By Deyanira Zavala, Executive Director
This week has been a whirlwind of activity as Coronavirus (also known as COVID-19) continues to dominate headlines and our meeting agendas.
Community organizers, nonprofits, and others in our network are responding with tremendous heart and courage. They are issuing calls to action in support of protecting our front line workers – those living paycheck to paycheck – from the ripple effects of this public health crisis. Folks who were are already feeling the anxiety of a paycheck stretched beyond the numbers on it due to rising rents, higher monthly transit costs, and stagnant wages. Mom and pop entrepreneurs who turned side hustles into full-fledged, full-time businesses when they couldn’t secure a job and are now worried that the next client that walks through the door for a pick up order may be their last.
Mile High Connects will be compiling resources and updates on our website, so please visit www.milehighconnects.org/covidresources for the latest news. We will also update our Facebook and Twitter regularly to share what we’re hearing and seeing in the communities we are a part of, and the opportunities we have in front of us.
We’re calling on you, our Community, to stick with us as we reflect on the inequities that this crisis has highlighted for us as a region – inequities that we have long known and felt, but are now facing the bright light of day.
|Dear Partners, |
I am announcing today that I am stepping down as Executive Director of Mile High Connects effective April 5th. In my nearly two years with the Mile High Connects team, we have realized our long-term goal of achieving affordable transit for the region, facilitated meaningful conversations around racial equity with the City and County of Denver’s leadership, and transformed the way our collaborative works, stepping into equity conversations fully present to the realities of our current environment.
We are stronger today that that ever before, with an extraordinary Steering Committee comprised of regional thoughtleaders and Community Builders. Our Steering Committee has unanimously decided to ask Deyanira Zavala to step into the Executive Director role. We have worked very closely over the last 18 months and I have full confidence that she is the right person to lead Mile High Connects in this next phase.
As for me, I will be heading home to Amherst, Massachusetts to help take care of my elderly parents. I was hoping that I could make this decision later and continue to help Mile High Connects through this crucial time of transition before moving on, but for personal reasons I am needing to prioritize the needs of my family at this time.
I am proud of what we have accomplished together. It has been a privilege and honor to work with you all and lead this extremely important and powerful collaborative at this crucial time in the Denver Metro Region.
With Deep Respect and Gratitude,
We are excited to announce that the Mile High Connects is hiring!
The Mile High Connects Director of Programs will collaborate with the Executive Director and senior leadership to develop and execute the collaborative’s strategic direction and programs. Mile High Connects (MHC) is a broad collaborative of private, public, nonprofit organizations, and community leaders committed to ensuring that all residents of the Metro Denver region have access to affordable transit, affordable housing, and economic opportunity.
Applications will be accepted until 5 p.m. on Friday, April 19, 2019.
View the complete job description and apply: http://www.denverfoundation.org/About/Careers
We are excited to announce that the Mile High Connects is hiring! We are currently seeking a Director of Operations. Applications will be accepted until 5 p.m. on Friday, October 19, 2018.
View the complete job description and apply: denverfoundation.org/About/Careers
Last week, the RTD Board approved the Preferred Alternative for the 2019-2012 Fare Structure, by a vote of 10 to 5 in favor of the recommendation. This includes two new discounts:
- Low-Income Discount – 40% discount
- Youth Discount – 70% discount
This is the culmination of five years of collaborative partnership between RTD, Mile High Connects, and many community partners. Tuesday’s board decision is a major milestone towards making Denver a more equitable place to live and work as it ensures that our public transportation system – and the economic opportunities it provides – is both affordable and accessible to all.
We commend RTD’s board and staff for all of their hard work and commitment to working with the community and we commend all of the individuals, elected officials and community members for their unwavering support. The decision to form The Pass Program Working Group, a community based, highly diverse working group, alongside strong executive-level staff support demonstrates RTD’s dedication to successful community stakeholder relations. This was a consensus approach to decision-making that involved considerable compromise and t the outcome is commendable. For those with the lowest levels of mobility and income, affordable transit can have significant and positive implications for social and economic inclusion.
MHC is deeply grateful to our network of partners and also recognize that our work is not done. We are fully prepared to deploy resources to assist RTD with implementation and continue to support future efforts to furthering transit equity. In the near term, we commit to working with RTD to ensure the program achieves the desired outcomes and ensuring all in our region have access to opportunities. But today, we are taking a moment to celebrate. The new fare structure will ensure youth and low-income people have a chance to get to class on time, to the doctors appointment, to that job interview, to that higher-paying job, or to the grocery store.
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
After a year long effort by RTD’s Pass Program Working Group the future of equitable fares is now sitting in the hands of RTD staff and board. Mile High Connects (MHC), a member of the Pass Program Working Group, is on hand and ready to help. MHC’s experience dates back to 2014 when the first Affordable Fares Task Force of over 100 public, nonprofit, philanthropic and private sector partners was convened by MHC to advocate for affordability in the fare structure. MHC recognizes the challenge facing RTD staff both in the planning and implementation phases of an equitable fare structure, but also wants RTD to understand that they aren’t in this alone.
MHC and its network of partners are fully prepared to deploy their diverse resources to assist RTD staff with developing an implementation strategy. MHC recognizes that implementation will require some work but we urge RTD to take a problem solving approach and reach out to their community of experts ready to help. The Denver metro region cannot afford to let the “design complexity” hinder access to affordable fares . Making Denver a more equitable place to live and work starts with ensuring that our public transportation system – and the economic opportunities it provides – is both affordable and accessible to all.
RTD’s staff will make their first public report to the board of directors regarding the Pass Program Working Group’s recommendation to modify the existing discount pass program on Tues. March 27th at 5:30 pm. RTD first committed to creating an equitable pass program and convened a 25-member working group and hired a consulting firm to assist the group in evaluating the existing program over a year ago. The group completed its yearlong effort in February 2018, recommended 40 percent discount for low-income riders and a youth pass where riders under 12 are free and riders aged 13-19 receive a 70 percent discount.
The complete recommendation made by the working group and details of the proposed changes can be viewed on RTD’s Pass Program Working Group webpage. MHC will continue to advocate for a 50 percent discount for low-income riders recognizing that implementation of 40 percent discount will represent significant progress.
To Date organizations such as The Denver Foundation, 9to5, United for a New Economy, Colorado Cross Disability Coalition, Denver Women’s Collaborative, Mi Casa Resource Center, Cultivando, DenverWorks, Bayaud Enterprises, Colorado Fiscal Institute, West Denver Business Improvement District, Urban Peak, the Denver Post Editorial Board, The New York Times and others have voiced their support for equitable fares. Now is the time for the Denver Metro Region to move forward with a new pass program.
For those with the lowest levels of mobility and income, affordable transit can have significant and positive implications for social and economic inclusion. It’s time RTD’s commitment to building equity is put into action … Stand with MHC in support #FairFaresRTD to ensure that youth and low-income people have a chance to get to class on time, to that job interview, to that higher-paying job, to the grocery store or to that first-time home-buyer class. Attend the next RTD Board Meeting and make a public comment, call and send your elected RTD Board Director an email, and sign the petition created by Together Colorado.
View a list of RTD Board Members by county
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/.
Colorado Housing and Finance Authority (CHFA)
Colorado is in the midst of an affordable housing crisis. The availability of affordable rental housing units is not in line with residents’ growing needs as rents escalate, the population increases, and Baby Boomers downsize. Compounding the problem is the risk of existing affordable units becoming unaffordable or outdated. Affordable rental housing developments have affordability restrictions placed on them that ensure their units are rented at low rates during periods of 30 to 40 years. When affordability restrictions expire, rents are permitted to convert to private market rates. Over the next decade, the affordability restrictions on approximately 22,000 units are set to expire. Given that Colorado’s median rent has increased 49 percent in the last five years, affordable units are highly vulnerable to market rate conversion. Additionally, affordable properties that are decades old need upgrades and repairs to extend their long-term livability.
A focus on preservation is key to addressing these issues. Preservation refers to ensuring that long term affordability is maintained by keeping rent restrictions in place and supporting renovations. Preservation brings several benefits to a community and its economy. It keeps low income families in their homes, helping to maintain neighborhood stability, character, and diversity. When compared to the cost of constructing new affordable properties, preserving a property can cost one half to two thirds less and doesn’t require new land or rezoning. Energy consumption and maintenance costs may also be reduced as energy efficient upgrades are made to aging properties.
In 2016, Colorado Housing and Finance Authority (CHFA) partnered with other stakeholders of affordable housing to form the Housing Preservation Network (HPN) to coordinate preservation efforts and implement a statewide strategy to preserve Colorado’s affordable rental housing stock. In 2016 alone, HPN partners helped to preserve 4,936 affordable rental housing units by supporting property improvements, and extending rental assistance and affordability contracts.
HPN is comprised of CHFA, Colorado Department of Local Affairs-Division of Housing (DOLA-DOH), U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), USDA, local governments such as City and County of Denver, Adams County, City of Colorado Springs, City of Aurora, City of Golden, local housing authorities, Enterprise Community Partners, Mile High Connects, Gary Community Investments, Mile High Community Loan Fund, and many others.
CHFA and Mile High Connects have been collaborating on meeting mutual goals such as affordable housing preservation and reducing transportation costs. CHFA is an investment partner of Mile High Connects and participates in its steering committee, strategic planning committee, and advisory council. Mile High Connects has been a key partner of HPN from its inception. As part of its work with HPN, Mile High Connects is developing additional resources to support preservation through its Community Investment Platform.
Developing new preservation resources is among the many components of HPN’s strategic plan. One of the most important tasks was the creation and implementation of a preservation properties database. This tool aggregates data from multiple sources to report, analyze, and map the inventory of affordable units throughout Colorado. It promotes proactive, informed decision making by monitoring properties that are most at risk of losing affordability restrictions and rental assistance, thus flagging those of highest priority.
Other important elements of HPN’s strategic plan are engaging and collaborating with property owners and other stakeholders, targeting finance resources, and sharing best practices and policy options. A large majority—71 percent—of the tasks outlined in the strategic plan have been completed or are underway.
In addition to its work with HPN, CHFA is identifying more ways to support affordable housing preservation. A pilot program to support upgrades to single family and small multifamily properties on the Western Slope was recently launched in partnership with the Delta Housing Authority and DOLA-DOH.
We look forward to continuing to work with our partners to support the preservation of affordable housing throughout Colorado.
Special thanks to Beth Truby for contributing to this article.
Beth Truby is the Preservation Program Manager at the Colorado Housing and Finance Authority and has 30 years of experience in affordable housing and community development. At the Authority, Beth focuses on preserving existing affordable housing units statewide.