Mile High Connects Awarded $1 Million From National SPARCC Initiative

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.

About SPARCC

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.

MHC Updates

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.

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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. 
Denveright
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. 

Grantee Highlight

With support from Mile High Connects, Growing Home is working with community members in the Blocks of Hope neighborhood to advocate for affordable housing and development. The project is focused in Southwest Adams County, a neighborhood which is already feeling the impact from two future RTD stations. Alma Garza is a natural community leader, “I felt that that I never or rarely had a say in what happens in my neighborhood. But, I’m excited things are changing. I have always been interested in fighting for what my community needs. I finally feel like my interests are being heard, words are being put into action. I am an immigrant mother of three and I’m organizing with Growing Home. Together with Growing Home we are identifying and developing community leaders who can give voice to community needs and perspectives in decision making forums and strengthen our neighborhood. With the help of Growing Home, we are organizing the 500 unit apartment where I live, probably one of the only ‘affordable places’ within Blocks of Hope. The tenants are addressing security, repairs, and employee relations. We are working hard to ensure that tenants know their rights, we are also building a sense of community and accountability in the buildings .We are bringing tenants from different buildings together that are experiencing common problems. There’s power in numbers!” *translated from Spanish

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Blocks of Hope Resident Leaders

MHC Partner Highlight – Tri-County Health Department

Tri-County Health Department (TCHD) is the local public health agency for Adams, Arapahoe and Douglas counties providing a wide range of public health services to 1.4 million residents in the Denver Metropolitan region. TCHD promotes, protects and improves the lifelong health of individuals and communities through the effective use of data, evidence-based prevention strategies, leadership, advocacy, partnerships, and the promotion of health equity. Since research has shown that a person’s health and the likelihood of becoming sick are greatly influenced by powerful social and economic factors such as access to stable housing, economic opportunity, and education, TCHD believes health is at the forefront of Mile High Connects’ multi-sector problem-solving approach to these complex topics. Participation with Mile High Connects furthers TCHD’s efforts to bring health considerations to policy and system change work in non-health sectors. A well-planned regional transit system will not only improve housing options, access to jobs and access to good schools, it is the vehicle for good health.

A Win-Win Partnership

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.

NORCs Provide Resources & Connections for Aging Adults in Their Own Neighborhoods

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.

Community Member Highlight – Terry Liggins, Montbello Community Leader

Terry Liggins is the Executive Director of Bennie E. Goodwin After School Program, which is located in Aurora, Colorado, but her heart and home reside in the Far Northeast Denver neighborhood of Montbello, where she has lived with her family for more than 15 years.

“A friend and mentor, Rich Male, approached me regarding some work around possible gentrification issues in the Montbello neighborhood,” Terry says. “He knew I lived in Montbello and thought I might be helpful in working with others to determine solutions. Once I found out the work that needed to be done, I knew I had to help.”

That was three years ago and Terry has since been involved, developing her strength as a leader with the Montbello Organizing Committee (MOC), a Mile High Connects grantee organization that works to engage Montbello community members and provide them with tools to develop grassroots leadership skills to address issues that affect their quality of life. MOC currently works with residents on task teams to address three main issues: retail and economic development, community enhancement, and transportation. Terry co-leads the Transportation Task Team (T3). To date the efforts of MOC have led to the cessation of service route changes that would have obstructed residents’ direct access to and from the only grocery store in the neighborhood. Additionally partnerships with council representatives have let to sidewalk and bus stop infrastructure improvements. Much more is in the works.

“I would like to see transit decisions on the community level be a more collaborative effort between RTD, city officials, and residents. I would also like to see decision makers be more proactive vs. reactive to local community needs around transit,” Terry says.

Why does Terry feel so passionately about Montbello? Perhaps it’s because it reminds her of “home.” “I really enjoy the diversity in people, housing, culture, economic status. It feels more like how the world should be. It also reminds me of the small community where I was raised in Pittsburgh—a neighborhood that consist of African American, Italians, Polish, Asians and more. We dined together, went to school together, went to church together, and played sports together. Sometimes thing went well and sometimes they didn’t, but at the end of the day we were still neighbors and friends.”

From her three years as a community advocate, activist, and resident leader she says that she’s learned that communication, flexibility, patience, and resilience are key. “Most of all I’ve learned to be a better ‘listener’, she says. “It’s vital to hear the voice of the community.”

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Terry Liggns

Terry Liggins, Montbello Community Leader

A Regional Call to Action on Gentrification & Displacement

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

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

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

 

MHC Updates

MHC Grant Fund

We are excited to release our funding guidelines for the Equitable Initiatives in The Denver Region grant fund for 2016. The deadline for applications is June 1, 2016, 5:00 MT.

We will offer two grant application workshops in 2016. Workshops are open to organizations and groups interested in learning more about the application process; please note that attending a grant workshop is not a requirement of the overall grant application process. Please RSVP to Davian Gagne, Grants & Operations Manager at dgagne@denverfoundation.org with your name and contact information of staff members interested in attending, and indicate which workshop you would like to attend.

  • Wednesday, April 20, 2016 | 10:00 am – 12:00 pm | United Church of Montbello | 4879 Crown Blvd., Denver
  • Thursday, May 5, 2016 | 2:30 pm – 4:30 pm | UFCW Union Hall | 7760 West 38th Ave., Wheat Ridge

Affordable Housing & Community Facilities

The Colorado Housing and Finance Authority (CHFA) has hired Beth Truby into a new Preservation Program Manager position. The program manager will work closely with CHFA staff and external stakeholders to develop a long term strategy and action plan for identifying, prioritizing, and preserving critical affordable housing units statewide. This position will serve as a connection with the Preservation Working Group (CHFA, HUD, DOH, DHA, City of Denver, Enterprise, the Piton Foundation, and Mile High Connects) and other key housing stakeholders working on specific preservation activities and transactions.  Beth brings a wealth of knowledge, experience and relationships to this role, having previously worked for the City of Denver for over 25 years managing a variety of community development and housing programs. MHC is thrilled to have Beth in this role and is grateful to CHFA for its commitment to preserving affordable housing.

First & Last Mile Connections

As communities work to solve issues related to transit, it becomes incumbent to engage with a variety of partners. Even a seemingly “simple” problem may require the participation of many different groups to arrive at a satisfactory, comprehensive solution. As Montebello residents wrestle with the closure of the existing Park and Ride near Peoria Street and Allbrook Street, many different factors come into play as RTD makes a decision about where to locate the new bus stop. Chief among these are how to provide the most efficient service to neighborhood residents who depend on this stop to access the transit service on which they depend while ensuring their safety. Other factors include pedestrian safety and accessibility, crime deterrence, traffic management and adequate access for safety vehicles. In an effort to encourage collaboration among all interests in addressing as many of these concerns as possible, Denver City Councilwoman Debbie Ortega convened a meeting of major stakeholders including Montbello Organizing Committee members, RTD, Denver Police Department, staff representing City Councilwoman Stacie Gillmore, and management from the Village Apartment complex near the stop. High-level leaders from these organizations attended the meeting including RTD General Manager Dave Genova and Denver Police Department District 5 Commander Ron Thomas. A week after this meeting, members of the group met with representatives from Denver Public Works and Denver Fire Department Station 27 to discuss infrastructure problems and possible solutions. This process marks a major step in creating a solution that meets all needs. More importantly, it serves as a model for collaborative problem-solving that can serve as a model moving forward.

Affordable Fares & Meaningful Service Routes 

King County Sees Success in First Year of Affordable Fares

Last March, King County Washington and the Seattle area launched an innovative program called ORCA LIFT, one of the first comprehensive income-based fare programs in the county.

Chris Arkills, Transportation Policy Advisor to the King County Executive gave presentations to a variety of stakeholders including the Mile High Connects Advisory Council, Affordable Fares Task Force, RTD Board and staff and other interested elected officials. Said Arkills, “we built it into the cost of doing business. We’re a region that prioritizes equity and we know that it was the right thing to do.”

Among key findings at the program’s one year anniversary:

  • In February, 25,000 riders registered for the ORCA LIFT program. King County has been seeing steady growth in the program’s popularity, with approximately 2,000 more riders signing up very month.
  • 96% of program participants are satisfied with the program
  • People are using the card – there were almost 350,000 boardings by ORCA LIFT riders in February alone
  • 42% have increased ridership
  • ORCA LIFT riders are not putting additional pressure on the system by making buses and rail too crowded. Because people frequently ride during the day or work swing shifts, increases in ridership have been seen primarily at times that transit is running under capacity

 We thank Chris for joining us and providing us with such an interesting learning opportunity.

Community Member Highlight – Marcus Harris, Bayaud Enterprises

With every word that you are reading right now, your perception of me is changing. Look at my photo after every other sentence or so. Perception is a big deal. Captioned visual narratives are very powerful. We judge one another mercilessly based upon nothing more than perception. The story we are told about people who earn $0-13,000 per year is designed to make the rest of us feel better about ourselves, designed to give some of the more affluent among us permission to bully and demand justification, from those of us experiencing poverty and homelessness, for our insistence upon attainable housing, income-based access to public transit, dignified wages and protection from the police, for example. Years ago, in prison, in one of those moments of clarity, I saw myself as part of the Problem. An African-American male, a convicted felon, a long history of substance abuse and un(der)employment. Many of the traits that the more affluent among us have been conditioned to fear. I am currently working to provide a platform for people who lives are being impacted by economic genocide to share their stories. Stories of multiple attempts, for a single family, at relocation in the wake of gentrification. Stories from people with disabilities for whom the pursuit of employment has become more surreal because they must choose between eating or paying for public transit essential to job search. Working with, and advocating for, people dealing directly with the (political and social) hardship of poverty, homelessness, gentrification and un(der)employment, my perception of the Problem has changed radically.

It is not enough for us to just do things differently. The time has come for us to do different things.

Marucs Harris, Advisory Council Peer Organizer, Bayaud Enterprises

Co-founder/co-facilitator People Rising Against Poverty

Marucs Harris

 

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