DENVER, February 15, 2017
Mile High Connects today announced that Denver was selected to join the Strong, Prosperous, And Resilient Communities Challenge (SPARCC). SPARCC is a three-year, $90 million initiative that will bolster local groups and leaders in their efforts to ensure that, as major new investments are made in community development, they improve equity, health, and environmental outcomes for all residents.
In 2004, the region’s voters approved FasTracks, a $7.8 billion transit expansion that adds 122 miles of new rail, 18 miles of bus rapid transit, and enhanced regional bus service to the regional transit district. At the same time, the region is experiencing unprecedented growth, creating development opportunities, as well as significant gentrification and displacement in the urban core. The award from SPARCC will enable the Denver region to harness this energy and ensure that development equally benefits low-income communities and communities of color.
Following a competitive process in 2016, Denver’s Mile High Connects was one of six places chosen to receive initial funding and expert technical assistance from the SPARCC initiative. Mile High Connects, a diverse group of organizations that includes local and national nonprofits, banks, and foundations, was awarded $1 million in direct grant and technical assistance funds over the next three years. Collectively, the SPARCC sites will have access to an estimated pool of $70 million in financing capital, as well as $14 million of additional programmatic support. The initial six SPARCC sites include: Atlanta, Chicago, Denver, Los Angeles, Memphis, and San Francisco Bay Area.
“This is an incredible opportunity that will help the Denver Metro region think creatively about equity, health, and climate under the leadership of Mile High Connects,” said Christine Márquez-Hudson, president and CEO of The Denver Foundation. “This investment comes at a critical time given the economic and development boom our region is experiencing. It will mean a great deal to low-income communities and communities of color.”
With the award, Mile High Connects will be better supported in its efforts to:
- Build and strengthen resident engagement in redevelopment efforts.
- Inform and advocate for policies related to land use, anti-displacement, community stability, and equitable access to green infrastructure and newly expanded transit systems.
- Drive investments in projects in West Denver and Adams County that will serve as demonstration projects for other developments in the Denver Region.
These efforts will result in community-informed development that creates equitable, thriving, and climate-resilient communities.
“In the past, policy and programmatic decisions about how to invest in the places we live, work, and play have all too often led to deeper poverty and risk for people of color and low-income communities,” said Brian Prater, executive vice president of strategy, development, and public affairs at the Low Income Investment Fund, one of the national partners of SPARCC. “This is a critical moment when big infrastructure investments are coming, or are already underway, and people of all races and incomes should benefit. We are excited to support the SPARCC sites and look forward to seeing the results of these local efforts to positively shape our cities and regions for generations.”
The major public investment in the transit system has created challenges and opportunities for the Denver Region. It has increased displacement pressures for many low-income communities, and at the same time, created new ways for cross-sector partners to work together to ensure the build-out is done in a way that takes into consideration equity, health, and the built environment. Mile High Connects is working to create the systems and policies that will connect residents to opportunity throughout the Denver Region.
“As the construction of the FasTracks systems nears completion, we need to turn our attention to the growth happening around the stations to ensure that the investment is creating economically resilient and sustainable places for low-income communities,” said Emma Pinter, Westminster city council member.
In addition to funding support, each SPARCC site has access to an extensive learning network, and advisory services from a range of experts, to help advance local efforts.
SPARCC is an initiative of Enterprise Community Partners, the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco, the Low Income Investment Fund, and the Natural Resources Defense Council, with funding support from the Ford Foundation, The JPB Foundation, The Kresge Foundation, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, and The California Endowment. Long term, SPARCC’s intention is for other cities, communities and regions to adopt similar approaches to achieving more just economic, health, and environmental outcomes, using the success of SPARCC sites as a model.
About Mile High Connects
Mile High Connects is a multi-sector collaborative working to ensure that the regional transit system fosters communities that oﬀer all residents the opportunity for a high quality of life. The partnership formed in 2011 to ensure that FasTracks, the region’s $7.8 billion transit build-out, beneﬁts low-income communities and communities of color by connecting them to aﬀordable housing, healthy environments, quality education, and good-paying jobs.
Mile High Connects Partners are Colorado Housing and Finance Authority, The Colorado Health Foundation, The Colorado Trust, The Denver Foundation, Enterprise Community Partners, FirstBank, Ford Foundation, FRESC: Good Jobs Strong Communities, Gates Family Foundation, Kaiser Permanente, Natural Resources Defense Council, New Belgium Family Foundation, 9to5 Colorado, Gary Community Investments, Rose Community Foundation, Urban Land Conservancy, U.S. Bank, and Wells Fargo.
Mile High Connects is housed at The Denver Foundation, the largest and most experienced community foundation in the Rocky Mountain West. For more information, please visit denverfoundation.org.
The Strong, Prosperous, And Resilient Communities Challenge – or SPARCC – is supporting local efforts to make sure that everyone benefits from major new investments in the places we live, work and play. By supporting locally driven initiatives, SPARCC aims to improve equity, health and environmental outcomes to positively shape our cities and regions for generations. SPARCC is an initiative of Enterprise Community Partners, the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco, the Low Income Investment Fund, and the Natural Resources Defense Council, with funding support from the Ford Foundation, The JPB Foundation, The Kresge Foundation, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, and The California Endowment.
For more information on SPARCC and the selected jurisdictions, please visit sparcchub.org.
Mile High Connects has always put the needs of residents at the forefront of our work. As we have embarked on an ambitious agenda to increase private, philanthropic, and public capital for important community investments, we have maintained a commitment to finding innovative strategies for putting residents’ needs at the center of community investment decisions.
We know that resident-driven planning is hard and sometimes messy. We also know that it is essential and that it cannot be done without committed community organizations that have deep connections in the communities in which they work. To better understand how our partners engage residents in planning and community development, late in 2016 we conducted a survey. The survey was distributed to nonprofit, for-profit, and government entities that work at a neighborhood or city/regional level. We were heartened by the tremendous commitment that we saw among the 24 organizations that completed the survey. And, we realize that there is a lot more work to be done to deepen our collective efforts to engage residents in community planning and development.
A few of the highlights from the survey:
- A majority of respondents’ community engagement work focuses on affordable housing (79%), transit area stations (58%), and infrastructure (54%)
- A majority of respondents’ engagement work includes community visioning (58%), comprehensive neighborhood planning (58%), leadership development (62%), and knowledge building and education around the development process (54%)
- Only 16% of respondents indicated “working with developers” is a focus of their resident engagement, while a third (33%) indicated that education around financing for development is a priority
Respondents use a variety of tools to engage residents:
- 91% community meetings
- 74% workshops
- 69% surveys
Respondents provide significant services in their community engagement efforts including:
- 86% provide meals
- 82% provide translation services
- 78% make ADA accommodations
- 58% provide child care
- 47% provide transportation to/from meetings
The following geographies were most frequently cited as locations in which respondents engage residents:
- Denver – Westwood (88%)
- Other Denver City/County (87.5%)
- Denver – Globeville/Elyria/Swansea (81%)
- Denver – Federal Blvd. Corridor (73%)
- Denver – Northeast Parkhill 73%
- Adams County Unincorporated (64%)
- Arapahoe County (56%)
- Aurora (50%)
- Westminster (44%)
- Commerce City (40%)
And while we learned that many of the organizations dedicate more than 50% of their resources to engaging residents, there are still many barriers to engaging community, especially:
- Capacity (staff, organizational and financial)
- Taking time and effort to describe how planning and development issues are personally relevant, and important. Understanding and discussing what is important to community.
- Making forums accessible to community members
- Community members’ interest and time
- Time, trust and language
- Systemic racism, language and transportation barriers, processes that don’t allow time or resources for effective engagement
- Lack of education on basic planning and development concepts
In the end, we learned that the organizations that work with community take this work seriously. Their own words may provide the greatest insight:
“Community priorities are safety, affordability, cultural identity, family; these are not always the values that developers bring to the table and/or want to have conversations about. So then the community does not want to participate.”
“Planning and development are topics of privilege. Many community members are facing issues that demand their attention for today or tomorrow. Asking community members to plan and take time to talk about development should include answers to “so what”, “why should I care”, “does it matter”, “how will my thoughts and opinions be utilized”?
We look forward to working with our community partners including neighborhood organizations, nonprofit organizations, and developers to determine some of the best ways to engage residents in community planning and development processes and to ensure that their thoughts and opinions will in fact be valued and utilized.
– Katherine Pease, Capital Absorption Project Manager, Mile High Connects
What Are We Looking For in New Partners?
As we prepare to embark upon development of a new four-year strategic plan, Mile High Connects is opening up this call for partners and is looking to invite two to three nonprofit organizations to newly join our Steering Committee, which serves as the decision-making and governance body for the collaborative.
As a part of our equity and inclusiveness values, Mile High Connects is particularly interested in organizations that have a value of being resident-driven/resident-informed, those that prioritize leadership of people of color, and approach their work through a commitment to equity.
Being part of the Mile High Connects Steering Committee and one of our core nonprofit partners is something that requires a unique commitment. In addition to serving in a decision-making role for the overall direction of the organization, core partners work together each year to develop a collective workplan for Mile High Connects. Each organization then commits to executing on the strategies within the plan and to working in deep collaboration and coordination with each other and MHC’s external partners. Core partners should expect that this on-the-ground work will take approximately the time equivalent of a half-time staff.
Mile High Connects embraces a full range of civic participation and a core strategy for us is bringing together grassroots and grasstops actors to work toward broad social change. It is important that partners in the collaborative share this value and are willing to push and challenge themselves by being at a collective decision making table with partners with whom they might not normally work.
Typically Steering Committee representatives from each core nonprofit partner includes the most senior leader at the organization and often one additional staff person responsible for the on-the-ground work relating to MHC’s mission (if they are not one in the same).
Core nonprofit partners will receive a stipend for participation and, beginning in 2018, a small level of grant support during each of the four years of their commitment to serving as a MHC. However, it is important to note that to fully deliver on the bold vision of MHC’s collective work, partners will also be expected to bring their own aligned resources to the table and will the have opportunity to participate in collective fundraising. Mission-fit and belief in the value of collaboration should be the foundation of any potential partner’s decision to respond to this call.
What Do We Really Like About Being on the Steering Committee?
- Ability to work with other leaders to bring positive change to our community and build relationships by working together on a common cause
- Getting to know and work with unusual partners that we might not normally sit together with at a common table
- Gain more influence by leveraging the work of others
- Ability to better deliver on our own organizations’ missions by working in partnership with others using different strategies, but working toward the same goals
- Learning about different perspectives and challenging our own thinking about the ways to tackle complex issues
- Opportunities to work together to bring more data and financial resources to our organizations
- Ability to be part of a collaborative that has strong staff support and a functioning “backbone” without having to pay member dues or contribute to the overhead of the coordinating staff
- Use expertise and experience to influence the direction of a broad group of people working on important issues
- Work in a partnership that is committed and devotes time and attention to strengthening its equity lens
What Is Most Challenging About Being on the Steering Committee?
- Being part of a collaborative takes time – time that could be used to accomplish our own organization’s work/goals
- Partnership work can be complicated – we sometimes have to hash things out, things move too slowly or too quickly for us (often at the same time), we have to compromise, we have to communicate
- We are working on complex, systems-level issues – it can be hard to see the progress as immediately as we’d like
- We are committed to deepening our ability to live our equity values and it is a journey; we are practicing and still learning
Time Commitment and Logistics:
- We ask that core nonprofit partners engage with us in development of our strategic plan in 2017 and commit to participation on the Steering Committee through the term of our strategic plan, which will run 2018 – 2021.
- The Steering Committee currently meets every other month for a two-hour period (second Fridays from 9am – 11am at The Denver Foundation).
- Note: We are also recruiting resident leaders from directly impacted communities to our Steering Committee and, depending on who is selected, may change the time of our meetings.
- Key Dates:
- March 21: 4:00 p.m. – 7:00 p.m.: New Steering Committee Member Orientation & Team Building 1
- April 6: 5:00 p.m. – 7:00 p.m.: Steering Committee Team Building 2
- April 14: 9:00 a.m. – 11:00 a.m.: First Steering Committee Meeting
- June 20 and 21: Overnight Retreat in Estes Park (expenses paid)
- Staff and existing Steering Committee members are available to meet, talk with and support new Steering Committee members in their participation outside of meetings as needed.
How To Apply
- Interested organizations should fill out this application.
- Send the application to us by February 2nd, by email, mail (make sure to allow enough time for it to arrive), or in person at:
Mile High Connects
55 Madison St., 8th Floor
Denver, CO 80206
- By February 14th, we’ll be scheduling times to get to know you a little better. If you submit an application indicating your interest, please also hold the following windows on your calendar for conversations to explore the opportunity:
- February 22: 8:30 a.m. – 10:30 a.m.
- February 23: 10:00 a.m. – 12:00 p.m.
- February 27: 1:00 p.m. – 4:00 p.m.
- March 6: 12:00 p.m. – 4:00 p.m.
About Mile High Connects
Mile High Connects (MHC) is a broad collaborative of private, public, and nonprofit organizations committed to increasing access to affordable housing, good jobs, quality schools, and healthy and resilient communities through public transit. By increasing resources, influencing policy, and working with residents, MHC seeks to leverage the current and expanding Metro Denver transit system to promote a vital region full of opportunity for everyone. Our mission is to ensure that the Metro Denver regional transit system fosters communities that offer all residents the opportunity for a high quality of life. Please visit our website at www.milehighconnects.org for more information.
In 2016, I had the opportunity to visit four different cities throughout the U.S. as a fellow for the The Funders’ Network PLACES Fellowship. I was fortunate to join a diverse cohort of social justice and philanthropic practitioners from a variety of foundations and organizations, including representation from Vancouver, BC.
Minneapolis, Hartford, Phoenix, and Jackson, Mississippi were the cities on our site visit agenda. Each shared characteristics and challenges that are deeply embedded in most urban settings, such as poverty, unemployment, disinvestment, environmental racism, and systemic racism. But each city also had stories of resilience, deep community organizing, involvement from the philanthropic sector, and creative actors working diligently to reinvigorate their communities and create thriving, equitable places.
We also spent time thinking about leadership, racial equity, and organizational change. In this space, I spent time reflecting on my work as a change agent for equity and a disruptor of systemic racism. I spent time thinking about the historical legacy of philanthropy and its continued commitment to solving acute social issues juxtaposed with its legacy of whiteness and inequity. I spent time thinking about the legacy of systemic racism in this country and how it continues to deeply impact communities today. I spent time reorganizing my tool box for leadership and renewing my energy to continue to forge ahead in the complicated work of racial equity.
All that being said, I am ready to put my learning through the PLACES fellowship into practice in 2017. I am grateful to have had the experience and know that I will benefit from it for years to come.
– Davian Gagne, Grants & Operations Manager
Medger W. Evers quote at the Council of Federated Organizations, Jackson, MS.
Sign in nonprofit organization window. North Minneapolis, MN.
On November 9th, I awoke and did not want to get out of bed. To be honest, with several weeks passing, I am only now beginning to be able to process the news without a feeling of deep depression. I am trying to sort out my own perspective.
There are so many responses. I’ve seen deep seated resignation with an underlying sentiment of disappointment – “I knew it all along, of course this was the only outcome.” I’ve seen others invigorated, saying “we’ve been here before and know how to fight” or “this is our call to come together in action.” I’ve seen us attacking each other for being too progressive, for not being progressive enough, for taking action, for not taking action. I’ve seen us bringing together our constituencies and trying to make sense of this separately and together. I’ve seen us obsessing over each new element of news, each new statement and each new appointment. I’ve seen us avoiding avoiding news altogether, trying to pretend this did not occur.
As the white leader of an organization focused on racial and economic equity, I often struggle with whether I should be in this role for Mile High Connects. I am also reminded that it is imperative that as a white person, I use my privilege and the access that I have as a result of that privilege to tackle social inequities. These election results and the role that people who are white played in this outcome mean that is true today more than any other.
This one thing I am sure of is that Mile High Connects stands with and values communities who are most under attack. We will continue to fight for protections of civil rights and for protections and supports for those who are disadvantaged. We will stand with immigrants and refugees, with people of color, with people of all sexual and gender identities, with women, with people who are poor, with people who speak other languages and those worship in a variety of ways. We will use our resources and our power to continue to drive toward equity in our region and our nation.
Let us come together. Let us build power together. Let us show compassion together. Let us lift up justice today and every day.
In the November 2016 the Foundation Review featured a number of articles from key players in Colorado’s philanthropic landscape, including the funder collaborative of Mile High Connects. Integrating Funders Into a Multisector Transit-Equity Collaborative examines the efforts of Mile High Connects, its history, and how it uses a collective impact model to implement systemic change with and for low-income communities and communities of color by connecting them to affordable housing, healthy environments, quality education, and good-paying jobs. The article describes the collaborative’s approach to evaluation, reflects on its initial impacts, offers an assessment of its overall success, and shares with the philanthropic sector lessons learned in working effectively in a cross-sector collaborative.
FirstBank has been a member of Mile High Connects since 2012. The Bank’s core values align with Mile High Connects priority areas: increasing access to housing choices, good jobs, and essential public transit.
FirstBank supports affordable housing, both financially and through its innovative deposit and loan products. The bank has contributed to over 50 nonprofit organizations that support affordable housing and has invested $17 million in Low Income Housing Tax Credit partnerships. Additionally, FirstBank employs nearly 800 people at its campus in Lakewood. These positions range from entry level to professional and allow an individual’s responsibilities and compensation to grow with them. The company is unique in that it’s a privately held and employees are majority owners.
FirstBank equips employees with EcoPasses, providing free and unlimited rides on all RTD transportation, ensuring distance/access to transportation is not a barrier to employment. With the consulting help of Mile High Connects, FirstBank also established a transportation service that circulates from the closest RTD transit hub to the headquarters building, helping those who are dependent on public transportation, easily make it to work.
FirstBank has been, and will continue to be a strong supporter of Mile High Connects.
FirstBank Commuter Bus
In addition to being the fiscal and physical home of Mile High Connects, The Denver Foundation (TDF) is a strong partner in MHC’s efforts to ensure that the Denver region’s communities offer all residents the opportunity for a high quality of life. As a member of the MHC Steering Committee, TDF helps to guide MHC’s overall strategy, and TDF’s Economic Opportunity program provides supports MHC’s core activities through an annual grant. The two organizations also work together on the ground through specific projects and partnerships to advance both groups’ missions.
One of the many areas in which TDF and MHC work closely together is in developing a network of anchor institutions throughout the region that are focused on building community wealth in the neighborhoods and places in which they are located. Educational and health care institutions, as well as municipal governments, are deeply anchored in particular communities. They have tremendous potential to be economic anchors for these communities, especially by approaching their hiring and purchasing through a local lens. Sprawling campuses like the University of Colorado’s Anschutz Medical Campus in Aurora contain within them thousands of jobs, and they spend millions of dollars on everything from sophisticated medical equipment to hospital scrubs, food, office supplies, and services like childcare that their employees need to be successful at their jobs. MHC and TDF identified educational, health care, and municipal institutions throughout the Denver region that are easily accessible through the region’s mass transit system, and invited them to meet together in early April 2016 to discuss how they might work together to strengthen the communities in which they are located.
Institutions such as the Anschutz Medical Campus, Regis University, St. Anthony’s Hospital, the University of Denver, and the University of Colorado’s Denver campus have all indicated their interest in supporting the neighborhoods and residents in their surrounding community through a variety of strategies. MHC and TDF are working with some of the individual institutions to help them develop hire local programs, which may include training for those facing barrier to employment to qualify for jobs with the institution, and to review procurement policies to determine where their supply chains can be adjusted to focus more on local businesses. MHC and TDF are also developing a broader strategy to connect these institutions in an anchor network that will develop strategies to collectively harness their hiring and buying power in ways that will benefit the region’s most vulnerable residents and communities.
MHC and TDF are also both committed to developing solutions to the accelerating problem of involuntary displacement through gentrification that is occurring in many Denver neighborhoods. TDF has a long history of supporting community organizing and of organizing directly in many neighborhoods in which residents are now under intense financial pressure because of rising rents. In communities like Globeville, Elyria, and Swansea, where transit oriented development is also contributing to skyrocketing housing costs, MHC and TDF are working with community partners to support grassroots strategies to help residents stay in their homes. In Westwood, MHC and TDF have worked together to provide relocation assistance to very low-income residents of a manufactured home park who were displaced by new development.
The list of partnerships and joint projects could go on and on. The Denver Foundation is proud and honored to be MHC’s partner in improving the quality of life for all of Metro Denver’s residents.
Together, Mile High Connects and the Denver Office of Economic Development (OED) comprise every sector of the community—MHC representing private and nonprofit assets and OED being, of course, local government. Thus there is great capacity and opportunity created by our organizations working together.
As different as our funding streams and governance structures are, MHC and OED share a great deal of aligned mission and core values. We’re both focused on creating and sustaining affordable and inclusive communities, and engaging citizens at a grassroots level, with the ultimate goal of truly equitable development that invites economy mobility for all. From this joint perspective, virtually every aspect of civic community-building is connected to every other by a common thread, even in ways not immediately recognizable. Nurturing entrepreneurs in low-income areas can create wealth to resist involuntary displacement caused by gentrification; modeling the creation of multi-use residential/commercial developments along transit lines can make real the vision of more economic diversity within every urban block.
OED has ambitious strategies for the future that are breaking down its own conventional “silos”–for example, figuring out how to link 21st century workforce development services to increased access to entrepreneurship, or helping local employers thrive because we are creating more affordable housing options for middle-skill workers, or making sure that the newest corporate relocations provide the maximum opportunity for longtime residents to tap into better wages. It is the inspiration that municipal government can draw from a vibrant independent player like MHC, and in return, the assurance to nonprofits that local government will willingly contribute capacity and innovation—along with a listening ear—that makes this kind of collaborative climate bear fruit.
For example, recently the two of us partnered with Denver Housing Authority, Denver Foundation, Enterprise Community Partners Inc., and the Gates Foundation to establish the West Denver Renaissance Collaborative (WDRC). The mission of WDRC is to ensure that the redevelopment of West Denver is done in an equitable fashion, ensuring that existing residents are the ultimate beneficiaries of the work, and that the neighborhoods impacted don’t lose their rich multicultural character. The West Denver neighborhoods that are part of the WDRC include Athmar Park, Barnum, Lincoln Park, Sun Valley, Valverde, Villa Park, West Colfax and Westwood. The WDRC is moving forward, actively engaging with stakeholders in the identified neighborhoods. Next steps this summer include identifying the needs of the different neighborhoods and identify programming and resources to meet those needs.
One of Rose Community Foundation’s grantmaking priorities is to support programs that allow people in the Greater Denver community to age in place — or stay in their own homes and neighborhoods — and live independently for as long as possible. Naturally Occurring Retirement Communities or NORCs are one important avenue for ensuring that people have access to and are aware of resources in their own neighborhoods they need as they age. One of the NORCs the Foundation funds is in Denver’s Capitol Hill neighborhood. It sits alongside RTD’s busy 15 bus line.
NORCs are communities that, while not originally designed for older adults, have a significant amount of residents over age 60. When these communities are identified, often a nonprofit organization will work to identify needs and coordinate care and social services to meet those needs. In the Capitol Hill NORC the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual & Transgender (GLBT) Community Center of Colorado and Capitol Hill Care Link work to establish connections with older adults in the area and then make sure they know where and how to access services and resources available to them.
People over 60 who are aging in place face many challenges, but among the most daunting and difficult to solve is isolation. While the Capitol Hill Care Link works to connect the older adults in the neighborhood to resources to age in place, it also helps residents connect through social events and volunteer opportunities, including yoga classes, lunch and learns, and support groups. The organization also convenes a Resident Advisory Board regularly to stay in touch with residents’ needs and interests.
Rose Community Foundation, along with The Colorado Health Foundation and Daniels Fund also support organizations that work in NORCs in Wheat Ridge and Edgewater.