KING’S RANSOM? Colfax motel weekly rent hike highlights affordable housing shortage

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AURORA | For close to three years, Mike Alexander has called the King’s Inn on East Colfax Avenue home — even if he doesn’t give it an especially strong review.

Maybe a half a star on a five-star scale, Alexander said this week.

“Now they want five-star rates for a half-star room,” he said outside the rundown, four-story motel near Colfax and Peoria Street. “It’s truly ridiculous.”

Alexander is one of dozens of longtime residents at King’s who say new ownership suddenly jacked up the rates last week — in his case, his rent skyrocketed from $225 a week to $455 — forcing families and longtime residents to search for other housing options.

And the advocates who work on behalf of low-income Aurora families say the crisis at King’s is part of a bigger problem: In an expensive housing market, there aren’t as many East Colfax motels as there once was, and what’s left is often too pricey to serve as the sort of makeshift, temporary shelter the more seedy motels once were.

“We need more low-income housing, everyone is aware of that,” said Shelley McKittrick, Homelessness Program director for the city of Aurora.

Even before the rate hike, McKittrick said a city committee had been working for months to try to move families out of places like King’s and into more-stable housing — specifically a home where they had a lease and the sorts of protections that kind of contract affords.

But when rates at King’s jumped up it put city staff and other advocates for the homeless in crisis mode, she said.

“We want to get these families out of these motels in a non-urgent way,” she said. “It’s not a place for kids to grow up.”

The city has $40,000 set aside to help families transition to more-stable housing situations, she said, money that can help cover things like a deposit on a rental or first month’s rent, expenses that working families scraping by often struggle to cover.

What the city needs now, McKittrick said, is for a few landlords to step up and help house residents being pushed out of King’s Inn.

Specifically, she said the city is looking for landlords who can be flexible about credit scores and the occasional decades-old felony charge that may be barriers for some of the residents.

Also, they really need pet-friendly landlords because that desire to stay with their furry friends — more so than financial issues — is often what keeps tenants calling places like King’s home, she said.

The perception may be that residents there aren’t working, McKittrick said, but that isn’t the case.

“They wouldn’t be here if they were not working,” she said. “How would they pay?”

Megan Vizina, executive director of the Colfax Community Network, said places like King’s serve as “default shelters” for Aurora families with no other options.

Since the rate hike and subsequent controversy, she said CCN’s staff has been in crisis mode trying to help in anyway they can. That’s meant trying to link residents there not just with housing help, but with mental health and emotional support as many of them face losing their home.

“The King’s Inn is a community,” she said, sitting at a table in front of room No. 104, doling out snacks, housing help and well wishes to the motel’s residents.

For Alexander, it’s frustrating to hear people claim now that King’s is a typical motel where people stay a night or two and move on.

“It’s a residential motel, has been forever,” he said, finishing a Pall Mall.

As he spoke, Alexander had a black pistol holstered on his right hip and two ammunition magazines on his left. He said he served in the Marine Corps. and is plenty comfortable with a firearm, but only started carrying it at King’s when tensions rose last week following the rate hikes.

Hopefully, Alexander said, he, his wife and son will be out of King’s soon, a move they’ve been close to making several times before during their stay there.

“We just aren’t making quite enough to save up quick enough to get out of here,” he said.