like-minded individuals could come together and learn from each other while also looking for ways to advance the conversation at a macro-level.
In 2011, plans were underway to expand our region’s Regional Transit District (RTD) through nine new rail lines and two bus rapid transit (BRT) lines, adding over 150 miles of new transit lines in metro Denver.
With foresight, several community leaders and organizations gathered to develop a collaborative effort to ensure the Metro Denver regional transit system would offer all residents the opportunity for a high quality of life. And so, the Mile High Connects collaborative was launched in 2011 to take collective action on community-led and driven solutions in neighborhoods impacted by the RTD light rail expansion.
Increase resources to build affordable inclusive communities along transit lines
Influence policy to ensure community is centered in urban and economic planning
Increase resident engagement in neighborhoods impacted by the transit system
Leverage transit to connect folks to affordable housing jobs, schools, and services
Ensure Denver Metro’s transit system is more accessible to our disadvantaged communities
Colorado Housing and Finance Authority (CHFA)
Enterprise Community Partners
Maiker Housing Partners
Montbello Organizing Committee
Neighborhood Development Collaborative
United for a New Economy
Urban Land Conservancy
West Denver Renaissance Collaborative
Affordable Fares Task Force
Colorado Cross Disability Coalition
Denver Streets Partnership
Enterprise Community Partners
Mi Casa Resource Center
Montbello Organizing Committee
Natural Resources Defense Council
Executive Director, 2019-2022
It’s been a privilege to spend six years with Mile High Connects and witness the changing momentum in our region. Though our formal operations have ended, the impact of our work as seen in our small, but mighty investments, will continue to be felt for years to come. We sought to break down barriers to trust between institutions and communities & embolden communities to take the action when needed.
I stand on the shoulders of the most impressive executive directors and visionary founders whose commitment to equity set the table for collaboration. I am incredibly thankful to each team member that dedicated their time, talent, and treasure to implementing the extraordinary vision laid out by our Steering Committee. To our funders and supporters, I am appreciative of your willingness to bring your whole selves to the table because at the end of the day, that’s how you build authentic trust with the Community. Mile High Connects & its legacy belongs to each of you.
Former executive director
former executive director
FORMER GRANTS & OPERATIONS MANAGER
Director of Programs
FORMER Director of operations
FORMER Director, Policy & Strategic Partnerships
First and Last Mile Priority Area Coordinator
When Mile High Connects sought out to make its impact on the region, our primary goal was to ensure the catalytic $6.7 billion investment in our rapid transit network resulted in opportunities for all. But we did so much more than that. Our impact stretched far beyond the corridors of light rail and bus expansion.
As we looked to the future, we recognized that the work is not done. We offer the following lessons learned as our gift to the community, to those aspiring collaboration leaders, in the hopes that you will draw on our inspiration from what we’ve done and experienced along our journey.
Our collaborative has always sought to center community needs and amplify its voice through systemic change work, and only until recently have we learned what it takes to do this. Community efforts that bring together diverse organizations and individuals require time and authentic engagement to nurture trust and relationships. While this process can feel slow and meandering to some, it is critical to unlocking power in the community, which is where the solutions exist. Furthermore, as organizations look to bring additional community representation and leadership, the impact of their work includes building community power.
The neighborhoods MHC committed to working in are not new and “up-and-coming” neighborhoods. They are culturally rich, vibrant, established communities with long-time residents who have worked tirelessly to belong. Our investment in each organization and resident group within these communities serves as a response to inequitable systemic forces that disproportionately impact these residents, to amplify their voices in creating their future, and ultimately give credibility to these community power centers.
This work cannot shy away from naming equity and, with tools from national partners such as SPARCC, we’ve given folks the confidence and language to call out injustice, connect resident experiences with data to tell the story of displacement, and declare equity as the only way forward. There is still much progress to be made when it comes to building mutual respect across entities and people, but already through practice communities have learned and contributed equity perspectives to local and regional efforts.
When a home goes on the market or a local business closes its doors, it can have ripple effects in a neighborhood. With community-based organizations and the residents they partner with are eager to bring innovative solutions to acquiring properties, it’s time for philanthropic partners and community development financial institutions (CDFIs) to act. Rethinking traditional approaches to capital will require these partners to work in coalition with community partners to identify new approaches to financing and incorporating the “softer” aspects of development – organizing, policy/advocacy, and long term strategy development. We’ve learned that the opportunity for innovative capital is deeply rooted in collaboration.
Like any collaboration with diverse partners, MHC had to learn to lean into challenges and conflicts to find the opportunity for action. Through leadership and partner transitions, we gained valuable perspective on the power of having a common connection and vision. Structural changes to how we worked with partners made collaboration easier & prepared us to quickly mobilize in emergencies, while bolstering trust & relationship building. We leaned into having the necessary discussions, with the right people at the table. We embraced a flexible role to meet the needs of the community, and learned that while objectives change over time having a clear common goal allows all partners to realize their role and chance to enable change.
“The nimbleness and lack of rigidity of how MHC interprets its role was helpful in staying within the broad definition of this equity-focused collaborative, but zeroing in on discussions that needed to be had and support that needed to happen to small businesses that were not getting support from other groups,” -Table Partner
When Mile High Connects decided to close its doors, it was in recognition that our founding mission of preserving affordability near transit in the Denver area had been accomplished. Our efforts allowed us to mobilize resources and residents, impact policy, and invest in inspirational community projects, while creating and strengthening collaboration among diverse partners.
MHC’s steering committee used its final resources to invest over $250,000 to support community-based organizations doing work in our legacy neighborhoods: West Denver, East Colfax, Montbello and Southwest Adams County. Each organization that received MHC investments is committed to sharing cross-cutting issues and solutions in mitigating displacement pressures borne out of their work.
We know that our region’s needs have shifted and a new voice is necessary to follow the emerging momentum around community ownership. To galvanize broader support for grassroots community owned and benefiting real estate & cement our legacy, MHC invested $225,000 in the early planning of a new partnership of three regional/state organizations. These investments, alongside our place-based investments, will encourage learning, building new partnerships, identifying opportunities, and gaining momentum for a focused regional conversation on the issue. The following organizations will be bring their expertise to this regional focus:
Mile High Connects Last Stop | A Journey of Community Impact 2022