per month. None of the 12 residents said they could afford to pay such costs with most saying their incomes range between $1,300 to $1,500 per month.
But affordable options are available for residents who may need to leave, said Corey Reitz, executive director for South Metro Housing Options, Littleton's housing authority.
South Metro owns and manages several affordable properties around Littleton including Bradley House, Allison Court and Amity Plaza. Though the average rent offered ranges from just under $1,000 to more than $3,000 per month, eligible renters will see much of this subsidized, Reitz said.
Rents for those three properties are around $400 to $500 per month, according to Reitz, meaning some Geneva residents could see a more than $100 increase in rents if they choose to apply.
“Those would be great opportunities for the Geneva residents,” Reitz said.
Another option, posed by council member Jerry Valdes, is for residents to apply for housing vouchers and get on waitlists for other subsidized housing.
"I'd recommended the folks that live over there that they should apply for Section 8 vouchers or site-based vouchers ... because that's where ultimately I'm thinking this is going to go," Valdes said during the April 26 council meeting.
Two residents who said they'd inquired about vouchers and subsidized housing said waitlists are full and there were no more vouchers left, at least not for subsidized housing in Littleton.
Reitz said South Metro's housing has seen waitlists open for its various properties several times over the past year, though it can take years for someone to be placed. Currently, a waitlist is open for units at Powers Circle Apartments, and Reitz said Alyson Court Homes will see a waitlist open within the next month, urging residents to apply.
But the 12 residents who met with Colorado Community Media said they don't see another alternative if they're forced to move, especially with waitlists that can take years to find someone a new home.
"We'd be on the street," said Carol "Smitty" Smith, 83, who has lived in Geneva for 15 years.
The property's future has long been uncertain.
Built in 1964 and owned by the city since 1975, Geneva Village had been managed through South Metro until it handed the responsibility to the city in 2019.
South Metro, in a March 2019 letter to city council, said because Geneva Village's rents were so low it couldn't guarantee it could afford to comply with a legal mandate to provide “safe and sanitary dwelling accommodations.”
The city, which has heavily subsidized the property to the tune of $123,000 per year according to staff, has pondered raising the property's rents, but those efforts have stalled in the face of past opposition from residents and other community members. The city estimates it loses more than $34,000 per year from subsidizing the property.
Littleton City Manager Mark Relph called Geneva Village's issues "the city's fault," and said "we haven't managed it properly."
Now city officials and council are looking at other options which include possibly selling the property to a private developer, which would almost certainly see the existing units scrapped for new ones, or renovating the site.
The cost of renovation is estimated to be $2.8 million, though it could exceed $3 million due to inflation according to Public Works Director Keith Reester.
Residents have said it's unnecessary for the city to spend that much money, though Reester said it's what's needed to elevate the homes to a better living standard.
City staff have expressed concerns over the units' conditions. A city assessment of several vacant homes showed each had asbestos tile underneath carpeting. Lead paint and electrical issues were also identified, according to Reester.
Reester said while no homes that are currently occupied were assessed, he is confident the findings of the vacant units apply to all homes in Geneva Village.
“We know that if there are five units in a building, and we look at two of them, there are the same characteristics in the other three," Reester said.
Residents have pushed back, maintaining their homes are "just fine," said Robyn Bernstein, 68, who has lived in Geneva for five years. None of the 12 residents thought their homes were unsafe or not up to a livable standard.
Mayor Kyle Schlachter and Mayor Pro Tem Gretchen Rydin visited Geneva Village in early March to speak with residents and see the conditions of units.
Schlachter said what he saw was "very nice, very clean” and that there “didn’t seem to be many fixes that were glaringly obvious.”
But he also said issues are likely hidden beneath the surface, such as the asbestos tiles, and said he trusts city staff's assessment of the site's needs.
Councilmember Stephen Barr said while residents may not see issues, he is "not comfortable having folks be in a place with exposures of lead paint and asbestos.
“Regardless of how your tenants feel, it is our responsibility as a city to do what is correct, what is healthy, what is safe for our residents," Barr said.
As residents worry, Schlachter said their safety and security are top of mind for the city and assured them that they would be housed if forced to move.
“This idea that the city would just kick people out onto the street is just inaccurate,” Schlachter said.
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