Our Program Update, July 2020:
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.”
To the Mile High Connects Community,
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 at the center of transformative systems change.
Chair of MHC Steering Committee
VP, Community Development Officer, Wells Fargo Foundation
Affordable Housing & Community Facilities
Know an Organization or Business in Need of Space?
According to the 2015 Nonprofit Space Survey Final Report, published in June, many nonprofit and for-profit community-benefiting organizations and small businesses in the Denver metro area successfully negotiated lease rates during the recession that will soon end. Surveyed nonprofit respondents reported currently paying on average $11.57 per square foot, while market rates in Metro Denver were $21.45 per square foot for Class B space as of the close of Q2 2016. MHC is launching a Tenant Pipeline with our partner, Denver Shared Spaces, to strategically connect community-oriented businesses, social enterprises and nonprofits with affordable commercial space, thinking ahead to future needs and availability. This is the first program of its kind to systematically support the space needs of organizations and small businesses that are so important to our community. Do you know of an organization who could benefit from participating in this program? Please contact Megan Yonke at email@example.com.
Dedicated Revenue Fund for Affordable Housing Established
On September 19, MHC and many of our partners celebrated a historic moment in Denver history! After more than 18 months of discussions, debates, analysis, and stakeholder gatherings, the Denver City Council voted 9-4 in favor of passing Council Bill 16-0625 – a bill that creates a dedicated revenue fund to support the creation and preservation of affordable housing in Denver. The Fund, capitalized with a combination of property taxes and impact fees on new real estate development, will generate approximately $150 million over the next ten years and is expected to create and preserve at least 6,000 affordable homes for low income residents of Denver.
Business, Local Workforce, and Middle Skilled Jobs
Learning Cohort for Anchor Institutions
The work of MHC and The Denver Foundation around engaging major institutions in creating community benefit continues to grow. In 2017, we will convene a year-long group for local anchor institutions committed to engaging the communities in which they hold deep roots. These anchors – universities, hospitals, governments and other institutions with long-rooted investments – recognize the wealth of potential they hold and are eager to learn from each other about how to connect with their communities. The learning cohort will focus not only why anchor are vital institutions but how they can engage in anchor institution work. We’ll explore how to effectively support local businesses through contracting, training opportunities that support local hire programs, and opportunities to maximize local investment through community development. Anchors will walk away with an understanding of what it takes to build a solid anchor mission framework.
First & Last Mile Connections
Invest Health Convening
Five-person teams from 50 mid-sized American cities gathered in Denver September 28-30 at the Invest Health Second National Convening. Invest Health grants are awarded by the Reinvestment Fund and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation to help municipalities and their partners design and implement projects that enhance health and equity through infrastructure investments. As a member of the Westminster team (which includes the City of Westminster, Adams County, Tri-County Health Department and Regis University), MHC worked closely with the funders’ staff in the months prior to the convening to design the program. MHC partners Felicia Griffin (FRESC), Neha Mahajan (9 To 5) and Lizeth Chacon (Colorado People’s Alliance) were featured on a panel to discuss effective strategies for community engagement and participation. Executive Director Dace West provided a practical perspective to presentations about developing collaborative frameworks and financing strategies that highlighted the work of the organization in the Denver region. DRCOG staff offered demonstrations of the on-line Regional Equity Atlas and Development Project Pipeline (under development as part of the Capital Absorption Project) created in collaboration with MHC.
Cultivando works in the Promotora Model across South Adams County to foster and support community-driven affordable housing advocacy and policy solutions. Cultivando Promotoras work to organize and train community members living in mobile home parks and vulnerable affordable housing units to understand the pressure on their housing costs and to understand and identify solutions, and then to advocate collaboratively with decision-makers. Simultaneously and informed by community, Cultivando staff advocates to local decision makers about inclusive policies and practices that both include diverse community members in decision making AND push for long-term, creative affordable housing options that meet the needs of mixed-documentation status families and others.
Cultivando believes that the best policies are community-driven, and that those impacted by inequality and health disparities MUST be at the table in order to create effective solutions. Our communities will only benefit from transportation and housing improvements IF they can access them and afford them.
Affordable Housing & Community Facilities
Affordable Housing Revenue Fund
The City of Denver’s proposed Affordable Housing Revenue Fund has taken a major step forward. The proposal, estimated to provide $156 million in revenue over its first 10 years, passed unanimously thru City Council Committee on August 24th by unanimous vote and is headed to the full City Council floor. The proposal will be heard by the full City Council on September 12th. The final vote and 1 hour of public comment will occur on September 19th at 5:30 pm. MHC and many of its Steering Committee partners have been actively engaged in this 18 month process, working with the City to establish this much needed resource as well as the governance and eligible uses of its resources. Denver Residents are encouraged to sign an endorsement letter created by the city and/or leave feedback for the city on the housing proposal using this link.
Recent updates to the Fund:
· Mayor Hancock has committed to using $5 million from the general fund in the first year to ensure a full $15 million of available funds.
· ADU’s and other additions under 400 sq. ft. are exempted from the development fee
Our June 2016 grant cycle was the most competitive to date with 21 applications from groups and organizations throughout the Denver Region. After sharing back the information gleaned from site visits and engaging in robust discussions, the MHC Grant Fund Committee chose to fund 10 organizations, including an emerging resident group from Lakewood. MHC is excited to announce the 2016 grantees:
Cultivando (formerly Community Enterprise) | Grant Amount: $22,000
Project Description: Cultivando will focus on a promotora-led community education, engagement, and collective advocacy on affordable housing, gentrification, accessible/affordable transit and community-driven policies that protect low-income families from displacement. They will work with agency partners and community members to amplify community-driven policy solutions to the complex problems of affordable housing.
Colorado Jobs with Justice | Grant Amount: $25,000
Project Description: Colorado Jobs with Justice will build on the grassroots organizing that they initiated with their coalition members last year for an income-based fare and pass program. They will also build the capacity of their members to speak and take on leadership roles within the work and integrate the work into their Fair Chance and Caring Across Generations Campaign to engage formerly incarcerated individuals, elderly, disabled, and home care providers.
Colorado People’s Alliance (formerly Rights for All People) | Grant Amount: $22,000
Project Description: Colorado People’s Alliance will continue their work on the income-based pass, 50% discount for those living at or below 150% of the poverty level. They also will lead the work on protecting critical bus routes in Original Aurora. And given their transition from Rights for All People to COPA, they will work to connect the transit work to the larger strategies aimed at the economy.
Colorado Cross Disability Coalition | Grant Amount: $22,000
Project Description: Colorado Cross Disability Coalition will continue their data-driven transportation focused advocacy for people with disabilities. This includes training current advocates and community outreach to secure positions for people with disabilities in decision-making spaces on policies.
GES Right to Live Well | Grant Amount: $22,000
Project Description: GES Right to Live Well will convene a collaborative, GES Development without Displacement Nonprofit Coalition, which is comprised of GES community leaders, allies, and stakeholders to launch a GES-based Housing Campaign and Resident Leadership Organizing Committee. The Committee will build community owned solutions centered on the most critical issues identified by GES neighbors: affordable housing, affordable transportation, and protection of the unique community.
Growing Home | Grant Amount: $22,000
Project Description: Growing Home will continue to implement its Bocks of Hope project with the leadership of its community organizer. It will expand outreach to the community to address changes due to the TOD and resulting impacts on the local housing market.
Los Gables (resident group) | Grant Amount: $10,000
Project Description: Veronica Jimenez, Guadalupe Gonzales, and Yolanda Hernandez propose to engage residents/mothers from the Gables Zone in advocating for bus stops and increased bus frequency in the neighborhood.
Montbello Organizing Committee | Grant Amount: $20,000
Project Description: Montbello Organizing Committee will continue to ensure that Montbello residents have access to transit offerings that connect them to housing, healthy food, education, and jobs.
Project VOYCE | Grant Amount: $22,000
Project Description: Project VOYCE will initiative a youth Block Captain leadership development and community organizing project in GES to develop a campaign focused on improving access to affordable housing, affordable and equitable transportation access, development, and community renewal.
Streetsblog Denver | Grant Amount: $16,540
Project Description: Through a part-time reporter Streetsblog Denver will expand its focus on transit issues, including housing, workforce, and equity as well as research and write longer, more investigative pieces on transit and Denver’s growth.
First & Last Mile Connections
On August 15, the City and County of Denver opened a two-way parking protected bikeway between Virginia and Bayaud on Broadway. The opening of the Broadway Bikeway demonstration project is the culmination of an extensive planning and public engagement process. It will be open for three months and will provide data about multi-modal operations on this vital transportation route that will inform the development of permanent protected bike lanes. This is a critical link to downtown for bicycle commuters and serves as a connection to the Alameda Light Rail Station. Cyclists are encouraged to ride the bikeway and provide feedback to the City by completing the survey at denvermovesbroadway.com/survey. For more information about the project visit denvermovesbroadway.com.
Denveright is an effort by the City and County of Denver to comprehensively plan its future through a community-driven process. It consists of four integrated plans.
• Blueprint Denver – Blueprint promotes urban design goals that result in a more pedestrian- and bike-friendly environment, increased transit service on major corridors, shared parking in business districts and more housing in mixed-use areas. This update will continue the work that began 15 years ago with the original Blueprint and help the City meet changing demands and conditions.
• Parks Game Plan – The Game Plan emphasizes the vision of “a city in a park” and a set of core values: the environment, engagement, equity and sound economics. It focuses on providing quality recreational amenities citywide, especially in the neighborhoods that need them most. The plan revision will define new parks and recreation centers, relevant programs, and how existing assets are maintained and enhanced in the face of financial constraints, climate change, shifting demographics and increased use.
• Denver Moves: Pedestrians and Trails – This plan will help make walking a viable primary way for people to get around comfortably and safely. With guidance and input from the community, the plan will identify citywide needs and define priorities for improving and connecting Denver’s pedestrian and off-street trail network. It also will examine costs, funding options and policies required to achieve the community’s vision.
• Denver Moves: Transit – For the first time, and with input from the community, Denver is planning for local transit choices and improvements to move people around town safely and reliably. This plan will create a local vision that will build on and complement RTD’s regional system. It also will take a closer look at implementation strategies and funding options for local transit improvements.
Mile High Connects serves on Blueprint Denver task forces and the two Denver Moves task forces. Denveright provides an important opportunity to shape the future of the City and ensure opportunity for everyone who lives and works here. There will be a series of surveys that provide opportunities for input by the entire community. Please encourage your friends and neighbors to learn more about Denveright and provide their opinions here.
Preventing Resident Displacement in Globeville Elyria Swansea
Why do we need to power map? Because residents are being involuntarily displaced from Globeville Elyria Swansea neighborhood daily, local schools are 10-25% down in enrollment, and many existing residents have little protection from being displaced (lack of a contract, resources, lawyers, money). GES histories and peoples are worth preserving and GES is a culturally rich and connected neighborhood. A great deal of capital is being invested in the neighborhood and has the potential to displace over 100 families. All of these factors have spurred residents into action to preserve their community.
Power mapping enables us to strategize together about what next steps to take to build power at the community level. We believe community led and owned solutions will address the issues at hand best, and organizing together can change the power dynamic we are currently experiencing. Stay tuned for a report from over 500 residents in GES surveyed on housing and workforce development. This work is led by the GES Housing Campaign, which is comprised and supported by residents and local organizations with roots in GES.
Power Mapping Session with GES Resident Leaders and GES Housing Coalition Organizations
The Denver Regional Council of Governments (DRCOG) is one of the nation’s oldest councils of governments and serves the region as a planning organization, technical assistance provider and forum for visionary local governments. Through a strong focus on regional growth and development and transportation, DRCOG is deeply invested in improving mobility choices for people of all ages, incomes and abilities, reducing greenhouse gas emissions, and increasing access to opportunity. Partnering with Mile High connects furthers DRCOG’s efforts to connect local governments, stakeholders, and the public to accessible data and information.
Launched in 2014, the online Denver Regional Equity Atlas has continued as an ongoing partnership between DRCOG, MHC and the Piton Foundation to help raise awareness about the benefits and opportunities that a robust public transportation network can create. The Atlas emphasizes the need to ensure access to opportunity for everyone in the region, especially improving connections for the region’s low-income residents.
Throughout the past year, DRCOG and MHC have partnered again to develop and fine tune a new online application called the Development Project Pipeline. The pipeline application will connect developers with investors in the Denver region, creating an environment that can formally and predictably support impact investments that have far reaching community benefits. Of particular interest are development opportunities that leverage the transit system and influence positive change in areas such as affordable housing, economic opportunity and healthy communities.
In recent years, CCDC volunteer Douglas Howey has been the strength behind a lot of the CCDC transit advocacy. As a physics teacher who uses a wheelchair, he is uniquely equipped to engage in productive discussions about space on the buses and trains. Douglas was helpful in our resolution of an RTD bus services problem that was facing the disability community, and it was because of his advocacy that buses now have the area for stuff, such as groceries, right behind the securement area. As a lifelong transit user (many years before he had a disability), Douglas is a strong advocate for transit that works for everyone. Douglas was even featured in an ad for RTD about the commuter rail and light rail expansion.
Douglas also noticed that there were some safety issues with newly purchased Access-A-Ride vans; as a result, those problems are getting fixed today. Douglas is a valued member of the APAC which is RTD’s ADA paratransit advisory committee and designed a pilot online reservation program for Access-A-Ride. This new online reservation system will be very helpful for users that have limited phone minutes or speech disabilities when calling for reservations. Douglas is currently continuing to work on Access-A-Ride issues, helps CCDC advise RTD on training, and is trying to figure out a better way for buses to accommodate people who use walkers as mobility aides.
A graduate of the CCDC 8-week Basic Advocacy Training, today Douglas is a CCDC certified non-attorney advocate and CCDC Member. Transit related advocacy has become his specialty. Too often there is an assumption that low-income people with disabilities do not have anything to offer and certainly cannot be useful in high-level policy discussions or complex highly technical planning. Douglas is one of the many CCDC advocates who prove this fallacy to be wrong every day.
Douglas Howey, CCDC Advocate
Affordable Housing & Community Facilities
Shared Spaces At Transit Hubs – How Transit Access And Shared Spaces Go Hand-In-Hand hosted by Denver Shared Spaces and Medici Communities
Learn from the incredible collaborative work of DSS partner Mile High Connects on how shared spaces are being incorporated into transit oriented developments, intersecting nonprofits with housing and services while addressing the need for quality employment and affordable fares. You won’t want to miss this given the immense amount of development currently underway in our region. Click here to register.
City & County of Denver – Dedicated Revenue Source for Affordable Housing
Mile High Connects and many of its Steering Committee Organizations are deeply engaged in the ongoing conversation at the City & County of Denver regarding the establishment of a permanent, dedicated revenue source to support affordable housing preservation and development. Negotiations and stakeholder discussions remain ongoing, but the current proposal is to capitalize this resource with a combination of a 0.5 mill increase in property taxes and a new impact fee, ranging from $0.40 to $1.70 per square foot depending on development type) on all new development in the City. Based on current assumptions, the City estimates this will create approximately $155 million in new revenue over the next 10 years. MHC remains committed and supportive of the plan overall and is committed to remaining engaged with all relevant departments within the city to help shape the governance, public engagement, and utilization of the resources should the proposal pass City Council. MHC encourages all Denver stakeholders to engage in the process if you haven’t already. See the updated tentative calendar of events as it relates to this proposal Revised Housing Calendar (2016 07-26).
Capital Absorption – Leadership Forum
The Mile High Connects Capital Absorption Team hosted a Leadership Forum at the Denver Foundation on July 28, which was attended by over 40 leaders in the government, non-profit, development, brokerage, philanthropic, and private investment fields. The group engaged in a lively conversation about how to best achieve the ultimate goal of the Capital Absorption work, which is to build sustainable systems and structures to deploy public and private capital into strategic projects that create or preserve affordable housing, community serving commercial facilities, and mixed-use developments in low-income communities near transit. The team shared with the group its efforts to date and received valuable feedback and creative ideas for how we might continue to drive the work forward for the remainder of this year and into 2017, including the buildout in partnership with DRCOG, of a regional community development pipeline designed to help connect project sponsors with impact investors looking to place capital.
Three Things to Consider About the Nonprofit Real Estate Market
While skyrocketing housing costs are at the forefront of our minds, it’s also important to bear in mind the impact of rising commercial real estate rates as well. The risk for small businesses and nonprofits of being priced out of Denver is extremely high, according to the report released by Denver Shared Spaces. Nonprofit Centers Network, and Mile High Community Loan Fund. Learn more about the potential for displacement, ways to combat rising costs, and check out Mayor Michael B. Hancock’s commitments regarding nonprofit space here.
Upcoming Training and Feedback Opportunities
Sharing Your Inspiring Stories
The Denver Foundation has launched an interactive website called Floodlight for nonprofits to connect with donors of the Foundation. If you have an inspiring story to share, come learn how to build your story by using the platform. When: August 22nd, 9:00 – 11:00 am. Space is limited! Contact Carmen Holleman, cholleman@denverfoundation to RSVP or for more information.
As Denver continues to grow and change, what are your biggest concerns? What changes in land use, mobility, parks and recreational resources would make life in Denver more enjoyable? Click here to take the Community Vision Survey.