In one complex, a picture of the county |

In one complex, a picture of the county

SILVERTHORNE – Lisa Underwood stood in the courtyard at her home in Villa Sierra Madre Friday afternoon, watching her son and daughter play, occasionally chiding them to put down a rock and stay clear of the road.

It’s a wonderful place to live, Underwood said of the affordable apartment complex off Blue River Parkway at the north end of Silverthorne’s business core. The complex is owned by the Denver Archdiocese of the Roman Catholic Church.

There are plenty of friendly families – evident from the tidy yards spotted with bicycles and brightly colored plastic play sets.

It’s the kind of place where, when a child doesn’t come home at twilight, dozens of neighbors walk the area to knock on doors and look in the surrounding fields until the child is found.

But it’s a stepping stone, a layover before a home of their own, or another leg in a journey looking for work and stability. And lately, the throes of the economy are writ plain in this microcosm of Summit County.

Underwood works at Dillon’s Starbucks and as a massage therapist. Her husband, Darby, works at Silverthorne’s Pizza Hut. When they aren’t working, they spend time with 2-year-old Stryder and 5-year-old Hendrix. It’s tough getting by in Summit County, Underwood said, but the young couple makes do. But they’ve seen plenty of their neighbors move on.

The transient nature of Sierra Villa Madre’s population is similar to that of the rest of the county. Residents at the complex, however, are not seasonal workers; they must sign a year-long lease. Apartment manager Linda Ravia said recent departures are likely a sign that the downturn in the nation’s economy is hitting home.

For the first time in the four years that Ravia has managed the complex, there is no waiting list of families looking to move in.

“We’ve always had someone ready to move in,” Ravia said. “This is very unusual.”

The complex’s residents mirror the diversity of the county: About 60 percent of tenants are white, about a third Latino, and the rest are Africans and Eastern Europeans. Ravia tracks the inhabitants as part of the requirements of the Archdiocese, which is able to offer reduced rent for the tax credit it receives from the government.

Ravia said her renters work in service jobs, at the ski resorts, at stores like Wal-Mart and Target or in construction. Jobs are in short supply, and the people who would formerly be on the complex’s waiting list are looking for work elsewhere. In addition, Ravia said, current residents are struggling with layoffs and cutbacks in hours at their jobs.

“It’s really just started happening in the past couple months,” Ravia said. “It’s unbelievable. I’ve been running ads and even offering two weeks free and I can’t get any traffic. I don’t know what it would take to get back to normal.”

It isn’t all bad news, though. Some families have left Villa Sierra Madre to move into condominiums and homes they were able to afford by saving while paying a reduced rent and low interest rates.

Friday, Kevin Allen was loading his son’s old bed into his SUV. It’s time to buy the 2-year-old a bigger bed, he said. Allen, a construction worker who has lived in the complex with his wife for four years, said that, recently, many of his neighbors moved out.

“Several of them found condos in Wildernest,” Allen said. “One was able to get a condo in Keystone, where she works, with the help of the company. I think it’s all just a sign of the economy.”

Reid Williams can be reached at (970) 668-3998, ext. 237, or

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