Becky Grey, who will become the first Chaffee County housing director this month, describes herself as a Colorado girl coming home.
“It took me twenty years to figure out how to get back here,” said Grey, speaking by phone from Pittsburgh, Kan., about 4 miles from the border of Missouri. “I was born and grew up near Niwot, in a little place called Hygiene. Marriage and career took me away from Colorado. Our son got impatient with us and moved back to Colorado to live with family in Paonia. He’s the one who called and said, ‘Mom, look at this job I saw in Chaffee County. You’re perfect for this.’”
“It’s been a whirlwind, we’re living among boxes and chaos. My first goal is to unload the refrigerator, washer and dryer,” said Grey, who officially becomes the county’s new housing director June 15 but will make a special trip to Salida Thursday, June 7, for a meeting with the Chaffee County Housing Policy Advisory Committee.
She, her husband and her 14-year-old daughter have found a six-month rental on J Street. Grey’s husband, a builder, is getting started on plans to build a house on Methodist Mountain. Grey said she is anxious to dive into her new role, which will begin with a lot of listening, lots of community meetings and a look at the groundwork done over the past 18 months by HPAC.
Asked about her approach to Chaffee County, Grey said that, not having started her new role, she’s not yet familiar enough with the data to make any definitive statements about the county’s housing situation. “But I liken it to the housing crisis happening nationwide. In so many places people are saying ‘I can’t afford to live here.’ So one could say, in that sense, Chaffee County is typical. Because it’s hard to find a place that isn’t experiencing housing difficulties.”
Her housing philosophy, she said, is rooted in her own experiences. “I have struggled with housing in the past, so I understand the difficultly of earning minimum wage and being able to afford safe and affordable housing. Then I got a corporate job where I did data analysis related to social grants serving homeless people with persistent mental illness. That’s when I began to understand that policy around housing is how you can impact the community as a whole and help individuals who are struggling.”
That philosophical stance is rooted, said Grey, in Maslow’s “A Theory of Human Motivation” (a developmental psychology framework proposed in 1943 by Abraham Maslow). Maslow’s work ranks the priorities of human motivation – physiological, safety, love and belonging, esteem and self-actualization. Maslow said that, unless the basic needs of security and safety are met, the others are difficult, if not possible, to meet.
“The hierarchy applies not just to individual wants and needs, but to communities as a whole. If communities are struggling with housing, then the community is limited in its own evolution. I realized that, without more education, I couldn’t really help, so with the encouragement of mentors and based on the financial data I was gathering, I decided to be a grant writer. I got a master’s degree in English and technical and professional writing with an emphasis on government writing.”
Armed with more education, Grey said she decided “to become expert on writing government legalese; the language and formulation of ordinances and proclamations to meet those basic human needs. Shelter is at the core of our development as a community and the core of development for kids. The three words ‘safe, stable and affordable,’ are the core of civic life, the basis of our cultural evolution.
“A house can be stable and safe but not affordable. When it becomes not affordable, then it is not stable and that’s very destructive to kids, to brain development and their futures. The important piece is to understand what those three words mean to housing – safe, stable and affordable.”
Grey’s enthusiasm for the county is evident. “Chaffee County is a really remarkable place to live, and people who have the means or desire to change their lives come here. I guess you can compare my approach to the metaphor of a swimming pool. I could just jump in feet first and act like I know what direction to swim. But I think it’s better to wade in to it slowly.
“This will be my first opportunity to hear what objectives and goals the county has in mind. The first order will be to understand who all the stakeholders are, take in the vision and identify the barriers to that vision – understand what tools are already in the tool box – then look at some other tools not in play.
“We’re exited to join the community. My daughter is excited to start high school – I hope I’m able to contribute positively to what is going on. … Efforts like this are always team efforts. I hope my contribution will be to help bring safe, stable and affordable housing to Chaffee County.”