What the Infrastructure Deal Means for Colorado Communities

Following the mid-November signing of what has been called a “once in a lifetime investment”, the Bipartisan Infrastructure bill (BIF) has left many wondering what the impact will be on communities. The bipartisan infrastructure bill, which was signed into law, provides $973 billion over five years and aims to rebuild the United States’ roads, bridges, airports, and rails, expand access to clean drinking water, ensure high-speed internet access, tackle the climate crisis, advance environmental justice, and invest in communities that have too often been left behind. The bill includes historic levels – $284 billion – in new investments for transportation projects, responding to the urgency of climate change and the need to address long-standing inequities in mobility access.  

Here’s what the transportation funds included: 

(Graphic: National Association of Counties)


Joined by speakers Alvaro Sanchez, Vice President of Policy with The Greenlining Institute, Molly McKinley, Policy Director with Denver Streets Partnership and Luke Ilderton, Deputy Director with Energy Outreach Colorado, MHC convened a regional conversation on the transit, broadband, and equity components of the BIF to unpack what this means for Colorado and how community organizations can best position themselves to be able to influence and access the federal funds. Below are just a few ways you can ensure this investment reaches your community:  

Equity Advocacy- Keeping equity at the center of investments 

While the ambition for equity is there, explicit details related to operationalizing/enforcing equity measures are missing from the deal. Alvaro shared the following ways for community-based organizations to best access and influence investment dollars: 

  1. Read up on what your state is anticipated to receive. 
  1. Sign up for alerts from key agencies including DOT, EPA, DOE, Department of Commerce, Department of Interior, and the White House to get updates on how they are implementing the dollars. 
  1. Connect with our state departments of transportation, energy, water, and broadband and ask how they are going to decide what to fund and how information will be tracked. 
  1. Start promoting priorities, projects, definitions, standards, and locations that advance racial equity. 
  1. Work with colleagues tracking implementation to build coalitions focused on funding implementation. 

Transportation Advocacy  

According to Molly, it is important that the state takes full advantage of the flexible dollars designated to funding highways in the deal. There must be a push for utilizing funds to invest in public transit projects and transit operations. Additionally, we must use a fix it first model, ensuring that existing infrastructure is safe and accessible prior to creating new infrastructure. Finally, the Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT) is currently determining projects to fund throughout the state. This serves as an opportunity to influence CDOT spending and advocate for projects that advance equity.  

Broadband and Weatherization Advocacy 

Luke Ilderton emphasized that while the investment provides a massive investment in modernizing our entire energy grid (the good!), there is concern about how households who need the most assistance can truly benefit from this initiative. He also shared that the BIF investment will enhance the Department of Energy Office’s current weatherization assistance program. This enhancement will allow the Colorado Energy Office to increase participation and embrace the State’s greenhouse gas emissions reduction targets. Furthermore, the BIF will introduce the Affordable Connectivity Program, increasing broadband access for low-income consumers with limited income-qualifying restrictions. Get more details about funding opportunities available for your local governments here, and be sure to check out the additional resources below!  

Denver’s Expanding Housing Affordability

The burden of owning or renting a house in the Denver metro region is heavy for many residents as wage growth has not kept pace with the increased cost of living.  With Denver rents skyrocketing, renters must make at least $27.50 per hour, which is in stark contrast with Colorado’s minimum wage of $12.32 per hour.

In May, the Colorado legislature voted to approve House Bill 2021-1117. This bill was advocated for by numerous partners and advocates to replace a Colorado Supreme Court decision that once prohibited such “inclusionary housing” practices and allows local governments to require rental housing developers to provide affordable units in new development projects. Here is a sample of what is included in the bill:

  • Cities can now require affordable housing to be included in all new for-sale and for-rent housing.
  • Requires local governments to offset costs, relax zoning restrictions and provide alternatives, recognizing that inclusionary housing creates higher costs on multi-family developments.
  • Requires local governments to provide some options to allow for one or more alternatives to the construction of new affordable housing units

Once passed, the city and county of Denver lept into action. Their Community Planning and Development department drafted a policy proposal to ensure that as new housing is built, new affordable housing is created.

The Expanding Housing Affordability (or EHA) is designed to be complementary to the Department of Housing Stability’s (HOST)’s efforts to address Denver’s housing needs, namely the production of new affordable units in mixed-income communities by combining affordable homes into market-rate development. HOST has faced challenges in creating truly mixed-income communities over the years, and this newly passed but long fought-for legislation has enabled Denver and other localities across the state to mandate inclusionary housing.

MHC brought together key stakeholders, including Brad Wienig, Director of Catalytic Partnerships with HOST, and Analiese Hock, Principal City Planner with City and County of Denver, to discuss the purpose of EHA and provide some initial feedback on the proposal  As part of our collaborative call to action, MHC submitted a letter of recommendations (posted below) to the City and County of Denver.

While we have a long way to go on addressing the housing shortage for our low-income neighbors, we celebrate the years-long community organizing and policy advocacy efforts that led to the passing of HB21-1117, which allowed localities to mandate affordable housing or equal alternatives in new developments. Keep up with Denver’s EHA as it makes its way through council this spring. 



Reclaiming Our Future – This is Our Moment

From our November 2021 Newsletter

A Word, First:

Welcome to budget season! We’ve seen a flurry of media coverage on investments in our communities. The bipartisan Infrastructure Bill is an important investment in public transit and infrastructure improvements that bring broadband internet and lead-free pipes to neighborhoods. The passage of this bill is due in large part to national transit advocates, including our friends at Denver Streets Partnership.


Meanwhile, closer to home, the Governor’s budget tackles poor air quality by offering free transit on ozone days, investments in affordable housing options, and calls for the creation of a Colorado Equity Office.But the work is not done, and our institutions can do better. The Infrastructure Bill alone will not address the compounding crisis facing our region. The Build Back Better framework alongside the Infrastructure bill will create good-paying jobs while ensuring that stable, affordable housing is attainable by all. And, as federal and state resources flow down, we need to prepare community organizations to access these funds without hesitation. Every dollar counts when it comes to keeping residents in place. That means MHC will continue to advocate for equitable investment into communities as federal and state dollars roll down and out into communities. This is our moment.


The Equitable Approach: Where the Incremental is Transformational

In Denver, the Auraria campus sets out to redress generational impacts of displacement for Hispanic and Indigenous people of color who were forced out of the area in the early 1970’s through free tuition. Read on to learn more…

A new survey reveals Denver immigrants felt protected from the pandemic by the city, but that it needs to do more with outreach. Immigrants experienced increased strength in connection with fellow residents and are realizing their own collective power. Learn more


Community Stewardship: What’s Inspiring Us

Urban Land Conservancy Acquires East ColfaxCitywide Bank Site

Land Use Work Group Weighs in on CDOT’s GHG Rulemaking

Community-Led Plans Fight Redlining and Climate Change

Documentary:”A Decent Home”, featuring9to5 Colorado organizer


Partner Spotlight: Lauren Hornett

“THANK YOU”

After two incredible years at the helm of the Mile High Connects’ Steering Committee as our Chair, Lauren Hornett, Vice President of Community Development at Wells Fargo, will step down and focus on her new little bundle of joy!

We thank you for your leadership, insight, love and care for our collaborative, Lauren!


Connective Tissue: Opportunities to Connect

Equitable Community Spaces in a Post-Pandemic World

One thing we know is that Coronavirus/COVID-19 is here to stay – but the way we began to engage with institutions in virtual and hybrid spaces may not. Earlier this month, Mile High Connects and our Bay Area friend Bay Area Regional Health Inequities Initiative hosted a conversation with a handful of community leaders from both cities to lift up what a truly equitable public engagement will look like into the future.

Visual notes from the event held Sept. 2021.

This event was just the beginning of the conversation – let’s continue to find ways to keep what we’ve learned. That community engagement isn’t just in-person meetings but creating new, alternative spaces for residents to engage authentically in processes.

This is our future – equitable community engagement.

Advocates and Leaders Discuss Transit’s Role in Economic Recovery

Mile High Connects and Denver Streets Partnership hosted Transit is the Future: Denver Transit Justice Forum, a panel discussion with elected officials and area leaders on the importance of public transit as a critical piece in reconstructing a more equitable, resilient, and sustainable economy.

Framing the conversation, Downtown Denver Partnership President and CEO Tami Door stated that  “A successful city is a resilient city, and transit is at the very center of that.”

Debra Johnson, new General Manager and CEO of RTD, shared that “Transit has been largely underfunded across the country for decades. The transit problems we’re experiencing aren’t indigenous to Denver.” 

Attendees also heard from Grace Rink, Executive Director of the Denver Office of Climate Action Sustainability and Resiliency; Shoshana Lew, Executive Director of the Colorado Department of Transportation, Boulder County Commissioner and Air Quality Control Commissioner Elise Jones, Denver Resident and NAACP state conference member Gina Jones, and Grishma Pradhan, Legislative Counsel, Office of Sen. Michael Bennet.

For more on this and future events, visit Mile High Connects’ event page and Denver Streets Partnership.

Connect to…Your Ballot

As the smoke from our state’s wildfires reaches the Denver metro region & with COVID-19 cases on the rise, understanding what’s on the ballot and how it impacts our ability to create and maintain safe, healthy homes is more critical than ever. That’s why Mile High Connects and Metro Denver Nature Alliance joined together to host an information session on ballot measures affecting equitable, affordable access to nature and housing in Colorado, Adams County, and Denver.

Chris Stiffler from the Colorado Fiscal Institute unpacked the Gallagher Amendment and the TABOR Amendment, which affect local property taxes, public school investments, and state and local governments’ ability to raise funds for public programs.

Conor Hall front the Trust for Public Land discussed two ballot measures in Adams County affecting open space (1A) and infrastructure (1B) investments supported by long-standing tax assessments. One of Colorado’s fastest growing counties, the population of Adams County is expected to surpass that of Denver within 30 years.

Sebastian Andrews with the Denver Streets Partnership shared details of Denver’s Ballot Measure 2A, which would fund the city’s climate action. The measure, and Denver’s approach to climate change mitigation and adaptation, was informed by work in other cities (like Houston, TX) and the Climate Action Task Force.

Thank you to our partners MetroDNA and panelists for sharing their insights with us. While MHC and MetroDNA do not endorse specific measures, we share this dialogue in the spirit of community engagement and to ensure all residents have access to information.

Bike Mobility Across Denver + Mexico City

Denver_portal: Ciclovías: Bike Mobility Across the Americas

Join us for another episode of Denver_portal programming as we explore "Ciclovías"--urban bike lane infrastructure--and other mobility models from across the Americas. Learn how places like Mexico City are leading the way in pedestrian and bike lane expansion projects and how Denver leaders are getting creative to meet our city's mobility needs. The Denver_portal programming is a collaboration between the Biennial of the Americas and Shared_Studios. Moderator: Deyanira “Deya” Zavala (Denver, CO) Executive Director, Mile High Connects As Executive Director, Deyanira Zavala leads the development and implementation of Mile High Connects’ strategic direction. She is responsible for fundraising and relationship management to advance the Mile High Connects collective priorities. Prior to joining Mile High Connects, Deyanira dedicated her career to supporting aspiring Black, Latinx and immigrant entrepreneurs in Colorado and Texas as a pathway to community asset & wealth building. She also brings national experience having worked with NALCAB- National Association for Latino Community Asset Builders, where she facilitated a variety of community economic development projects in support of member organizations, including resource development and capacity building activities. Deyanira is the first in her family to graduate from high school and college, holding a Masters of Public Administration from the University of North Texas and a Bachelor of Arts from the University of Texas at Arlington. Deyanira is trained Technology of Participation (ToP) facilitator and alumni of the NALCAB Fellowship and Young Nonprofit Professionals Network Elevate Fellowship programs. She currently serves on the RTD Accountability Committee, Reimagine RTD Community Advisory Group, and the Denver COVID-19 Mobility Task Force. Jill Locantore (Denver, CO) Executive Director, Denver Streets Partnership Jill Locantore is Executive Director of the Denver Streets Partnership, a coalition of community groups advocating for people-friendly streets. Previously, Jill was the Executive Director of the pedestrian advocacy organization WalkDenver, which merged with Bicycle Colorado in 2020 to fully staff the Denver Streets Partnership as a division of Bicycle Colorado focused on reclaiming Denver’s streets for people. Jill also worked previously for the Denver Regional Council of Governments (DRCOG) and the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments where she supported regional efforts to coordinate land use and transportation planning. Throughout her planning career, Jill has focused on the intersection of land use and transportation with environmental sustainability, economic development, public health, and social justice issues, and has built a reputation as an important advocate and spokesperson for human-centered transportation and its key role in building healthy communities. Jill has a Masters degree in community planning from the University of Maryland, as well as a Masters degree in cognitive psychology from the University of Toronto. Areli Carreón (Mexico City, Mexico) Areli is a longtime activist and a founder of Bicitekas A.C., an organization that promotes the use of bicycles in Mexico City and lobbies for policy change around cycling and urban mobility. Areli studied Rural Development at the UAM Xochimilco She’s an environmentalist, founding member of Bicitekas A.C. and currently serves as the “Bike Mayor” of #CDMX, an honorary position created by the Dutch innovation lab BYCS in order to promote cycling around the world. Their goal is to create a network of 100 bicycle mayors who shift urban traveling to more than 50% by bike by the year 2030. Ivan de la Lanza (Mexico City, Mexico) Iván is the Active Mobility Manager at WRI México - Ciudades. He’s in charge of supplying technical advice and managing the cities for the development of pedestrian projects, cycling, and micro-mobility, as part of the integrated transportation network, public spaces recovery, and safety. Previously, he was the Manager of Culture, Design and Cycling Infrastructure in CDMX, an area specifically created for the implementation of the Bicycle Mobility Strategy, which was responsible for the implementation of the system of public bikes EcoBici, the building of ciclovias and bike parking, as well as operating the “Sunday Ride” and “Bike Schools”. He has a Degree in Administration at the UVM and has participated as a panelist in several forums and international conferences. See Less

Posted by Biennial of the Americas on Thursday, August 13, 2020

Mile High Connects & local partner Denver Streets Partnership joined Biennial of the Americas and Shared Studios for a special conversation on “Ciclovias” and mobility models from across the Americas. Share what you learned from the session with us!

DENVER MAYOR CALLS ON RTD TO IMPLEMENT LOW-INCOME & YOUTH DISCOUNTS

MHC’s leadership along with a number of partners and RTD, developed a low-income and youth discount pass program. This program will create a 40% discount for transit for those living at or below 185% of the federal poverty level. The proposal is currently under review by RTD and MHC continues to actively seek support from the public to ensure RTD implements new discounts for youth and low-income riders. Mayor Michael Hancock’s 2018 State of the City Address included urging RTD to adopt the complete Pass Program reccomendation.

“And to our friends at RTD, we urge you to adopt the proposal before you, which would dramatically reduce fares for students and low-income residents and make transit free for all youth under the age of 12.” – Mayor Michael B. Hancock

RTD Needs to Hear from YOU!
RTD is currently hosting informational meetings to provide updates about the completed Pass Program Study and current fare review. At these meetings, RTD staff will discuss fares, the Pass Program Study and the working groups fare recommendations, the agency and its budget, and more. RTD staff will be available to answer questions from the public so now is your chance to let your voice be heard. MORE INFO

Upcoming Neighborhood Meetings:
Wed., July 18, 2018, 6:00 p.m. – 8:00 p.m.
Englewood- Englewood Civic Center
1000 Englewood Pkwy, Community Room, 2nd floor

Thur., July 19, 2018, 6:00 p.m. – 8:00 p.m.
Lakewood- Clements Community Center
1580 Yarrow Street

Sat., July 21, 2018, Noon – 2:00 p.m.
Montbello- Boys and Girls Club of Metro Denver
4397 Crown Boulevard

Mon., July 23, 2018, 6:00 p.m. – 8:00 p.m.
Aurora- Aurora Municipal Center
15151 E. Alameda Parkway City Café, 2nd Floor

Tue., July 24, 2018, 6:00 p.m. – 8:00 p.m.
South Denver- Thomas Jefferson High School
3950 S. Holly Street

Wed., July 25, 2018, Noon – 2:00 p.m.
Downtown Denver- RTD Administrative Offices
1660 Blake Street, Rooms T & D

Thur., July 26, 2018, 6:00 p.m. – 8:00 p.m.
Thornton- Margaret W. Carpenter Recreation Center
11151 Colorado Blvd, Rooms B & C

FRESC changes its name to United for a New Economy

Mile High Connects would like to congratulate its partners, United for a New Economy, on its recent name change. Since 2002, FRESC: Good Jobs, Strong Communities has spoken up and worked alongside community members. We are excited to share this new development for their organization and look forward to their movement building work. To read more about the new name, please visit https://coloradopolitics.com/fresc-united-new-economy/.

A Regional Call to Action on Gentrification & Displacement

In the Denver Metro Region, gentrification and displacement are becoming critical issues. With investment in development of our urban core, along transit lines and in other areas of opportunity, skyrocketing rents, rising property taxes and cultural disruption of neighborhoods means that communities in which there has been historic underinvestment are now being pushed out of neighborhoods at the very moment they stand to reap the greatest gains of employment opportunities, services and other amenities.

As a multi-sector collaborative, committed to ensuring our region’s transit system fosters communities that offer all residents the opportunity for a high quality of life, Mile High Connects hosted a call to action event on April 19th. During our early morning event, over 100 people from across sectors and communities joined us and heard from community residents about their experiences around displacement, rising rents, shifting community fabric, and evictions. They listened to federal government leadership talk about their investments to disrupt poverty and increase diversity of housing choices. We also heard about strategies being implemented to increase economic opportunity.

This event served as the touchstone and call to action for the release of our Access to Opportunity Platform: A Regional Call to Action to Address Our Gentrification and Displacement Crisis. The platform outlines strategies and recommendations around housing, place/community and culture, and economic opportunity. Click here to download the platform.

 

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