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.
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:
Read up on what your state is anticipated to receive.
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.
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.
Start promoting priorities, projects, definitions, standards, and locations that advance racial equity.
Work with colleagues tracking implementation to build coalitions focused on funding implementation.
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!
As the Denver metro region continues to grow in the face of climate change, COVID, and lack of affordability for so many, MHC understands more than ever the importance of bringing together individuals, organizations, philanthropy, and government to achieve community change at levels they cannot achieve alone. As we usher in the new year, we celebrate and continue to support the work of our collaborative partners, all in service of uprooting systemic inequities while responding to the immediate needs of community. This is our work.
MHC and its collaborative partners are working toward a common vision where all people in our region are free and live in equitable, resilient communities. Our Collaborative Work Plan serves as the roadmap for this vision – addressing deeply rooted systemic issues while ensuring community needs are met. It reflects local work of our partners with an understanding that many of the common barriers they experience are connected to systemic causes that target BIPOC and low-income residents, including lack of access to land ownership and other opportunities for wealth-building, as well as a lack of representation at planning and policy decision-making tables.
MHC’s work plan was built by our Coordinated Action Committee, comprised of steering committee members and partners from
West Denver Renaissance Collaborative (West Denver)
Maiker Housing Partners (Southwest Adams County)
Enterprise Community Partners (East Denver/Regional)
Each partner is working locally in our target geographies – West Denver, East Denver, Far NE Denver, and SW Adams County, and elevated specific projects that will move the needle forward on MHC’s three strategies of Unlocking Community Power, Equitable Development, and Equitable Capital. These strategies were supported with a range of resources including capacity building, technical assistance, peer connections, and financial resources (as available).
Thanks to the contributions of the Strong Prosperous & Resilient Communities Challenge (SPARCC), Forth Mobility/Greenlining Institute, and local funders, last year MHC supported all Coordinated Action Committee members, in addition to other local partners doing critical work to advance our strategies, including:
East Colfax Community Collective
Sun Valley Kitchen
Colorado Black Arts Movement
United for a New Economy
Anchored in our unlocking community power strategy, MHC:
Continued to support the community movement building and organizing capacity of our local partners, resulting in organizational changes that provide formal structures for authentic community engagement and program co-creation.
Financially supported partners in SW Adams County to develop a start-up committee to inform a new organizing and training institute to tackle critical issues such as healthy food, language, and vaccine access.
Financially supported efforts of our west Denver partners to increase the capacity for organizing across that region.
Sponsored Zoom licenses for community organizers and partners, opening access to virtual public meetings and identifying strategies to sustain the work in a post-pandemic world.
As part of our equitable development strategy, we:
Financially supported partners in exploring community ownership models to fight displacement, increase local stabilization, and build community resilience.
Supported local partners with data and research into community ownership models to inform their path forward.
Cohosted community discussion on electric mobility and infrastructure to understand potential hurdles in implementations
To open access to equitable capital, we:
Financially supported predevelopment costs associated with community-driven mixed-use projects designed to address lack of housing, missing healthy food systems, and other critical local needs, such as Montbello’s FreshLo project.
Connecting local issues to larger-scale impacts to drive equitable change, we amplified regional and state-level efforts by supporting affordable housing campaigns of our partners to advance safe, healthy housing in COVID recovery, including implementing an extension to the state’s eviction moratorium and two state bills focused on tenant protections.
As the need to implement and operationalize equitable practices grows, MHC’s years of unprecedented experience as a collaborative of community-based organizations and institutional partners, paired with our more recent work through the Strong, Prosperous, and Resilient Community Challenge (SPARCC), positions us to preach what we practice and advocate for continued support of collaborative work and the need for deeper relational partnerships, stronger community networks, sustained access to expertise and technical assistance, and diverse, unrestricted, and patient capital.
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
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!
“in community, our potential is truly realized…we have the capacity to hold each other, serve each other, heal each other, create for and with each other, forgive each other, and liberate ourselves and each other.” – adrienne maree brown, “in relationship with others” blog post, July 7, 2009
The rapid worldwide spread of COVID-19 greatly transformed our communities as the healthcare, and subsequent economic, crisis unfolded last year, compounding impact disparities that our BBIPOC partners face ongoingly, while highlighting the fragility of the systems upon which we collectively depend. The resilience of our region continues to be challenged amidst uncertainty, a dearth of clear and accurate information, lack of access to goods and services (including vaccines), and overall isolation. However, if there is one lesson that continues to shine through for us all to learn from, it is that hyper-local, community-driven solutions that build true community power and shared wealth are the keys to equitable, resilient and restorative systems where everyone not only survives, they thrive.
The indispensable role of community and its collective power has been tragically called forth by the pandemic and beautifully displayed through emergency response efforts of community groups such as the Colorado Changemakers Collective, also known as the Colectiva Creando Cambios, CCC, or Colectiva. This Montbello-based group was created in 2018 with a long-term vision of community transformation that is grounded in the belief that those most affected by social inequalities must be central to the work that has to be done. In 2020, the critical nature of Colectiva’s work was laid bare, as they quickly mobilized community partners to meet the emerging needs of the Latinx community, including access to basic needs and food.
We learned about Colectiva’s journey by way of our community partners, Montbello Organizing Committee (MOC), who were integral contributors to the collective response. We were eager to learn more and have them share their experience at a community gathering on Zoom in February. At the gathering, Maricruz Herrera, founder of Colectiva, gave a heart-felt, up close and personal account of their COVID-19 Community Response Network’s fast evolving work throughout last year, as 13 separate neighborhood organizations banded together to create a resourceful response network that worked tirelessly to meet the emergency needs of community as our region locked down to curb the coronavirus outbreak. To date, they have served over 2,500 families in Denver, Westminster, Aurora, Commerce City, Rifle, and beyond!
In a very short period, the Montbello community mobilized its network – a net that works; a net that has always worked but has been hindered by systemic barriers – by connecting community members to resources through trusted relationships. La Colectiva’s powerful engine was driven by the work of community navigators or promotoras and fueled by local volunteers and funders, including The Denver Foundation, Mile High Connects, and COVID relief funds. As our communities continue to recover and redefine normal, we can no longer collectively turn our gaze from the disproportionate impacts of concurrent crises on BBIPOC communities, nor can we afford to miss any opportunity to support and build on the wisdom of and solution in community centered response.
It is time to learn from community and support their tried-and-true efforts, like Colectiva’s COVID-19 Community Response Network. In partnership with Colectiva, Montbello Organizing Committee, and many other local community serving organizations, Mile High Connects is committed to its community stewardship where our work centers community, responding to immediate local needs while elevating local voice in recovery and redevelopment. Our goal is to unlock community power through greater local control, community ownership, and preservation of place, and we must heed the pathways to liberation that communities keep showing us.
As a collaborative committed to a racially equitable and resilient Denver region, we stand with the Asian American & Pacific Islander (AAPI) community as we collectively grieve the horrific acts of violence in Georgia.
While it may be difficult for some to believe the horrors of Tuesday following this summer’s racial awakening, people of color know all too well the history of hate and violence perpetuated on our bodies as a result of systemic racism, sexism, and discrimination. The history of xenophobia towards the AAPI community in the United States did not begin on Tuesday in Georgia. It permeates US history, from the bubonic plague of the early 1900s to the more recent Coronavirus . Recent data by Stop AAPI Hate shows that harassment and violence towards the Asian American community has dramatic increased over the last year, with attacks towards those of East Asian descent being fueled by a former President that uses hateful, racist rhetoric when speaking about the Coronavirus pandemic.
We urge you to center the voices of the AAPI community in this conversation and support in whatever way you can.
Mile High Connects partner 9to5 Colorado’s National Office in Georgia is working with the AAPI community on the ground and nationally to center the needs of those impacted. You can help by contributing towards the ongoing healing of the Atlanta AAPI Community. Take immediate action to show solidarity with AAPI communities by adding your name to the list of individuals and organizations calling for a community response to AAPI violence. Nationally and locally, support organizations that advocate for economic and social justice with and in low-income AAPI communities such National CAPACD, Asian Pacific Development Center, Vietnamese American Community of Colorado, Boulder Asian Pacific Alliance, and the Asian Chamber of Commerce. Our Asian-owned small businesses need our support now more than ever – consider spending your dollars at locally owned AAPI restaurants and businesses.
We hope for healing, justice, and a more equitable future for all.
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 andMetro 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 Instituteunpacked 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 Partnershipshared 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.
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.
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!
COVID-19 has acutely demonstrated that everyone needs to live in safe and healthy communities – communities that advance economic opportunity, prevent residential, commercial and cultural displacement, build on local assets, promote mobility and connectivity, and enable equitable access to planning, development, and decision-making. Our work now is to collaboratively navigate escalating risks while continuing to lay the foundation for a new system paradigm – one that we have been working for all along.
Mile High Connects is taking a stand for an equitable, resilient Metro Denver where community-driven solutions are at the center of transformative change. In order to increase equitable investment into community-centered solutions, we are committing to:
strengthen community leadership and development with financial resources and technical assistance,
institutionalize equitable development through advocacy and practice, and
activate and deploy equitable capital for catalytic projects that will influence and leverage public investments while preserving place
Based on years of deep engagement in community, and the continued generous support of The Denver Foundation, the Piton Foundation, the Colorado Health Foundation, Gates Family Foundation, Colorado Housing and Finance Authority, Wells Fargo and US Bank, we have recommitted our program work to three local geographies that experience persistent trauma, inequitable allocation of resources, and are most at risk of displacement pressures – Southwest Adams County, West Denver, and East Denver. Leveraging continued support from the Strong, Prosperous, and Resilient Communities Challenge (SPARCC), a multi-city national cohort of regional collaboratives, our goal is to increase equitable investment into community-driven solutions by 2023.
Community ownership is a critical opportunity in this moment and its success will rely upon connected, informed and organized communities with strong leadership. Work across our target geographies will focus on building community development infrastructure and leadership development. In West Denver, for example, we will support the growth of their Community Connector program established to get folks connected to resources in response to the health and financial crises. In Southwest Adams County, we will support the design and development of a community organizing institute. We will also explore Community Investment Trust (CIT) models and identify local opportunities to implement a pilot.
Critically, in our effort to institutionalize equitable development, we will identify policy gaps and opportunities brought to light by COVID-19 and recent social unrest, and advocate for local, state and national policies that reduce displacement of residents and businesses. We plan to influence local and regional planning efforts to support the application of an equity lens in every decision made. We will also sponsor and promote existing Community Benefits Agreement (CBAs) efforts across our region.
Capital is a crucial piece of the community ownership puzzle, and we are committed to the equitable deployment of it. Mile High Connects will continue to support pre-development efforts in West Denver along Morrison Road to support BuCu West in creating a business corridor that preserves culture and place. We will also support the development of Montbello’s grocery-store-anchored cultural hub that includes affordable rental housing. Over in East Denver, with compounded displacement pressures at play, we will align resources and partners to create and preserve affordable housing units.
As our community partners focus both on recovery efforts and the long-term root cause remedies to systemic oppression, we stand where the acute meets the chronic. We have an opportunity to reimagine the way forward, one that unlocks community power, promotes racial equity, rebalances our economic structures, and ensures housing for all.
Community has a central stake and role to play in its own wellbeing, from community participation in climate action to addressing socio-economic distress, and now, to mitigating the multi-dimensional consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic. As communities tackle the challenges brought forth by the health crisis, there is much to be gained from unlocking the democratic and transformational potential of engaged & organized communities.
The diverse Montbello neighborhood in northeast Denver stands as a living testament to the benefits of an organized community, and how it is an essential ingredient to addressing response solutions. Fueled by support from the Kresge Foundation to develop innovative approaches to economic development, cultural expression and health through food-oriented development, Montbello Organizing Committee (MOC) has been working with local community partners over the past three years on the FreshLo initiative, a community center and housing project anchored in a community vision for fresh, healthy food and rooted by community partnerships. When COVID-19 struck the neighborhood comprised of Latino and Black residents, many of which are less likely to work from home and face higher health disparities, MOC’s community partnership pivoted to act quickly to address new, acute community needs in the face of chronic issues. This collaborative work proved to be foundational in positioning the community to respond immediately and effectively to the consequences of COVID-19.
As schools closed, people lost their jobs and others became sick, some of the existing local food programs had to shut down operations since many of their volunteers were considered “high risk” and were encouraged to stay at home. As Donna Garnett, Executive Director of MOC, got word that schools and the municipal building that served food twice a week were closing, she notes that within 24 hours, MOC sprang into action in partnership with the Struggle of Love Foundation (SOLF) and Academy 360 (A360) to engage a more robust distribution system of food and essential goods. Within three weeks, they went from serving 100 people per day to serving over 700!
The coordinated response efforts of MOC and its partners reveals how this community has, over time, developed the infrastructure and trust to create a sense of place and connection. The strength of this neighborhood is essential in how community can weather hardship, recover, and sustain through democratic processes, strong community leaders, and integrated food, art, and culture initiatives. Beyond the emergency response, this well connected, mobilized community is looking to the future of further food insecurity and shortages to create a sustained approach to fresh food access by working with their partners to support more backyard farming.
As Donna reflects the last few months, she notes Montbello is not alone. “There are pockets of networks all around Denver metro. We must find them and coordinate with them. Competition will be the death of us. We need to find a way to reach across the gaps of communication and work together. We are only successful when every link in the chain is successful.” Further, she highlights the importance of the work of MHC, as it is “all about making these vital connections to make every community viable, where people can live healthily and vitally.”
For more information about MOC and its collective response efforts in community, check out their latest Montbello Urban Spectrum Edition (MUSE), especially the article “Montbello During COVID-19, Feeding the Community Through Partnerships.”
Like Deya, I too have struggled to find words to express my feelings over the last three months. They started in fear and frustration at the outset of COVID-19, and turned to grief, anger, and sadness in the wake of the murders of Elijah McClain, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and most recently George Floyd at the hands of the police. Both the pandemic and the protests exposed two things: deep structural inequities and systemic racism that black and brown communities have experienced for years. Neither is a new issue; they’re why Mile High Connects exists – to combat these issues in the Denver Metro Region. However, what is hopefully different in this moment, is that both issues are simultaneously on display, drawing attention and support from Americans across the country, capturing our collective attention.
Could it be that this pandemic has provided an opening, through which we can all move and reimagine our recovery together? My deepest hope is yes, and that Mile High Connects has a key role to play here as a steward of that process, to listen and support, which makes it truly exciting to be a part of this collaborative effort.
Since our beginnings as an organization in 2011, we have been committed to examining and increasing equity through many lenses: economic, health, racial and environmental. While this focus is not new to us, the events in the recent months serve as an important reminder that in order to truly move the needle towards a more equitable region, we must lead with racial equity and be much more explicit in that. We need to be able to recognize, name, and understand our role in perpetuating historical inequities in our communities as an important first step.
Up to now, I think we’ve shown that we can talk the talk, but as many leaders have pointed out, it’s time to get beyond talking. Equity is action. Can we also walk the walk? I would say yes, and the contents of this newsletter demonstrate that both our partners and our staff strive to walk with the communities we serve. With Deya’s leadership, we are definitely moving in the right direction. However, the current governing body (me included) is over 60% white, which means we still have work to do. The next step is being willing to ask some tough questions of ourselves: Are we structured in a way that truly represents the communities we serve? How can we continue to uphold racial equity and center black and brown communities in our work? What does a just recovery truly look like? Are we best positioned to take the organization and the Denver metro region from where it is currently, to justice, and eventually resilience?
I’d like to end with our Inspiration to Action, which is present in all the updates that follow and serves as a guiding force behind all we do. Let’s truly take advantage of this moment, and walk forward together.
Our Inspiration to Action:
A racially equitable, resilient Denver Region where community driven solutions are atthe center of transformative systems change.
Chair of MHC Steering Committee
VP, Community Development Officer, Wells Fargo Foundation