High Country native priced out of area
Vail CO, Colorado
EAGLE, Colorado ” Melissa Martinez looks sadly around at the half-packed belongings strewn around her living room.
Martinez, 35, who was born in Leadville, raised in Minturn and has lived in the Vail Valley for nearly all her life, but she just cannot afford to live here anymore, she said.
The medical receptionist will be packing her home and she and her 9-year-old daughter Brianna will be moving to the Front Range to start a new life.
“It’s gonna be sad to leave, but this will be a good opportunity,” said Martinez. She will miss the mountains and the safety of a small town, but she will not have to struggle paycheck to paycheck anymore.
Moving will also mean leaving most of her family behind ” most of her seven brothers and sisters and her mother still live in the valley.
After the doctor she worked for decided to close her practice, she looked around for another job that would pay enough. But despite her years of medical office experience, she could not find any prospects.
“No one wants to pay that much,” she said. “A lot of people want to start me at $13 or $14 an hour. That’s OK if you’re single or living with your parents, but I have to make more because of my daughter.”
As a last resort, she applied to some jobs in the Front Range and landed an office position with a marketing company in Arvada. The job pays decently, she has the chance for promotion, and rent and costs there are much lower, she said.
“I can’t believe I’m leaving, I’ve been here for so long,” she said. “I feel driven out. I just can’t make it here. I can’t do it anymore.”
Even with her current job, Martinez was barely making the $1,000 per-month rent for her three-bedroom, converted basement in Eagle.
“And I got a deal on this, too. Our landlord has been so good to us,” she said. “But still all my paycheck goes to rent. After the bills, I’m lucky to have $20 left over.”
She could get another job or get a roommate, but because of her daughter, she does not want to do either.
“I would never do that to my daughter. Even now I can’t be with her as much as I want,” she said.
She used to live in affordable rentals in Eagle-Vail with a roommate, but it was difficult.
“We felt like we were tiptoeing around or locked in our room. And Brianna always had to be quiet and could never have friends over for sleepovers and things like that,” she said.
The only reason she has been able to stay in the valley this long is because the doctor she had worked for was willing to pay her more, she said.
“She was worth it,” said Dr. Jamie Brant of Elan Health and Wellness Associates in Edwards. “She just had great interpersonal skills, went the extra mile and worked very hard. The area is definitely losing a valuable worker.”
Besides rent, Martinez said she struggled to afford other things, too, like health care and basic groceries.
Money for a grocery store trip last week, for example, came from scrounging around the house for change.
It is the mid-wage earning workers who have the hardest time here, Martinez said. While wages are higher here, they just do not cover the cost of living, she added.
She makes enough that she does not qualify for food stamps, Medicaid and bill pay assistance, but she still does not make enough to buy food at times.
She has had to go to the Salvation Army for food and gift certificates sometimes.
“I know people who say that to get by here you have to lie. You have to say you have three kids and lie on your W-4. But I don’t want to do that,” she said.
She can understand how paying workers enough to live here can be a challenge for employers, too, she said.
“They have to make a living, too. But I’ve been a citizen here forever. Why is it like this?” she asked.
Brant said that is an unfortunate aspect of hiring in the valley.
“Just because the cost of living is high, you can’t necessarily match that in wages,” she said.
Martinez said she feels the worst for her daughter. She hates that sometimes it comes down to buying Brianna books that she wants, participating in activities, or paying for food, Martinez said.
“It’s embarrassing to be in that situation. But I don’t want to ask my family for help even though I know they would take me in. I know we’ll make it,” she said.
Although it is bittersweet to leave the valley, she is excited about her move, and she knows it will be good for her daughter, she said.
Brianna’s father and his family live down there, so she will be near family, Martinez said.
“I’m excited,” said Brianna. “I’ll be closer to my dad and my cousins.”
Martinez said she might eventually go to cosmetology school, something she has always wanted to do, but never had the time or money.
“I’m ready for it. I see (this move) as an open door for me. It hurts to leave, but I won’t be too far away,” she said.
Staff Writer Melanie Wong can be reached at 748-2928 or firstname.lastname@example.org.