What the Infrastructure Deal Means for Colorado Communities

Following the mid-November signing of what has been called a “once in a lifetime investment”, the Bipartisan Infrastructure bill (BIF) has left many wondering what the impact will be on communities. The bipartisan infrastructure bill, which was signed into law, provides $973 billion over five years and aims to rebuild the United States’ roads, bridges, airports, and rails, expand access to clean drinking water, ensure high-speed internet access, tackle the climate crisis, advance environmental justice, and invest in communities that have too often been left behind. The bill includes historic levels – $284 billion – in new investments for transportation projects, responding to the urgency of climate change and the need to address long-standing inequities in mobility access.  

Here’s what the transportation funds included: 

(Graphic: National Association of Counties)


Joined by speakers Alvaro Sanchez, Vice President of Policy with The Greenlining Institute, Molly McKinley, Policy Director with Denver Streets Partnership and Luke Ilderton, Deputy Director with Energy Outreach Colorado, MHC convened a regional conversation on the transit, broadband, and equity components of the BIF to unpack what this means for Colorado and how community organizations can best position themselves to be able to influence and access the federal funds. Below are just a few ways you can ensure this investment reaches your community:  

Equity Advocacy- Keeping equity at the center of investments 

While the ambition for equity is there, explicit details related to operationalizing/enforcing equity measures are missing from the deal. Alvaro shared the following ways for community-based organizations to best access and influence investment dollars: 

  1. Read up on what your state is anticipated to receive. 
  1. Sign up for alerts from key agencies including DOT, EPA, DOE, Department of Commerce, Department of Interior, and the White House to get updates on how they are implementing the dollars. 
  1. Connect with our state departments of transportation, energy, water, and broadband and ask how they are going to decide what to fund and how information will be tracked. 
  1. Start promoting priorities, projects, definitions, standards, and locations that advance racial equity. 
  1. Work with colleagues tracking implementation to build coalitions focused on funding implementation. 

Transportation Advocacy  

According to Molly, it is important that the state takes full advantage of the flexible dollars designated to funding highways in the deal. There must be a push for utilizing funds to invest in public transit projects and transit operations. Additionally, we must use a fix it first model, ensuring that existing infrastructure is safe and accessible prior to creating new infrastructure. Finally, the Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT) is currently determining projects to fund throughout the state. This serves as an opportunity to influence CDOT spending and advocate for projects that advance equity.  

Broadband and Weatherization Advocacy 

Luke Ilderton emphasized that while the investment provides a massive investment in modernizing our entire energy grid (the good!), there is concern about how households who need the most assistance can truly benefit from this initiative. He also shared that the BIF investment will enhance the Department of Energy Office’s current weatherization assistance program. This enhancement will allow the Colorado Energy Office to increase participation and embrace the State’s greenhouse gas emissions reduction targets. Furthermore, the BIF will introduce the Affordable Connectivity Program, increasing broadband access for low-income consumers with limited income-qualifying restrictions. Get more details about funding opportunities available for your local governments here, and be sure to check out the additional resources below!  

Greenhouse Gas Emissions Rulemaking – Centering Equity in the Process 2.0

11/18/2021

This was the second letter we sent to the Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT) to advocate for equity in the greenhouse gas rulemaking process.

The undersigned members of the Denver-based Land Use Work Group (LUWG), including nonprofit advocacy organizations, nonprofit developers, Business Improvement Districts (BIDs), and residents tracking and amplifying local efforts while advocating for policy change to reflect the nexus of housing and transportation and ensure that investments in the built environment reduce racial disparities, maintain community, build a culture of health, and respond to the climate crisis.

Thank you CDOT for undertaking the project on Rules Governing Statewide Transportation Planning Process and Planning Regions and providing the opportunity for public comment. We appreciate the changes that have been incorporated into the revised rule and for the chance to further improve the rule to ensure we remain on track to meet the state’s climate goals and address the needs of communities that have been disproportionately impacted by climate change.

The rule thoughtfully addresses the importance of multi-agency modeling, ensures mitigating measures stay local among road projects, explicitly acknowledges the role of induced demand, and many other modifications to mitigate transportation pollution. Nevertheless, the current rule still fails to adequately promote climate-friendly land-use policies and center people and environmental justice.

The following recommendations seek to create a more equitable approach to reducing greenhouse gas emissions while centering the needs of Colorado’s most disproportionately impacted communities (DICs):

Center People and Climate Justice: It is imperative that the rule is centered around communities that have been the most disproportionately impacted by the effects of transportation pollution. While the revised rule acknowledges the importance of mitigation investments that provide localized benefits to DICs, it fails to directly provide explicit measures for community benefit and does not emphasize the need for public engagement within decision-making processes. To strengthen climate justice and advance equity the rule should incorporate the following:

  • Immediate adoption of a transportation equity framework must be a priority for CDOT. The framework should be vetted by community, modifiable to meet the unique needs of different communities, and equity measures should address community-voiced needs. Equity assessments should be used to inform the transportation equity framework by collecting and analyzing community-shared information related to harmful transportation project development and pollution.
  • Establishment of a Community Advisory Committee or Steering Committee comprised of community residents, organizations, youth, etc. charged with reviewing equity assessments submitted by community.
  • Increased opportunities for community engagement and outreach to identify disparities among community. Community input should shape the specific equity metrics and outcomes used to measure the direct/project benefits related to improve air quality and mobility options and access among DICs.
  • Resources for community informed processes to assess and co-create solutions that mitigate the health impacts of GHG emissions in DICs.
  • Consider funding opportunities for Community Benefit Agreements among DICs based on project location and potential impact. OR provide funding for building capacity amongst community benefits groups.
  • Elevated needs and benefits of equitable transit-oriented development, prioritizing projects that increase access to transportation, education work, food, goods, and services, etc. this move the needle enough to create real change and meet the statutory requirements?

Reduction targets for VMT: Reducing VMT serves as one of the best ways to permanently reduce transportation pollution. To meet the state’s climate goals, the rule should include explicit and measurable VMT reduction levels required by each planning region. Allowing three consecutive years of non-VMT reduction among MPO areas prior to conducting revisions, will not achieve VMT reductions that are necessary to meet state goals. Furthermore, we cannot consider VMT reductions without including smart land use strategies. To increase knowledge of the undoubtable connection between smart land use strategies and VMT reduction CDOT should:

  • Consider local land use and development patterns and the extent to which they contribute to VMT per capita reductions for the proposed transportation project.
  • Prioritize projects that incorporate additional smart growth strategies such as up zoning, mixed[1]use infill development, adaptive re-use, and transit-oriented development.
  • Create a bonus for projects that advance equity by incorporating affordable housing and TDM programs that lower the combined housing and transportation costs for low-income households.
  • Act swiftly to expand mitigation measures should any region fail to achieve the 2025 GHG or 2030 reduction targets. The reductions are cumulative – the lessons of climate change indicate that early action is the cheapest action.
  • Ensure that RTD and other regional transit authorities are explicitly funded by name to guarantee certainty in service delivery going forward

We appreciate your commitment and efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from the transportation sector, improve air quality, and provide more travel options throughout Colorado, and your consideration of these recommendations.

Sincerely,


Mile High Connects
YIMBY Denver
Denver Streets Partnership
All In Denver
JJK Places

Download a copy of the letter in PDF here.

Reclaiming Our Future – This is Our Moment

From our November 2021 Newsletter

A Word, First:

Welcome to budget season! We’ve seen a flurry of media coverage on investments in our communities. The bipartisan Infrastructure Bill is an important investment in public transit and infrastructure improvements that bring broadband internet and lead-free pipes to neighborhoods. The passage of this bill is due in large part to national transit advocates, including our friends at Denver Streets Partnership.


Meanwhile, closer to home, the Governor’s budget tackles poor air quality by offering free transit on ozone days, investments in affordable housing options, and calls for the creation of a Colorado Equity Office.But the work is not done, and our institutions can do better. The Infrastructure Bill alone will not address the compounding crisis facing our region. The Build Back Better framework alongside the Infrastructure bill will create good-paying jobs while ensuring that stable, affordable housing is attainable by all. And, as federal and state resources flow down, we need to prepare community organizations to access these funds without hesitation. Every dollar counts when it comes to keeping residents in place. That means MHC will continue to advocate for equitable investment into communities as federal and state dollars roll down and out into communities. This is our moment.


The Equitable Approach: Where the Incremental is Transformational

In Denver, the Auraria campus sets out to redress generational impacts of displacement for Hispanic and Indigenous people of color who were forced out of the area in the early 1970’s through free tuition. Read on to learn more…

A new survey reveals Denver immigrants felt protected from the pandemic by the city, but that it needs to do more with outreach. Immigrants experienced increased strength in connection with fellow residents and are realizing their own collective power. Learn more


Community Stewardship: What’s Inspiring Us

Urban Land Conservancy Acquires East ColfaxCitywide Bank Site

Land Use Work Group Weighs in on CDOT’s GHG Rulemaking

Community-Led Plans Fight Redlining and Climate Change

Documentary:”A Decent Home”, featuring9to5 Colorado organizer


Partner Spotlight: Lauren Hornett

“THANK YOU”

After two incredible years at the helm of the Mile High Connects’ Steering Committee as our Chair, Lauren Hornett, Vice President of Community Development at Wells Fargo, will step down and focus on her new little bundle of joy!

We thank you for your leadership, insight, love and care for our collaborative, Lauren!


Connective Tissue: Opportunities to Connect

City Council Public Hearing for Comprehensive Plan 2040 & Blueprint Denver

Denver City Council’s Land Use, Transportation and Infrastructure Committee reviewed Comprehensive Plan 2040 and Blueprint Denver at its meeting yesterday and voted unanimously to advance both of the plans to the full City Council.

Council is now scheduled to hold a public hearing and vote on adoption of the plans at its meeting on Monday, April 22.

City Council Public Hearing for Comprehensive Plan 2040 and Blueprint Denver

5:30 p.m., Monday, April 22

City and County Building, Council Chambers (#451)

1437 Bannock St., Denver

 

Members of the public may continue to share thoughts on the plans electronically ahead of time or in person at the City Council public hearing.

  • Email comments to blueprint@denvergov.org. Comments received by noon on Thursday, April 18 will be included in the staff report submitted to council members.
  • Email comments to dencc@denvergov.org. Comments received by 3 p.m. on Monday, April 22 will be forwarded to all council members.

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.

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