The Denver Foundation & Mile High Connects: Working to Advance Equitable Communities

In addition to being the fiscal and physical home of Mile High Connects, The Denver Foundation (TDF) is a strong partner in MHC’s efforts to ensure that the Denver region’s communities offer all residents the opportunity for a high quality of life. As a member of the MHC Steering Committee, TDF helps to guide MHC’s overall strategy, and TDF’s Economic Opportunity program provides supports MHC’s core activities through an annual grant. The two organizations also work together on the ground through specific projects and partnerships to advance both groups’ missions.

One of the many areas in which TDF and MHC work closely together is in developing a network of anchor institutions throughout the region that are focused on building community wealth in the neighborhoods and places in which they are located. Educational and health care institutions, as well as municipal governments, are deeply anchored in particular communities. They have tremendous potential to be economic anchors for these communities, especially by approaching their hiring and purchasing through a local lens. Sprawling campuses like the University of Colorado’s Anschutz Medical Campus in Aurora contain within them thousands of jobs, and they spend millions of dollars on everything from sophisticated medical equipment to hospital scrubs, food, office supplies, and services like childcare that their employees need to be successful at their jobs. MHC and TDF identified educational, health care, and municipal institutions throughout the Denver region that are easily accessible through the region’s mass transit system, and invited them to meet together in early April 2016 to discuss how they might work together to strengthen the communities in which they are located.

Institutions such as the Anschutz Medical Campus, Regis University, St. Anthony’s Hospital, the University of Denver, and the University of Colorado’s Denver campus have all indicated their interest in supporting the neighborhoods and residents in their surrounding community through a variety of strategies. MHC and TDF are working with some of the individual institutions to help them develop hire local programs, which may include training for those facing barrier to employment to qualify for jobs with the institution, and to review procurement policies to determine where their supply chains can be adjusted to focus more on local businesses. MHC and TDF are also developing a broader strategy to connect these institutions in an anchor network that will develop strategies to collectively harness their hiring and buying power in ways that will benefit the region’s most vulnerable residents and communities.

MHC and TDF are also both committed to developing solutions to the accelerating problem of involuntary displacement through gentrification that is occurring in many Denver neighborhoods. TDF has a long history of supporting community organizing and of organizing directly in many neighborhoods in which residents are now under intense financial pressure because of rising rents. In communities like Globeville, Elyria, and Swansea, where transit oriented development is also contributing to skyrocketing housing costs, MHC and TDF are working with community partners to support grassroots strategies to help residents stay in their homes.  In Westwood, MHC and TDF have worked together to provide relocation assistance to very low-income residents of a manufactured home park who were displaced by new development.

The list of partnerships and joint projects could go on and on.  The Denver Foundation is proud and honored to be MHC’s partner in improving the quality of life for all of Metro Denver’s residents.

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 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 Community Member Highlight

Oscar Torres, Community Member

The chicken and the egg dilemma is very vivid for me. Two months after signing my lease in Aurora, I was hired at a nonprofit organization all the way in Lakewood. Ever since, my hour and a half (each way) commute started. Waking up at about 4:30 AM every day, I have my routine and breakfast, then walk 10 minutes to the bus stop. Typically by 6:26 AM, I hop on the first bus and then is off to Downtown where I transfer to another bus that takes me to Lakewood. Public transit in Denver is amazingly reliable and punctual, and compared to where I moved from, is 100% better. Having said that, spending 3 hours daily on my commute is taxing and takes time away from more productive activities.

Working for mpowered, a nonprofit that offers personal finance coaching among other services, I realized how transportation plays a big role in people’s budgets. Car ownership is onerous and many take the bus or light rail, but for some even that is too expensive. Housing is too. In a city with tremendous growth, rents have shot through the roof and while I consider myself appropriately paid for my work, there is no pay increase that can keep up with the rent prices. Currently, I am looking for apartments near my job that can reduce significantly my commute time, but nothing is within my price range. It has come to the point where I need to consider if I spend 50% of my income in renting or continue with my long commute. Nonetheless, I am happy serving our fellow citizens and am willing to keep going the distance, but as many other also feel, it should not be this hard.

Oscar Torres is 31 years old, lives in Aurora, Colorado and is a bilingual receptionist at mpowered in Lakewood. He moved to Colorado from Puerto Rico a year and a half ago and has a background in modern languages, communications, customer service and nonprofits.

image1 (1)                      Oscar Torres

 

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.

Preserving & Developing Transit Oriented Real Estate to Benefit All Residents – Urban Land Conservancy

Since 2003, the Urban Land Conservancy (ULC) has invested $60 million into metro Denver communities, creating real estate that benefits communities. As a founding member of Mile High Connects, ULC’s contribution has been significant through equitable transit oriented developments (TOD). As sole borrower of the Denver TOD Fund, ULC made 8 investments along 5 rail lines that will result in over 600 units of affordable housing, well over 200,000 square feet of commercial space and new community assets including a library, nonprofit performance theatre, childcare facility and a workforce training center. ULC’s investments at transit sites have leveraged an additional $300 million in economic development, created hundreds of new jobs and increased local tax revenue.

One catalytic development ULC is focusing on, along with multiple MHC partners, is a 9.4 acre site on the East Rail Commuter Line called Park Hill Village West. The Park Hill Station Apartments: a new 4-story, 156 units, affordable residential community is currently under construction by Delwest Capital. The completion is scheduled for the first quarter of 2016, to coincide with the opening of the 40th & Colorado Station on the East Line. A variety of MHC partners are also working to address existing First and Last Mile Connection issues. ULC has proposed a creative concept for a new 1.6 mile trail connecting the station area to the surrounding neighborhood. Recently selected as a grant finalist by ArtPlace America, the Health and Heritage Trail, if fully planned and funded, will provide a new public transit accessible safe, healthy, pedestrian and bike promenade; celebrating the unique cultural identity as well as the pride and passion of Denver’s only remaining predominantly African American neighborhood.

ULC is also leading a workforce training pilot with MHC, Colorado Construction Institute, and Community College of Denver-Workforce Initiative Now (CCD-WIN) to implement a project to train local youth for middle-skilled construction work and then employ them at the TOD sites in their own neighborhood. The event will highlight the magnitude of Colorado’s immediate skilled construction labor needs and engage local construction industry leaders in exploring creative solutions focused on local workforce training. This pilot project demonstrates the important linkage of employment opportunities for low-income neighborhoods and access to transit.

While the need for 26,000 affordable units in Denver remains a priority, increasing the incomes of families living in affordable housing is equally vital to a sustainable economy for the entire Denver region.

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