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.

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.

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.

 

Time for Sweeping Change

Last week, the city of Denver swept away problem of chronic homelessness by removing hundreds of homeless people from makeshift encampments throughout the city.  The City claims that their decision was made because of the public safety issues these encampments create for the homeless residents themselves and the public at large.  They are absolutely correct.  What the City is not prepared to address in any meaningful way is exactly where it is they would like these people to go.  The shelter directors have stated that there is not enough affordable housing or enough emergency shelter to meet the growing demand.  As a consequence, these people default to living on the streets as a last resort.  I have for the past month spent a few weeks living on the street, trust me when I say that nobody is living outside because they want to.

Rather than develop thoughtful and compassionate measures to address this crisis, the City answered with an arsenal of garbage trucks and police officers.  Denver, we can and must do better.  The City claims they are storing people’s belongings and they can access them.  That is an outright fabrication.  Try finding your personal belongings in a sea of garbage bins.  Hundreds of people have lost all of their personal belongings (including photos of their children).  The problem has temporarily disappeared from public sight but the fact remains, people have to exist somewhere.  It is our responsibility as a city to find adequate places for people to be other than the streets.

If we can build a world class light rail and airport hotel for visitors, shouldn’t we be able to provide adequate and compassionate shelter for our most disenfranchised residents.  We are urging city Denver residents, city officials, nonprofit leaders, foundation leaders, advocates and homeless residents themselves to come together to recognize that this crisis must be addressed right now in a more constructive and compassionate manner.

We hope we can join in a  concerted effort to develop the resources, plan and collaborative spirit necessary to protect the basic safety and dignity of every Denver citizen.  Everyone in our city deserves to be somewhere safe to sleep tonight.

PJ D’Amico, Executive Director

The Buck Foundation

Equity on the Hill

Prepare for the Day at the Capitol by watching this recorded webinar or reviewing this presentation.

Join us at the State Capitol to talk about health equity! Connect with legislators, organizations and community members across the state. Learn more about the Health Equity Commission and the Office of Health Equity.

What is Health Equity? What is the state of health equity and disparities in Colorado? How do we apply a health equity lens in all policies?

Community members invited to participate! A light lunch is included. Organized by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment’s Health Equity Commission and Office of Health Equity.

RSVP at: tinyurl.com/equityonthehill by Friday, March 4, 2016.

Health equity is when all people, regardless of who they are or what they believe, have the opportunity to attain their full health potential. Achieving health equity requires valuing all people equally with focused and ongoing efforts to address inequalities.

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.

_VRC0793

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

 

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.

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.

Stay Informed

Sign up for our newsletter to keep informed of our latest projects.

Newsletter signup
Sending

Get Involved

Donate Volunteer