Mile High Connects would like to congratulate its partners, United for a New Economy, on its recent name change. Since 2002, FRESC: Good Jobs, Strong Communities has spoken up and worked alongside community members. We are excited to share this new development for their organization and look forward to their movement building work. To read more about the new name, please visit https://coloradopolitics.com/fresc-united-new-economy/.
A bike ride through Denver’s diverse neighborhoods and communities tells a story of radically different levels of investment. In our most affluent neighborhoods, investment is in ample supply. New developments, large shopping centers, expensive restaurants, all seem to pop up in record time due to the abundance of available capital.
Just blocks away in some cases, we see a different story. We see communities experiencing chronic disinvestment (or in some cases now, experiencing rapid gentrification and displacement pressures). These communities often have a lack of grocery stores, dilapidated community centers, housing that is inadequate – if not unsafe/unhealthy – for the needs of families, and infrastructure that was built in the 1950’s.
The difference in these two stories has everything to do with the choices that we make as a society about how money should be invested. At Mile High Connects, we have been working to change the community investment system by helping to catalyze new investment that benefits low and moderate income communities. With our many partners, including the Colorado Housing Finance Authority (CHFA), we are working to create a new financial instrument that will help investors (impact investors, foundations, banks, and others) to bring more capital to affordable housing (new construction and preservation); mixed use developments in low and mixed-income communities; and commercial facilities that meet the needs of local communities.
Planning for the Community Investment Platform is guided by the following goals:
- Align impact-focused capital with the growing need for community development
- Preserve neighborhoods, communities, and culture while reversing involuntary displacement of low-to moderate-income families
- Build opportunities in communities of greatest need and greatest opportunities
- Build assets and wealth in low-to moderate-income communities
- Increase the ability of middle-wage workers to purchase homes
Over the next few months we will continue to work with our partners and community groups to meet these goals through the deployment of capital that works on behalf of all of our communities.
For more information about the Community Investment Platform, contact Brad Weinig, firstname.lastname@example.org.
Written By: Katherine Pease
Colorado Housing and Finance Authority (CHFA)
Colorado is in the midst of an affordable housing crisis. The availability of affordable rental housing units is not in line with residents’ growing needs as rents escalate, the population increases, and Baby Boomers downsize. Compounding the problem is the risk of existing affordable units becoming unaffordable or outdated. Affordable rental housing developments have affordability restrictions placed on them that ensure their units are rented at low rates during periods of 30 to 40 years. When affordability restrictions expire, rents are permitted to convert to private market rates. Over the next decade, the affordability restrictions on approximately 22,000 units are set to expire. Given that Colorado’s median rent has increased 49 percent in the last five years, affordable units are highly vulnerable to market rate conversion. Additionally, affordable properties that are decades old need upgrades and repairs to extend their long-term livability.
A focus on preservation is key to addressing these issues. Preservation refers to ensuring that long term affordability is maintained by keeping rent restrictions in place and supporting renovations. Preservation brings several benefits to a community and its economy. It keeps low income families in their homes, helping to maintain neighborhood stability, character, and diversity. When compared to the cost of constructing new affordable properties, preserving a property can cost one half to two thirds less and doesn’t require new land or rezoning. Energy consumption and maintenance costs may also be reduced as energy efficient upgrades are made to aging properties.
In 2016, Colorado Housing and Finance Authority (CHFA) partnered with other stakeholders of affordable housing to form the Housing Preservation Network (HPN) to coordinate preservation efforts and implement a statewide strategy to preserve Colorado’s affordable rental housing stock. In 2016 alone, HPN partners helped to preserve 4,936 affordable rental housing units by supporting property improvements, and extending rental assistance and affordability contracts.
HPN is comprised of CHFA, Colorado Department of Local Affairs-Division of Housing (DOLA-DOH), U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), USDA, local governments such as City and County of Denver, Adams County, City of Colorado Springs, City of Aurora, City of Golden, local housing authorities, Enterprise Community Partners, Mile High Connects, Gary Community Investments, Mile High Community Loan Fund, and many others.
CHFA and Mile High Connects have been collaborating on meeting mutual goals such as affordable housing preservation and reducing transportation costs. CHFA is an investment partner of Mile High Connects and participates in its steering committee, strategic planning committee, and advisory council. Mile High Connects has been a key partner of HPN from its inception. As part of its work with HPN, Mile High Connects is developing additional resources to support preservation through its Community Investment Platform.
Developing new preservation resources is among the many components of HPN’s strategic plan. One of the most important tasks was the creation and implementation of a preservation properties database. This tool aggregates data from multiple sources to report, analyze, and map the inventory of affordable units throughout Colorado. It promotes proactive, informed decision making by monitoring properties that are most at risk of losing affordability restrictions and rental assistance, thus flagging those of highest priority.
Other important elements of HPN’s strategic plan are engaging and collaborating with property owners and other stakeholders, targeting finance resources, and sharing best practices and policy options. A large majority—71 percent—of the tasks outlined in the strategic plan have been completed or are underway.
In addition to its work with HPN, CHFA is identifying more ways to support affordable housing preservation. A pilot program to support upgrades to single family and small multifamily properties on the Western Slope was recently launched in partnership with the Delta Housing Authority and DOLA-DOH.
We look forward to continuing to work with our partners to support the preservation of affordable housing throughout Colorado.
Special thanks to Beth Truby for contributing to this article.
Beth Truby is the Preservation Program Manager at the Colorado Housing and Finance Authority and has 30 years of experience in affordable housing and community development. At the Authority, Beth focuses on preserving existing affordable housing units statewide.
We are excited to release our 2017 grant guidelines. The MHC Grant Fund will offer small grants for effective, inclusive approaches to building healthy and prosperous transit-oriented communities and ensuring equity and opportunity for low-income communities, communities of color and other under-resourced communities in the Denver Metro Region. Specifically, we seek to fund efforts that will contribute to Mile High Connects’ 2017 Work Plan.
This second funding opportunity is made available by HUD Section 4 Capacity Building Funds which is a federal program. Grant awards under this opportunity will be up to $50,000. It will support organizations that are CHDOs or CDCs (or organizations sufficiently similar in purpose, function, and scope), to build their capacity for a strong housing-delivery system and the creation and preservation of housing in high-opportunity communities.
Please visit www.milehighconnects.org/funding for more details on these funding opportunities.
We will be hosting two grant application workshops. Attendance is not required for applying for funding. The workshops will offer additional information about applying and specifics about the grant guidelines. RSVP to Davian Gagne, Grants & Operations Manager at email@example.com.
|Wednesday, May 3, 2017
9:00am – 10:30am
UFCW Union Hall
7760 W. 38th Ave.
Wheat Ridge CO, 80033
Denver Department of Environmental Health
“Climate change is the greatest public health challenge of the 21st century”. 
Over the past decade, rapid climate change has become the most defining concern of the 21st century. Global emissions of climate-altering greenhouse gases (GHGs) are rising, along with the temperature of the atmosphere and oceans. As a result, communities worldwide are experiencing record temperatures, increased frequency of drought, severe flooding, wildfires, and a decline in air quality. In fact, 2016 was the hottest year on record, eclipsing the previous hottest year of 2015 and 2014 before that.
These heat-related events can result in human health impacts such as increased asthma and respiratory illnesses, heart disease and heart attacks, exacerbation of existing medical conditions including diabetes, obesity and cognitive illness, and premature death. Rising temperatures may reduce air quality by increasing the formation of ground-level ozone, which is a key component of smog. This may be problematic in areas such as the Denver-Metropolitan and North Front Range, which struggle to meet the national ozone standards.
However, the health risks and impacts of climate change are not equally or fairly distributed across people or communities.  In the U.S., low-income communities and communities of color suffer substantially higher disease burdens and lower life expectancies than wealthier and white populations. For example, the rate of diabetes among the poor is 1.5 times higher than of those who are not poor. Diabetes increases one’s sensitivity to extreme heat. Deaths from heart disease and stroke are higher for Blacks than any other ethnic group. Heart disease also increases sensitivity to heat stress. And adults with a high school education or less are 8 times more likely to report their health as ‘fair or poor’ than those with a college education.  Education and poverty are linked, and those living in poverty often lack access to air conditioning. Living conditions differ by place, race and income due to factors including historical disinvestment, housing discrimination, and higher pollution burdens in communities of color. These factors mean that climate change has the potential to create greater ‘health inequity’, or differences in health outcomes between groups of people that are avoidable and preventable.
The City of Denver developed a Heat Vulnerability Index Map to understand which neighborhoods have residents that might be more vulnerable to extreme heat events due to a number of factors, including socioeconomic, built environment, and demographic factors. Some neighborhoods have lower amounts of tree cover for cooling, and higher areas of impervious surface like asphalt and concrete, which trap heat and raise temperatures. There are also neighborhoods with higher numbers of elderly people, people who live alone, and those with physical or cognitive disabilities who might face difficulty accessing cooler areas during extreme heat events. Finally, the map shows neighborhoods with higher numbers of people that live in poverty, which may indicate less access to air conditioning in their homes and access to a personal vehicle to get to cooling stations in extreme heat events.
The City of Denver is using this information to target planning and resources to those residents at highest risk during extreme heat events, to reduce health inequity due to climate change among Denver’s most vulnerable citizens.
In addition, the Denver Vital Signs newsletter published a recent issue on “The Health Impacts of Climate Change” to understand how climate change affects the health of Denver residents including increased particulate matter and other pollutants in the air, poor air quality, and more frequent hospital visits for asthma treatment for children in particular.
One of the primary sources of greenhouse gas emissions is motor vehicles, according to the 2015 Denver Climate Action Plan. Denver is working to reduce greenhouse gases in the City by promoting more “active transportation”, including biking, walking and transit use. Reduced-rate transit passes are currently available to seniors, students, and those with disabilities, and efforts are underway to expand discounted pass access to those with low incomes. City of Denver employees can purchase reduced-rate “Eco-passes” to use transit or “B-cycle” passes for bike sharing. Denver Safe Routes to School supports local schools to increase student walking and biking with bike training programs, walking school buses, and Walk and Bike to School Days. And the newly adopted “Denver Ultra Urban Green Infrastructure Guidelines” allow City and private developers to incorporate more green treatments such as stormwater planters, green alleys, and tree trenches in urban areas to reduce local flooding and ambient temperatures and improve air quality.
These efforts can not only help reduce the human health impacts of climate change, but reduce the inequitable impacts of climate change on the most vulnerable members of our community.
 Hot. Hot. Hot. Third Straight Year of Record Temperatures. Denver Post, 1-19-17.
 United States Environmental Protection Agency, What Climate Change Means for Colorado (August 2016). Colorado Department of Public Health & Environment, “Ozone information,” last accessed December 2016.
DENVER, February 15, 2017
Mile High Connects today announced that Denver was selected to join the Strong, Prosperous, And Resilient Communities Challenge (SPARCC). SPARCC is a three-year, $90 million initiative that will bolster local groups and leaders in their efforts to ensure that, as major new investments are made in community development, they improve equity, health, and environmental outcomes for all residents.
In 2004, the region’s voters approved FasTracks, a $7.8 billion transit expansion that adds 122 miles of new rail, 18 miles of bus rapid transit, and enhanced regional bus service to the regional transit district. At the same time, the region is experiencing unprecedented growth, creating development opportunities, as well as significant gentrification and displacement in the urban core. The award from SPARCC will enable the Denver region to harness this energy and ensure that development equally benefits low-income communities and communities of color.
Following a competitive process in 2016, Denver’s Mile High Connects was one of six places chosen to receive initial funding and expert technical assistance from the SPARCC initiative. Mile High Connects, a diverse group of organizations that includes local and national nonprofits, banks, and foundations, was awarded $1 million in direct grant and technical assistance funds over the next three years. Collectively, the SPARCC sites will have access to an estimated pool of $70 million in financing capital, as well as $14 million of additional programmatic support. The initial six SPARCC sites include: Atlanta, Chicago, Denver, Los Angeles, Memphis, and San Francisco Bay Area.
“This is an incredible opportunity that will help the Denver Metro region think creatively about equity, health, and climate under the leadership of Mile High Connects,” said Christine Márquez-Hudson, president and CEO of The Denver Foundation. “This investment comes at a critical time given the economic and development boom our region is experiencing. It will mean a great deal to low-income communities and communities of color.”
With the award, Mile High Connects will be better supported in its efforts to:
- Build and strengthen resident engagement in redevelopment efforts.
- Inform and advocate for policies related to land use, anti-displacement, community stability, and equitable access to green infrastructure and newly expanded transit systems.
- Drive investments in projects in West Denver and Adams County that will serve as demonstration projects for other developments in the Denver Region.
These efforts will result in community-informed development that creates equitable, thriving, and climate-resilient communities.
“In the past, policy and programmatic decisions about how to invest in the places we live, work, and play have all too often led to deeper poverty and risk for people of color and low-income communities,” said Brian Prater, executive vice president of strategy, development, and public affairs at the Low Income Investment Fund, one of the national partners of SPARCC. “This is a critical moment when big infrastructure investments are coming, or are already underway, and people of all races and incomes should benefit. We are excited to support the SPARCC sites and look forward to seeing the results of these local efforts to positively shape our cities and regions for generations.”
The major public investment in the transit system has created challenges and opportunities for the Denver Region. It has increased displacement pressures for many low-income communities, and at the same time, created new ways for cross-sector partners to work together to ensure the build-out is done in a way that takes into consideration equity, health, and the built environment. Mile High Connects is working to create the systems and policies that will connect residents to opportunity throughout the Denver Region.
“As the construction of the FasTracks systems nears completion, we need to turn our attention to the growth happening around the stations to ensure that the investment is creating economically resilient and sustainable places for low-income communities,” said Emma Pinter, Westminster city council member.
In addition to funding support, each SPARCC site has access to an extensive learning network, and advisory services from a range of experts, to help advance local efforts.
SPARCC is an initiative of Enterprise Community Partners, the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco, the Low Income Investment Fund, and the Natural Resources Defense Council, with funding support from the Ford Foundation, The JPB Foundation, The Kresge Foundation, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, and The California Endowment. Long term, SPARCC’s intention is for other cities, communities and regions to adopt similar approaches to achieving more just economic, health, and environmental outcomes, using the success of SPARCC sites as a model.
About Mile High Connects
Mile High Connects is a multi-sector collaborative working to ensure that the regional transit system fosters communities that oﬀer all residents the opportunity for a high quality of life. The partnership formed in 2011 to ensure that FasTracks, the region’s $7.8 billion transit build-out, beneﬁts low-income communities and communities of color by connecting them to aﬀordable housing, healthy environments, quality education, and good-paying jobs.
Mile High Connects Partners are Colorado Housing and Finance Authority, The Colorado Health Foundation, The Colorado Trust, The Denver Foundation, Enterprise Community Partners, FirstBank, Ford Foundation, FRESC: Good Jobs Strong Communities, Gates Family Foundation, Kaiser Permanente, Natural Resources Defense Council, New Belgium Family Foundation, 9to5 Colorado, Gary Community Investments, Rose Community Foundation, Urban Land Conservancy, U.S. Bank, and Wells Fargo.
Mile High Connects is housed at The Denver Foundation, the largest and most experienced community foundation in the Rocky Mountain West. For more information, please visit denverfoundation.org.
The Strong, Prosperous, And Resilient Communities Challenge – or SPARCC – is supporting local efforts to make sure that everyone benefits from major new investments in the places we live, work and play. By supporting locally driven initiatives, SPARCC aims to improve equity, health and environmental outcomes to positively shape our cities and regions for generations. SPARCC is an initiative of Enterprise Community Partners, the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco, the Low Income Investment Fund, and the Natural Resources Defense Council, with funding support from the Ford Foundation, The JPB Foundation, The Kresge Foundation, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, and The California Endowment.
For more information on SPARCC and the selected jurisdictions, please visit sparcchub.org.
Mile High Connects has always put the needs of residents at the forefront of our work. As we have embarked on an ambitious agenda to increase private, philanthropic, and public capital for important community investments, we have maintained a commitment to finding innovative strategies for putting residents’ needs at the center of community investment decisions.
We know that resident-driven planning is hard and sometimes messy. We also know that it is essential and that it cannot be done without committed community organizations that have deep connections in the communities in which they work. To better understand how our partners engage residents in planning and community development, late in 2016 we conducted a survey. The survey was distributed to nonprofit, for-profit, and government entities that work at a neighborhood or city/regional level. We were heartened by the tremendous commitment that we saw among the 24 organizations that completed the survey. And, we realize that there is a lot more work to be done to deepen our collective efforts to engage residents in community planning and development.
A few of the highlights from the survey:
- A majority of respondents’ community engagement work focuses on affordable housing (79%), transit area stations (58%), and infrastructure (54%)
- A majority of respondents’ engagement work includes community visioning (58%), comprehensive neighborhood planning (58%), leadership development (62%), and knowledge building and education around the development process (54%)
- Only 16% of respondents indicated “working with developers” is a focus of their resident engagement, while a third (33%) indicated that education around financing for development is a priority
Respondents use a variety of tools to engage residents:
- 91% community meetings
- 74% workshops
- 69% surveys
Respondents provide significant services in their community engagement efforts including:
- 86% provide meals
- 82% provide translation services
- 78% make ADA accommodations
- 58% provide child care
- 47% provide transportation to/from meetings
The following geographies were most frequently cited as locations in which respondents engage residents:
- Denver – Westwood (88%)
- Other Denver City/County (87.5%)
- Denver – Globeville/Elyria/Swansea (81%)
- Denver – Federal Blvd. Corridor (73%)
- Denver – Northeast Parkhill 73%
- Adams County Unincorporated (64%)
- Arapahoe County (56%)
- Aurora (50%)
- Westminster (44%)
- Commerce City (40%)
And while we learned that many of the organizations dedicate more than 50% of their resources to engaging residents, there are still many barriers to engaging community, especially:
- Capacity (staff, organizational and financial)
- Taking time and effort to describe how planning and development issues are personally relevant, and important. Understanding and discussing what is important to community.
- Making forums accessible to community members
- Community members’ interest and time
- Time, trust and language
- Systemic racism, language and transportation barriers, processes that don’t allow time or resources for effective engagement
- Lack of education on basic planning and development concepts
In the end, we learned that the organizations that work with community take this work seriously. Their own words may provide the greatest insight:
“Community priorities are safety, affordability, cultural identity, family; these are not always the values that developers bring to the table and/or want to have conversations about. So then the community does not want to participate.”
“Planning and development are topics of privilege. Many community members are facing issues that demand their attention for today or tomorrow. Asking community members to plan and take time to talk about development should include answers to “so what”, “why should I care”, “does it matter”, “how will my thoughts and opinions be utilized”?
We look forward to working with our community partners including neighborhood organizations, nonprofit organizations, and developers to determine some of the best ways to engage residents in community planning and development processes and to ensure that their thoughts and opinions will in fact be valued and utilized.
– Katherine Pease, Capital Absorption Project Manager, Mile High Connects
In 2016, I had the opportunity to visit four different cities throughout the U.S. as a fellow for the The Funders’ Network PLACES Fellowship. I was fortunate to join a diverse cohort of social justice and philanthropic practitioners from a variety of foundations and organizations, including representation from Vancouver, BC.
Minneapolis, Hartford, Phoenix, and Jackson, Mississippi were the cities on our site visit agenda. Each shared characteristics and challenges that are deeply embedded in most urban settings, such as poverty, unemployment, disinvestment, environmental racism, and systemic racism. But each city also had stories of resilience, deep community organizing, involvement from the philanthropic sector, and creative actors working diligently to reinvigorate their communities and create thriving, equitable places.
We also spent time thinking about leadership, racial equity, and organizational change. In this space, I spent time reflecting on my work as a change agent for equity and a disruptor of systemic racism. I spent time thinking about the historical legacy of philanthropy and its continued commitment to solving acute social issues juxtaposed with its legacy of whiteness and inequity. I spent time thinking about the legacy of systemic racism in this country and how it continues to deeply impact communities today. I spent time reorganizing my tool box for leadership and renewing my energy to continue to forge ahead in the complicated work of racial equity.
All that being said, I am ready to put my learning through the PLACES fellowship into practice in 2017. I am grateful to have had the experience and know that I will benefit from it for years to come.
– Davian Gagne, Grants & Operations Manager
On November 9th, I awoke and did not want to get out of bed. To be honest, with several weeks passing, I am only now beginning to be able to process the news without a feeling of deep depression. I am trying to sort out my own perspective.
There are so many responses. I’ve seen deep seated resignation with an underlying sentiment of disappointment – “I knew it all along, of course this was the only outcome.” I’ve seen others invigorated, saying “we’ve been here before and know how to fight” or “this is our call to come together in action.” I’ve seen us attacking each other for being too progressive, for not being progressive enough, for taking action, for not taking action. I’ve seen us bringing together our constituencies and trying to make sense of this separately and together. I’ve seen us obsessing over each new element of news, each new statement and each new appointment. I’ve seen us avoiding avoiding news altogether, trying to pretend this did not occur.
As the white leader of an organization focused on racial and economic equity, I often struggle with whether I should be in this role for Mile High Connects. I am also reminded that it is imperative that as a white person, I use my privilege and the access that I have as a result of that privilege to tackle social inequities. These election results and the role that people who are white played in this outcome mean that is true today more than any other.
This one thing I am sure of is that Mile High Connects stands with and values communities who are most under attack. We will continue to fight for protections of civil rights and for protections and supports for those who are disadvantaged. We will stand with immigrants and refugees, with people of color, with people of all sexual and gender identities, with women, with people who are poor, with people who speak other languages and those worship in a variety of ways. We will use our resources and our power to continue to drive toward equity in our region and our nation.
Let us come together. Let us build power together. Let us show compassion together. Let us lift up justice today and every day.
In the November 2016 the Foundation Review featured a number of articles from key players in Colorado’s philanthropic landscape, including the funder collaborative of Mile High Connects. Integrating Funders Into a Multisector Transit-Equity Collaborative examines the efforts of Mile High Connects, its history, and how it uses a collective impact model to implement systemic change with and for low-income communities and communities of color by connecting them to affordable housing, healthy environments, quality education, and good-paying jobs. The article describes the collaborative’s approach to evaluation, reflects on its initial impacts, offers an assessment of its overall success, and shares with the philanthropic sector lessons learned in working effectively in a cross-sector collaborative.