Colorado U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet joined a group of bipartisan colleagues last week in calling on the Office of Management and Budget to provide information on changes to the availability and cost of federal firefighter housing.
In Colorado housing issues have been identified as a key barrier to firefighter recruitment, and firefighters and other service workers find it difficult to live in the city where they work, according to a news release from Bennet.
“Federal wildland firefighters have a difficult and dangerous job, and it is the federal government’s responsibility to support them in this work,” according to the release. “We look forward to discussing these issues in detail and working with you to address the barriers to firefighter recruitment and retention.”
The issue has both national and local magnitude. For years, Durango has been grappling with an affordable housing crisis for working residents, as the price of housing continues to rise. This has caused workers such as firefighters, teachers and nurses to resort to living outside city limits, where housing is cheaper.
Although there is designated housing for firefighters, it is often in poor condition and still unaffordable. Living outside of Durango poses a short-term solution, yet leads to greater difficulty retaining firefighters as well as recruiting new ones.
While workforce housing developments in Durango have helped provide more affordable housing, the issue remains pervasive, requiring more attention. For firefighters, quality housing is essential to the job, but has steadily become unattainable because of housing prices.
In recent years, the U.S. Forest Service and Department of Interior have experienced chronic wildland firefighter staffing shortages. Much of that has to do with relocation and housing costs.
The cost of a remote duty station, which includes the federal costs of housing, are in poor condition and are still expensive; many wildland firefighters work in remote areas with little available private housing, making them reliant on federally owned housing even with the high cost.
Bennet has been working to change that, advocating for more support and pay for firefighters. Last year, Bennet welcomed the administration’s announcement that it would use $600 million from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law to increase pay and provide additional support for wildland firefighters after urging the administration to prepare to implement the provisions.
Sarah Mattalian is an intern for The Durango Herald and The Journal in Cortez and a student at American University in Washington, D.C. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.