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

Equitable Community Spaces in a Post-Pandemic World

One thing we know is that Coronavirus/COVID-19 is here to stay – but the way we began to engage with institutions in virtual and hybrid spaces may not. Earlier this month, Mile High Connects and our Bay Area friend Bay Area Regional Health Inequities Initiative hosted a conversation with a handful of community leaders from both cities to lift up what a truly equitable public engagement will look like into the future.

Visual notes from the event held Sept. 2021.

This event was just the beginning of the conversation – let’s continue to find ways to keep what we’ve learned. That community engagement isn’t just in-person meetings but creating new, alternative spaces for residents to engage authentically in processes.

This is our future – equitable community engagement.

Equitable Vaccine Distribution? Leverage Existing Transit Infrastructure.

In the months since the COVID vaccination efforts kicked off in the state, we’ve made enormous strides – over half of Colorado’s state population has been at least partially vaccinated to date, and community vaccine sites are emerging thanks in large part to organizations and leaders championing the cause.  While there may no longer be eligibility and appointment restrictions, other barriers keep our metro Denver residents from getting vaccines. More recently as more people have gotten vaccinated, demand has declined, and dose availability has increased, a default narrative is taking center stage: that those who remain unvaccinated are choosing not to be so. However, the reality is that many of our Black, Brown, Indigenous and other People of Color (BBIPOC) and low-income community residents do not have transport options that are affordable, accessible, or reliable to get to and from vaccine sites. In fact, many residents that are looking for a vaccine are also looking for a ride.

As we reimagine recovery and revolutionize how we use the built environment to support public health and community well-being, we encourage going further in leveraging existing infrastructure to better connect services to the people.

Thanks to an analysis (see below for link) of RTD’s Park-n-Ride (PNR)s, we have a better understanding where the need is and what locations would best serve those who are hardest to reach. PNR locations are suitable for semi-permanent vaccine sites because they are accessible by public transit, car, and other micro-mobility options, they have established infrastructure such as protected areas, utility connections and waste management services, and they tap into and enhance existing infrastructure to meet the moment and ensure access to services as a public health necessity. The report’s author, Luna Hoopes, identified 36 PNR sites as eligible for semi-permanent vaccine operations to serve our low-income and BBIPOC communities who often rely on public transit, have been disproportionately impacted by COVID and will likely need a more sustained rollout due to other access issues and potential need for booster shots.

While this analysis show gaps in vaccine site distribution as a snapshot in time and the landscape is evolving rapidly as we move away from mass vaccination sites to community-based locations, it reveals a strategic and timely opportunity to provide easily accessible vaccine sites through existing infrastructure.  In Covina, CA, the Foothills Transit agency had built a three-level bus depot and PNR garage last March just before COVID hit. The transit agency pivoted to use this new space to provide an easily accessible location for transit riders to get vaccinated. They also “wanted a location that would support the community where this transit center is located.” Across the country, at least 450 public transportation providers are providing free transit to vaccination sites, according to those behind the VaxTransit campaign aimed as providing those without transportation access to vaccines.

We know that transit agencies across the country have been rocked by devastating loss of riders, issues hiring bus and train operators, and an unpredictable future as we climb out of the pandemic mess. Instead of continuing to place more of a burden on RTD to go out of its way to transport people to vaccine sites, why not bring the two services together and remove that additional burden from RTD? We can partner with vaccine operators to utilize RTD’s existing infrastructure to reach more people and take advantage of existing opportunity. By placing one service near another service, the resulting proximity and ease will allow more equitable access to those who most need and deserve it, and give more residents a fair shot at getting a shot.

Conversation with The Denver Foundation

Are you working to build a better future for everyone in Metro Denver?

If so, The Denver Foundation would like to get to know you.

As the largest and most experienced community foundation in Colorado, The Denver Foundation is committed to strengthening our communities. Much of our work is shaped through conversation and connection with nonprofit, community, and government leaders from across the seven-county region.

Join Dace West, The Denver Foundation’s Vice President of Community Impact, for Foundation Face Time, a series of one-on-one conversations in locations cross the Metro area. Bring your perspective on trends in your community and challenges in your work. Do you have ideas and solutions to address some of those issues? We’d love to hear them—and to explore how we might work together.

Join Dace for a 30-minute, Foundation Face Time session on Thursday, April 25 between 1-5 pm at RISE Colorado, 1595 Elmira St #201, Aurora, CO 80010. Please register here to guarantee a spot. Email Stef Flores to be informed of future dates, and follow us on Facebook and Twitter for updates.

Please note: These sessions are not intended as opportunities to assess your chances of receiving funding from The Denver Foundation’s Community Grants Program. If you’d like to hear more about grant opportunities or have specific questions about applying, please start by review our guidelines .

For information or additional questions, please contact Programs Assistant Ashley Clevenger.

303 Artway and Heritage Trail Visioning Walk

Vengan a caminar y compartir su visión para la futura ruta 303 Artway Heritage Trail que conectará la estación en 40th y Colorado con Holly Square en Northeast Park Hill. El sábado 6 de abril, nos vamos a encontrar en Dahlia Campus para caminar ese segmento de la ruta. Ayudenos a crear este importante recurso para la comunidad.

Undesign the Redline – Self-Guided Tours

Undesign the Redline is an interactive exhibit connecting the intentional and systematic racial housing segregation of the 1930s to political and social issues of today, through the powerful narratives of the people and communities affected by redlining and its legacy.

Explore the history. Be inspired by stories of vision and change. Become part of the conversation for new equitable policies and practices.

Thanks to Shift Research Lab, Denver Arts & Venues and the McNichols Building for supporting this event!

Moving Forward

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.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Stay Informed

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

Newsletter signup
Sending

Get Involved

Donate Volunteer