Otero County resident Shelly Bauer attended the Monday Board of County Commissioners meeting to ask commissioners to work with municipal governments in the county to provide shelter to persons struggling with homelessness or other affordable housing needs. Bauer read from a statement she'd prepared prior to the meeting.
During the public participation segment of the regular Monday meeting, Bauer said, "I'd like to bring to your attention issues concerning housing. Availability, affordability and quality. Overall, everyone who rents is affected by this. But single males are hit the hardest. Very few landlords want to rent to single men; they would rather rent to families. Who can blame them? As a rule, families represent stability and reliability."
Single men, Bauer explained, have a stigma attached to them that reflects values antithetical to familial stability and reliability. She noted how single men are often viewed as unattached and unreliable, and asserted that was a stereotype.
"Rules are not only steadfast and stereotypes are often wrong," as Bauer put it.
Bauer reviewed observations she's made about affordable rental housing across the county. She counted 13 apartment complexes with a total of 515 total units across the county - none of which had vacancies when she inquired, said Bauer. She also found 17 rentable houses.
"Now consider affordability: Just for the sake of argument let's assume that every single man is earning minimum wage with an approximate net monthly income of $1,514.
"Rent should only ever be 30% of your total monthly income, that for single men being $454 a month. Of the 17 houses that I found, only five were at or below the $454. The remaining 12 averaged $1,416 a month."
Bauer continued, saying that there were likely more than just 17 houses for rent. But she also doubted the housing quality of other options. She said she's found rentable houses in Rocky Ford charging upward of $750 in monthly rent, and that single men are often relegated to "rat traps and roach motels, having to pay 50-60% of their income for that privilege."
She told the story of a man she's acquainted with who lost his job about five months ago. The Rocky Ford man, who lacked a car or a driver's license to legally drive it, had no choice but to seek work in town. There wasn't much work to be found.
The man, Bauer explained, had spent the rest of his small savings on rent, and a few months after losing his job, he was facing eviction. The man took refuge in an abandoned house, laying low and keeping his head down, until one night he was confronted by a neighbor with a "tactical flashlight attached to a handgun."
The man's been able to find some work - about 15 hours a week, according to Bauer.
She said she knows of others in similar situations.
"In Rocky Ford alone, I have heard of two gentleman who were living in storage units," Bauer said. "Two men that are living in dirt floor sheds in abandoned houses. Two that are living in garages of other people's houses. And one gentleman is living in the storage room of a neighborhood barbershop."
Bauer asked commissioners to speak with the governing bodies of cities and towns in Otero County to come up with a solution to the many questions of housing, including affordability and availability.
Commissioner Keith Goodwin said that housing related issues often go overlooked or ignored, and thanked Bauer for participating at the Monday meeting.