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. 

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.

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.

 

Creating a Culture of Data: Mile High Data Day

As part of its commitment to pioneering a data-driven culture in Colorado’s social sector, The Piton Foundation’s Data Initiative, recently convened metro Denver’s data community for the first annual Mile High Data Day. More than 120 representatives from across the region attended the daylong event, which provided an opportunity to build relationships, share best practices, learn from experts and strengthen partnerships between social change and data organizations. In addition to the Data Initiative, Mile High Day Day’s key partners included Mile High Connects, University of Colorado Denver, the Denver Regional Council of Governments, and OpenColorado.

Mile High Data Day’s goal was to create a network focused on using open data to make more informed decisions and support community change. The following are some main takeaways from the event:

Data is about people: Throughout the day, participants were seeking formal and informal opportunities to network with each other, and it became clear that a space is needed where advocates for open data can come together to make stronger connections across their areas of work. Mile High Data Day provided a glimpse into what is possible if we begin bridging all these well-intentioned efforts.

Denver has an appetite for data: Denver and Colorado are at the forefront of the open data movement, and nonprofits, government and academia all have the desire to create a stronger network focused on using data to improve communities.

Data utilization for case-making, advocacy and social change: The overall conversation was still very rooted in the effort to open data, but there were hints at how data is being incorporated into active decision-making processes. For example, the Colorado Department of Public Health and the Environment is working to gain internal approval for sharing more community-level data and simultaneously incorporating it into their grant-making activities. This approach accomplishes two goals: it empowers prospective grantees; and the agency gains confidence in the process when allocating their limited financial resources.

Capacity-building around data utilization is key to driving social change: Open data advocates and those focused on using data to support social change are somewhat disconnected. More engagement is needed at the grassroots level so that communities are better equipped to use data to defend their positions. We must provide social change organizations with the necessary technical assistance to understand the sourcing, analysis and interpretation of data. Some event participants were not familiar with margins of error, which proves that serving up data in a consumable format does not mean users will correctly apply it to their work.

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MHC Updates

Affordable Housing & Community Facilities

During the Building Station Areas that Build Community event in February, Denver Shared Spaces and Mile High Connects released a report looking at a handful of station areas in our prioritized geographies and the community benefits they may have to offer to the surrounding neighborhoods. The report, 2015 Community Facility Scan: Opportunities for Community-Benefit Commercial Development at Transit in Metro Denver, illuminates the assets and challenges of the station areas and provides recommendations for each. Participants also had the chance to try out the story map tool. The base layer of the tool are MHC’s prioritized station areas; it then incorporates layers of data on things such as health equity, employment, education, and existing community facilities. In addition to the data, it offers rich context for each station area, which provides a comprehensive story for the user. It also highlights recommendations to consider to increase opportunity around the particular station area. Click here to try out the story map tool. We are excited about the report and interactive tool and will continue to use station areas as touchstones for opportunity for low-income communities and communities of color.

First and Last Mile Connections

Programs embraced by municipalities provide are some of the most effective contexts for bringing about change because they represent an existing commitment by local government. The City and County of Denver is involved in many such efforts and has created new opportunities recently through which we can work as partners to enhance transit equity and accessibility. On February 17, Mayor Hancock announced Denver’s commitment to the Vision Zero Initiative, an international effort to eliminate traffic related deaths and serious injuries. Vision Zero will require new and improved infrastructure, transit and public education strategies – including those on which Mile High Connects is focusing as part of its transit equity efforts. In addition, Denver City Council has created a Sidewalk Working Group to explore issues and needs related to this basic infrastructure element that directly impacts the ability of people to access transit. The Sidewalk Working Group is chaired by Councilperson Paul Kashmann and staffed by Shelley Smith. Mile High Connects is participating in both of these efforts to help achieve our organizational goals. We urge our partners to use meetings and other events offered by these programs to inform elected officials and staff of community needs and opportunities.

MHC Partner Highlight

New Belgium Family Foundation

Recently, MHC talked with Lucy Cantwell at the New Belgium Family Foundation, funding partner of MHC.


 

Describe the NBFF’s role in MHC. What do you see as your biggest contribution to MHC and its work?
I would describe our role as primarily one of learning – there are many people and groups with deep experience in the room and it helps our work to be able to listen and learn from them.
Why does NBFF think MHC is important?
Public transportation is absolutely a necessity in our increasingly resource- and space-constrained world, but infrastructure development needs to be coupled with a real effort to make that useable by all residents – especially given the increasing economic inequity facing the US (and the world.) We think MHC is important because it is not only working to make public transportation accessible, but it also recognizes that public transportation is essentially a means to an end: a way of getting to work, to school, to healthcare, or healthy food. By working at the intersection of those needs and transportation, MHC helps advance a vision of the modern city that is accessible and supportive of all residents.

What’s the biggest thing that the NBFF has learned or way your organization’s own work has grown as a result of being involved with MHC?
The clear-headed emphasis on equity that MHC has championed has been a role model for the NBFF as we continue to refine our vision for the foundation.

Building Stations Areas that Build Community

Last week during the Building Station Areas that Build Community event, Denver Shared Spaces and Mile High Connects released a report looking at a handful of station areas in our prioritized geographies and the community benefits they may have to offer to the surrounding neighborhoods. The report, 2015 Community Facility Scan: Opportunities for Community-Benefit Commercial Development at Transit in Metro Denver, illuminates the assets and challenges of the station areas and provides recommendations for each. Participants also had the chance to try out the story map tool. The base layer of the tool are MHC’s prioritized station areas; it then incorporates layers of data on things such as health equity, employment, education, and existing community facilities. In addition to the data, it offers rich context for each station area, which provides a comprehensive story for the user. It also highlights recommendations to consider to increase opportunity around the particular station area. Click here to try out the story map tool. We are excited about the report and interactive tool and will continue to use station areas as touchstones for opportunity for low-income communities and communities of color.

New Report Examines Efforts to Link Residents to Jobs at Three Local TOD Project Sites

In 2015 Mile High Connects focused much of its jobs-related work on exploring place-based community workforce development strategies. One of our projects, funded by a grant from JP Morgan Chase Foundation explored the linking of local residents with construction employment on an affordable housing development project in the Northeast Park Hill area of Denver. The grant provided funding for improved job placement for graduates of training through the Colorado Construction Institute (CCI), the organization that trained East Denver residents for new careers in construction and for an evaluation of how well place-based community workforce initiatives worked in Park Hill Village West and two other TOD project sites – Denver Housing Authority’s (DHA) Mariposa Redevelopment at La Alma/Lincoln in Denver and Alameda Station in Central Denver.

This report, Construction Community Workforce Programs: Recommendations from Three Transit-oriented Developments in Denver, details the learning experiences of the three projects that capitalized on infrastructure investments in order to generate employment and training opportunities for local residents and expand the pipeline of qualified workers to meet industry workforce demands. The report was authored by Katrina Wert, Director of the Workforce Initiative Now (WIN) program at the Community College of Denver. WIN was one of the workforce training providers for the three projects, along with CCI and DHA, who also contributed data to the report.

The report contains recommendations related to the planning and execution of community workforce development programs connected to targeted construction opportunities and the potential for recruiting and training traditionally disadvantaged low-income workers for those opportunities. The intended audience includes community-based or education and training organizations engaged in construction workforce preparation, employers or project owners interested in community workforce initiatives, and prospective private and public funders. Key recommendations from the report, some of which apply to community workforce development initiatives in other industries, include:

• Aligning all stakeholders to communicate and set realistic goals
• Supporting expansive community outreach and recruitment of resident
• Fund services to overcome residents’ barriers to employment
• Providing financial incentives to complete training

MHC will continue to work on community workforce development opportunities in 2016 in construction, as well as health care and other industries. If you’re interested in participating in the learning and/or implementation of these efforts, contact Jennifer Billig, MHC Coordinator for Business, Local Workforce and Middle Skill Jobs at jennifer@tulacollaborative.com.

Report: Metro Denver Transit Station Evaluations

Graduate students from the University of Colorado at Denver’s Masters of Urban and Regional Planning Program recently finalized a report on Metro Denver’s transit area stations, which provides a comprehensive analysis of the stations. “This report evaluates the design and development of the half-mile areas(transit zones) around the 45 light rail transit stations in the Denver Metro area as of January 2015. Each transit zone was scored on the level of site development, accessibility, affordable housing, and jobs and economic development.” This lifts up the important issues areas of Mile High Connects and tells the story of how the stations are leveraging opportunity for the communities around them as well as where challenges still remain. Read the full report here.

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