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.
Undesign the Redline is an interactive exhibit connecting the intentional and systematic racial housing segregation of the 1930s to political and social issues of today, through the powerful narratives of the people and communities affected by redlining and its legacy.
Explore the history. Be inspired by stories of vision and change. Become part of the conversation for new equitable policies and practices.
Thanks to Shift Research Lab, Denver Arts & Venues and the McNichols Building for supporting this event!
Colorado Housing and Finance Authority (CHFA)
Colorado is in the midst of an affordable housing crisis. The availability of affordable rental housing units is not in line with residents’ growing needs as rents escalate, the population increases, and Baby Boomers downsize. Compounding the problem is the risk of existing affordable units becoming unaffordable or outdated. Affordable rental housing developments have affordability restrictions placed on them that ensure their units are rented at low rates during periods of 30 to 40 years. When affordability restrictions expire, rents are permitted to convert to private market rates. Over the next decade, the affordability restrictions on approximately 22,000 units are set to expire. Given that Colorado’s median rent has increased 49 percent in the last five years, affordable units are highly vulnerable to market rate conversion. Additionally, affordable properties that are decades old need upgrades and repairs to extend their long-term livability.
A focus on preservation is key to addressing these issues. Preservation refers to ensuring that long term affordability is maintained by keeping rent restrictions in place and supporting renovations. Preservation brings several benefits to a community and its economy. It keeps low income families in their homes, helping to maintain neighborhood stability, character, and diversity. When compared to the cost of constructing new affordable properties, preserving a property can cost one half to two thirds less and doesn’t require new land or rezoning. Energy consumption and maintenance costs may also be reduced as energy efficient upgrades are made to aging properties.
In 2016, Colorado Housing and Finance Authority (CHFA) partnered with other stakeholders of affordable housing to form the Housing Preservation Network (HPN) to coordinate preservation efforts and implement a statewide strategy to preserve Colorado’s affordable rental housing stock. In 2016 alone, HPN partners helped to preserve 4,936 affordable rental housing units by supporting property improvements, and extending rental assistance and affordability contracts.
HPN is comprised of CHFA, Colorado Department of Local Affairs-Division of Housing (DOLA-DOH), U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), USDA, local governments such as City and County of Denver, Adams County, City of Colorado Springs, City of Aurora, City of Golden, local housing authorities, Enterprise Community Partners, Mile High Connects, Gary Community Investments, Mile High Community Loan Fund, and many others.
CHFA and Mile High Connects have been collaborating on meeting mutual goals such as affordable housing preservation and reducing transportation costs. CHFA is an investment partner of Mile High Connects and participates in its steering committee, strategic planning committee, and advisory council. Mile High Connects has been a key partner of HPN from its inception. As part of its work with HPN, Mile High Connects is developing additional resources to support preservation through its Community Investment Platform.
Developing new preservation resources is among the many components of HPN’s strategic plan. One of the most important tasks was the creation and implementation of a preservation properties database. This tool aggregates data from multiple sources to report, analyze, and map the inventory of affordable units throughout Colorado. It promotes proactive, informed decision making by monitoring properties that are most at risk of losing affordability restrictions and rental assistance, thus flagging those of highest priority.
Other important elements of HPN’s strategic plan are engaging and collaborating with property owners and other stakeholders, targeting finance resources, and sharing best practices and policy options. A large majority—71 percent—of the tasks outlined in the strategic plan have been completed or are underway.
In addition to its work with HPN, CHFA is identifying more ways to support affordable housing preservation. A pilot program to support upgrades to single family and small multifamily properties on the Western Slope was recently launched in partnership with the Delta Housing Authority and DOLA-DOH.
We look forward to continuing to work with our partners to support the preservation of affordable housing throughout Colorado.
Special thanks to Beth Truby for contributing to this article.
Beth Truby is the Preservation Program Manager at the Colorado Housing and Finance Authority and has 30 years of experience in affordable housing and community development. At the Authority, Beth focuses on preserving existing affordable housing units statewide.
DENVER, February 15, 2017
Mile High Connects today announced that Denver was selected to join the Strong, Prosperous, And Resilient Communities Challenge (SPARCC). SPARCC is a three-year, $90 million initiative that will bolster local groups and leaders in their efforts to ensure that, as major new investments are made in community development, they improve equity, health, and environmental outcomes for all residents.
In 2004, the region’s voters approved FasTracks, a $7.8 billion transit expansion that adds 122 miles of new rail, 18 miles of bus rapid transit, and enhanced regional bus service to the regional transit district. At the same time, the region is experiencing unprecedented growth, creating development opportunities, as well as significant gentrification and displacement in the urban core. The award from SPARCC will enable the Denver region to harness this energy and ensure that development equally benefits low-income communities and communities of color.
Following a competitive process in 2016, Denver’s Mile High Connects was one of six places chosen to receive initial funding and expert technical assistance from the SPARCC initiative. Mile High Connects, a diverse group of organizations that includes local and national nonprofits, banks, and foundations, was awarded $1 million in direct grant and technical assistance funds over the next three years. Collectively, the SPARCC sites will have access to an estimated pool of $70 million in financing capital, as well as $14 million of additional programmatic support. The initial six SPARCC sites include: Atlanta, Chicago, Denver, Los Angeles, Memphis, and San Francisco Bay Area.
“This is an incredible opportunity that will help the Denver Metro region think creatively about equity, health, and climate under the leadership of Mile High Connects,” said Christine Márquez-Hudson, president and CEO of The Denver Foundation. “This investment comes at a critical time given the economic and development boom our region is experiencing. It will mean a great deal to low-income communities and communities of color.”
With the award, Mile High Connects will be better supported in its efforts to:
- Build and strengthen resident engagement in redevelopment efforts.
- Inform and advocate for policies related to land use, anti-displacement, community stability, and equitable access to green infrastructure and newly expanded transit systems.
- Drive investments in projects in West Denver and Adams County that will serve as demonstration projects for other developments in the Denver Region.
These efforts will result in community-informed development that creates equitable, thriving, and climate-resilient communities.
“In the past, policy and programmatic decisions about how to invest in the places we live, work, and play have all too often led to deeper poverty and risk for people of color and low-income communities,” said Brian Prater, executive vice president of strategy, development, and public affairs at the Low Income Investment Fund, one of the national partners of SPARCC. “This is a critical moment when big infrastructure investments are coming, or are already underway, and people of all races and incomes should benefit. We are excited to support the SPARCC sites and look forward to seeing the results of these local efforts to positively shape our cities and regions for generations.”
The major public investment in the transit system has created challenges and opportunities for the Denver Region. It has increased displacement pressures for many low-income communities, and at the same time, created new ways for cross-sector partners to work together to ensure the build-out is done in a way that takes into consideration equity, health, and the built environment. Mile High Connects is working to create the systems and policies that will connect residents to opportunity throughout the Denver Region.
“As the construction of the FasTracks systems nears completion, we need to turn our attention to the growth happening around the stations to ensure that the investment is creating economically resilient and sustainable places for low-income communities,” said Emma Pinter, Westminster city council member.
In addition to funding support, each SPARCC site has access to an extensive learning network, and advisory services from a range of experts, to help advance local efforts.
SPARCC is an initiative of Enterprise Community Partners, the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco, the Low Income Investment Fund, and the Natural Resources Defense Council, with funding support from the Ford Foundation, The JPB Foundation, The Kresge Foundation, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, and The California Endowment. Long term, SPARCC’s intention is for other cities, communities and regions to adopt similar approaches to achieving more just economic, health, and environmental outcomes, using the success of SPARCC sites as a model.
About Mile High Connects
Mile High Connects is a multi-sector collaborative working to ensure that the regional transit system fosters communities that oﬀer all residents the opportunity for a high quality of life. The partnership formed in 2011 to ensure that FasTracks, the region’s $7.8 billion transit build-out, beneﬁts low-income communities and communities of color by connecting them to aﬀordable housing, healthy environments, quality education, and good-paying jobs.
Mile High Connects Partners are Colorado Housing and Finance Authority, The Colorado Health Foundation, The Colorado Trust, The Denver Foundation, Enterprise Community Partners, FirstBank, Ford Foundation, FRESC: Good Jobs Strong Communities, Gates Family Foundation, Kaiser Permanente, Natural Resources Defense Council, New Belgium Family Foundation, 9to5 Colorado, Gary Community Investments, Rose Community Foundation, Urban Land Conservancy, U.S. Bank, and Wells Fargo.
Mile High Connects is housed at The Denver Foundation, the largest and most experienced community foundation in the Rocky Mountain West. For more information, please visit denverfoundation.org.
The Strong, Prosperous, And Resilient Communities Challenge – or SPARCC – is supporting local efforts to make sure that everyone benefits from major new investments in the places we live, work and play. By supporting locally driven initiatives, SPARCC aims to improve equity, health and environmental outcomes to positively shape our cities and regions for generations. SPARCC is an initiative of Enterprise Community Partners, the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco, the Low Income Investment Fund, and the Natural Resources Defense Council, with funding support from the Ford Foundation, The JPB Foundation, The Kresge Foundation, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, and The California Endowment.
For more information on SPARCC and the selected jurisdictions, please visit sparcchub.org.
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.
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
Blocks of Hope Resident Leaders
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.
Together, Mile High Connects and the Denver Office of Economic Development (OED) comprise every sector of the community—MHC representing private and nonprofit assets and OED being, of course, local government. Thus there is great capacity and opportunity created by our organizations working together.
As different as our funding streams and governance structures are, MHC and OED share a great deal of aligned mission and core values. We’re both focused on creating and sustaining affordable and inclusive communities, and engaging citizens at a grassroots level, with the ultimate goal of truly equitable development that invites economy mobility for all. From this joint perspective, virtually every aspect of civic community-building is connected to every other by a common thread, even in ways not immediately recognizable. Nurturing entrepreneurs in low-income areas can create wealth to resist involuntary displacement caused by gentrification; modeling the creation of multi-use residential/commercial developments along transit lines can make real the vision of more economic diversity within every urban block.
OED has ambitious strategies for the future that are breaking down its own conventional “silos”–for example, figuring out how to link 21st century workforce development services to increased access to entrepreneurship, or helping local employers thrive because we are creating more affordable housing options for middle-skill workers, or making sure that the newest corporate relocations provide the maximum opportunity for longtime residents to tap into better wages. It is the inspiration that municipal government can draw from a vibrant independent player like MHC, and in return, the assurance to nonprofits that local government will willingly contribute capacity and innovation—along with a listening ear—that makes this kind of collaborative climate bear fruit.
For example, recently the two of us partnered with Denver Housing Authority, Denver Foundation, Enterprise Community Partners Inc., and the Gates Foundation to establish the West Denver Renaissance Collaborative (WDRC). The mission of WDRC is to ensure that the redevelopment of West Denver is done in an equitable fashion, ensuring that existing residents are the ultimate beneficiaries of the work, and that the neighborhoods impacted don’t lose their rich multicultural character. The West Denver neighborhoods that are part of the WDRC include Athmar Park, Barnum, Lincoln Park, Sun Valley, Valverde, Villa Park, West Colfax and Westwood. The WDRC is moving forward, actively engaging with stakeholders in the identified neighborhoods. Next steps this summer include identifying the needs of the different neighborhoods and identify programming and resources to meet those needs.
One of Rose Community Foundation’s grantmaking priorities is to support programs that allow people in the Greater Denver community to age in place — or stay in their own homes and neighborhoods — and live independently for as long as possible. Naturally Occurring Retirement Communities or NORCs are one important avenue for ensuring that people have access to and are aware of resources in their own neighborhoods they need as they age. One of the NORCs the Foundation funds is in Denver’s Capitol Hill neighborhood. It sits alongside RTD’s busy 15 bus line.
NORCs are communities that, while not originally designed for older adults, have a significant amount of residents over age 60. When these communities are identified, often a nonprofit organization will work to identify needs and coordinate care and social services to meet those needs. In the Capitol Hill NORC the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual & Transgender (GLBT) Community Center of Colorado and Capitol Hill Care Link work to establish connections with older adults in the area and then make sure they know where and how to access services and resources available to them.
People over 60 who are aging in place face many challenges, but among the most daunting and difficult to solve is isolation. While the Capitol Hill Care Link works to connect the older adults in the neighborhood to resources to age in place, it also helps residents connect through social events and volunteer opportunities, including yoga classes, lunch and learns, and support groups. The organization also convenes a Resident Advisory Board regularly to stay in touch with residents’ needs and interests.
Rose Community Foundation, along with The Colorado Health Foundation and Daniels Fund also support organizations that work in NORCs in Wheat Ridge and Edgewater.
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.”
Terry Liggins, Montbello Community Leader