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Mesa Verde Inn in Cortez Becomes Latest Flashpoint in Southwest Colorado Housing Crisis

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The American Holiday Mesa Verde Inn, also known as the Mesa Verde Inn, is on South Broadway in Cortez.

The budget hotel had become a haven for people and families suffering from housing insecurity. But it closed March 7, forcing dozens of residents to move out, some with no other housing options.

By the evening of Saturday, March 6, a final notice was posted on most of the rooms at the Mesa Verde Inn, a budget hotel on the south side of Cortez. The notice said that residents had to vacate the premises with all of their belongings by noon the next day.

Misty Cornett's family was among those packing up their cars in the parking lot the next morning. And Cornett wasn't sure where they were going to live next.

Cornett: "It's horrible. There's no other options."

She said that most house or apartment rentals are too expensive. Especially with all of the upfront costs that most landlords require, like a security deposit or multiple months' rent.

That's why Cornett's family chose to live at the Mesa Verde Inn in the first place.

Cornett: "It was kind of just a simpler spot because they would let them work for the rent and stuff. So it was kind of easier."

Now she didn't know where they were headed, but, she said, a homeless shelter was not an option.

Cornett: "That's just not who we are really. So we're just gonna do what we need to do and get a house."

Thirty people, including families, were forced to move out of the Mesa Verde Inn that day.

The hotel was facing fire and safety code violations on top of mounting financial debt. The plan is to close down most of the hotel so that it can be repaired and brought up to code, according to hotel management and Cortez city officials. And residents confirmed they were given 30 days notice to vacate the premises, but some were not able to find housing that quickly.

The hotel had become a haven for people and families like Misty Cornett's that could not afford to rent an apartment or a house in the usual manner. That's mostly because the hotel allowed for weekly or monthly rentals at low rates with no upfront cost.

The Mesa Verde Inn complex is made up of five, two-story buildings. Residents were evicted from four of the five buildings. The motel's manager, Glen McCord, says that he only evicted tenants who had not been paying their rent.

McCord: "I didn't want to have to get to the point of doing this. But I had no choice. Because I have too many residents in there that don't want to pay their rent."

He says that, if a tenant had a record of regular payment, he was allowing them to stay in the one remaining building.

McCord lives in a house attached to the hotel. He's 66 years old and requires supplemental oxygen for COPD. According to him, his son bought the place two years ago, which is when he became the manager. He says that many tenants didn't pay their rent or utility bills and as a result, he's been stuck with tens of thousands of dollars in bills.

McCord: "Why should I pay for them to live here when they don't want to pay to live for themselves? I can't do it. I can't afford it."

The property has a bunch of fire and safety code violations, and according to McCord, it's going to take a lot of work to bring the place back up to code. McCord also says he plans to continue running the Mesa Verde Inn once it's ready to be opened back up.

But, he says he's going to approach new tenants differently.

McCord: "I'm gonna be selective on who I rent to. If you don't have a job. You ain't getting a room. And I'm not renting to locals no more."

That means there will be one less option for local residents who are in need of low-priced housing. And options for low-income housing in Cortez and Montezuma County are already almost nonexistent.

Laurie Knutson is the Executive Director of the Bridge Shelter in Cortez. The Bridge is mainly a shelter for people who are unhoused, but it also includes a few units of transitional housing that offer support for people transitioning off the streets.

It's also the only adult shelter within almost 50 miles.

Knutson: "The Mesa Verde Inn is a microcosm of housing issues across the country."

She also says that affordable housing inventory is one of the biggest problems in Cortez and Montezuma County.

Knutson: "It's the sheer lack of units that are available at affordable levels."

But there are actually a number of affordable housing developments in the works in the area, according to both Knutson and city officials. The developers include The Pinon Project, a local community development organization, and the Montezuma County Housing Authority.

But Knutson also says these projects won't help people who are impacted right now by housing insecurity.

Knutson: "It's the bloody time it takes to go from planning to getting the funding to getting the building up and getting the piece of paper that says you're ready to occupy. And in the meantime, I don't know what some of the answers are."

She says it usually takes about two and a half years for an affordable housing facility to go from the planning stage to when it's actually opened to residents.

And that's not the only problem.

Often there are facility-specific limitations at affordable housing complexes. The Bridge Shelter, for example, does not take in families or people with pets. And to be clear, an emergency shelter like The Bridge is mostly for short-term stays. But there are also various programs and facilities that are meant for long-term low-income housing.

And that system gets even more complicated.

For example, even if a person is able to qualify for government housing assistance, like a housing voucher, sometimes that person still won't qualify for specific facilities.

Rubie Izad is one of the residents of the Mesa Verde Inn who gets to stay in the remaining building. She has a lot of experience navigating the low-income housing system and is currently on governmental housing assistance. One major hurdle to subsidized housing that she's encountered is long waitlists.

Izad: "I have a hard time finding a place to go with my voucher. And that's with a housing voucher, it's almost impossible to find low-income housing. There's a list that's just a mile long."

But Izad says the problems that many housing insecure people face are not limited to housing.

Izad: "It's poverty, period."

By that she means poverty is created by issues that perpetuate each other, in addition to housing. Issues like food access, internet access, or low wages. She also says she thinks some of the residents from the Mesa Verde Inn will likely end up sleeping outside because they just won't be able to find a place to live.

Izad: "They're so young. And they're just, it's just heartbreaking to see that."

Community organizers were able to raise money and find other hotel rooms for the Inn's former residents. One of the organizers, Eve Hemingway, said she booked rooms for nineteen families that didn't have housing after the Inn closed. But the money they raised was only able to cover rooms for one week.

Now, Hemingway says, at least eleven families are homeless.

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This story was originally published March 16, 2021 by KSJD Radio.

Mark Duggan provided online production of this story for KSUT.