Laurel Herndon on the importance of affordable housing to a welcoming city

Laurel Herndon is Co-Director and Founder of the Immigrant Legal Center of Boulder County. She gave a compelling presentation to Planning Board December 16, 2021 in support of the Grace Commons project at 16th Street and Walnut in Boulder that will add 30 units of permanently affordable housing to downtown. Her forceful statement, which preceded that of a dozen other project supporters, had an impact that is reflected in the result. The Planning Board unanimously approved the project. Ms. Herndon’s remarks are set forth in full below.

Photo by Omer Unlu on

“Good Evening Members of the Planning Board. My name is Laurel Herndon and I am the Co-Director, along with Belen Pargas Solis, of the Immigrant Legal Center of Boulder County. We are located at 948 North Street in Boulder, just South of the old Community Hospital. 

“Our organization appreciates the service of Grace Commons Church in providing food and clothing to low-income community members at their central Boulder location. And we heartily endorse this expansion proposal. We have clients who have benefited from services to homeless and low-income residents in the past, and would like to see opportunities increased to serve more people.

“I am passionate about this project because two of my clients, both refugees from Africa have given up on Boulder in the past three years. The men did not know each other; they never crossed paths; but each gave an identical assessment of Boulder: “I am not welcome here.” Under-housed individuals are vulnerable, powerless, and have often been treated with scorn. Based on our past actions as a community, it is difficult to say that my clients’ assessments were inaccurate. 

“So one left to Glenwood Springs and the other to California, making the work of the Immigrant Legal Center significantly more difficult. 

“These two men, one from Congo and one from South Sudan, were accepted into official U.S. refugee programs. They were brought to the United States and each found his way to Boulder: one in 2015 and the other in 2020. They suffer from trauma caused by war, and need a supportive setting to help get on their feet. If the Grace Commons Expansion Project had existed back then, they might have found that supportive setting: affordable housing in a central location, with services in the building, and easy access to employment at one of the many restaurants currently screaming for help. 

“As we discuss the needs of Afghan refugees who may be coming to our area, let’s learn from our shortcomings and build a better system. 

“Boulder residents have voted for a new approach, and Grace Commons Expansion is an excellent step in that direction.”

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