By Philip Shea, Associate Editor
As the last of the flames from this summer’s record-breaking wildfire are extinguished, many residents in Colorado Springs and surrounding municipalities are finding themselves without permanent residency. Tragically, it is estimated that over 600 buildings and homes were destroyed in what is now the most destructive inferno in the state’s history, with over 32,000 people evacuated from affected areas.
The epicenter of the damage occurred in the westernmost suburbs of the metro and near Manitou Springs—a municipality just seven miles west of downtown Colorado Springs. The Denver Post reports that the Waldo Canyon fire burned across 18,427 acres and destroyed 347 structures, while a similar fire in High Park burned across 87,284 acres and claimed 259 homes. The fires were responsible for three deaths metrowide.
In the initial days, many of those evacuated sought temporary lodging in hotels and motels across the region. Yet as it became apparent that many homes and neighborhoods had been damaged or destroyed, the impetus for a more long-term solution weighed heavily. Tony Valdez, a resident of the Mountain Shadows area, is one of many considering a temporary transition to apartment-living—at least until it’s safe to return to his neighborhood.
“If it’s going to be longer-term then we will probably look at getting an apartment,” Valdez told the Colorado Springs Gazette. “But it’s hard to tell how long we’ll be out of our homes. Nobody seems to know.”
Valdez and others may be able to catch a break with this move. According to the Gazette, many apartment owners and property management associations are working together to help find temporary housing for evacuees for the weeks, or even months, ahead.
One resource that has already been of tremendous help to evacuees is a one-stop-shop database specifically designed to connect them to property management companies offering special deals. Apartments Etc., a local apartment marketing company, has set up an easy-to-use website that is assisting those affected by the fire to find short-term or month-to-month leases, as well as flexibility with regard to pet policies and residency requirements.
Keven Miesse, owner of Apartments Etc., tells the Gazette that almost all major apartment companies are offering some kind of special for evacuees. “There’s also a variety of different pricing for evacuees that isn’t on our site,” he says. “We call and make sure that what you need is available before you try to go out and see it.”
Dunmire Property Management, a company which manages over 1,800 rental units throughout Colorado Springs, has set aside about 50 units for evacuees and is offering free rent for the month of July and waiving the application fee, security deposit and pet deposit—as well as offering immediate move-in. According to Crystal Dunmire, owner of the property management company, those fees and deposits add up to nearly $800. “I’m just waiving all of those because now is the time when we need to band together as a community,” she told the Gazette.
However, evacuees should be realistic when scoping out what is available at this point. As Kevin Miesse points out, furnished and more high-end apartments are few and far between, with an overall multifamily vacancy rate of 4.8 percent.
“Some people may need to adjust their expectations and live temporarily in a lower-end property for a time,” says Crystal Dunmire. “It’s difficult if they want to stay on the west side. There aren’t nearly as many apartments.”
Still, the opportunity made available by so many multifamily owners and operators in the wake of such a disaster is encouraging. Many residents whose homes have either been damaged or destroyed will likely be without permanent residence for some time to come, and any accommodation for them will be a benefit for the community overall.
“It’s all over the spectrum in terms of what people need,” Laura Russman, executive director for the Apartment Association of Colorado, told the Gazette. “I was pleasantly surprised to see how many people came forward and what they were offering.”