The burden of owning or renting a house in the Denver metro region is heavy for many residents as wage growth has not kept pace with the increased cost of living. With Denver rents skyrocketing, renters must make at least $27.50 per hour, which is in stark contrast with Colorado’s minimum wage of $12.32 per hour.
In May, the Colorado legislature voted to approve House Bill 2021-1117. This bill was advocated for by numerous partners and advocates to replace a Colorado Supreme Court decision that once prohibited such “inclusionary housing” practices and allows local governments to require rental housing developers to provide affordable units in new development projects. Here is a sample of what is included in the bill:
- Cities can now require affordable housing to be included in all new for-sale and for-rent housing.
- Requires local governments to offset costs, relax zoning restrictions and provide alternatives, recognizing that inclusionary housing creates higher costs on multi-family developments.
- Requires local governments to provide some options to allow for one or more alternatives to the construction of new affordable housing units
Once passed, the city and county of Denver lept into action. Their Community Planning and Development department drafted a policy proposal to ensure that as new housing is built, new affordable housing is created.
The Expanding Housing Affordability (or EHA) is designed to be complementary to the Department of Housing Stability’s (HOST)’s efforts to address Denver’s housing needs, namely the production of new affordable units in mixed-income communities by combining affordable homes into market-rate development. HOST has faced challenges in creating truly mixed-income communities over the years, and this newly passed but long fought-for legislation has enabled Denver and other localities across the state to mandate inclusionary housing.
MHC brought together key stakeholders, including Brad Wienig, Director of Catalytic Partnerships with HOST, and Analiese Hock, Principal City Planner with City and County of Denver, to discuss the purpose of EHA and provide some initial feedback on the proposal As part of our collaborative call to action, MHC submitted a letter of recommendations (posted below) to the City and County of Denver.
While we have a long way to go on addressing the housing shortage for our low-income neighbors, we celebrate the years-long community organizing and policy advocacy efforts that led to the passing of HB21-1117, which allowed localities to mandate affordable housing or equal alternatives in new developments. Keep up with Denver’s EHA as it makes its way through council this spring.
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.
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 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.
Affordable Housing & Community Facilities
Shared Spaces At Transit Hubs – How Transit Access And Shared Spaces Go Hand-In-Hand hosted by Denver Shared Spaces and Medici Communities
Learn from the incredible collaborative work of DSS partner Mile High Connects on how shared spaces are being incorporated into transit oriented developments, intersecting nonprofits with housing and services while addressing the need for quality employment and affordable fares. You won’t want to miss this given the immense amount of development currently underway in our region. Click here to register.
City & County of Denver – Dedicated Revenue Source for Affordable Housing
Mile High Connects and many of its Steering Committee Organizations are deeply engaged in the ongoing conversation at the City & County of Denver regarding the establishment of a permanent, dedicated revenue source to support affordable housing preservation and development. Negotiations and stakeholder discussions remain ongoing, but the current proposal is to capitalize this resource with a combination of a 0.5 mill increase in property taxes and a new impact fee, ranging from $0.40 to $1.70 per square foot depending on development type) on all new development in the City. Based on current assumptions, the City estimates this will create approximately $155 million in new revenue over the next 10 years. MHC remains committed and supportive of the plan overall and is committed to remaining engaged with all relevant departments within the city to help shape the governance, public engagement, and utilization of the resources should the proposal pass City Council. MHC encourages all Denver stakeholders to engage in the process if you haven’t already. See the updated tentative calendar of events as it relates to this proposal Revised Housing Calendar (2016 07-26).
Capital Absorption – Leadership Forum
The Mile High Connects Capital Absorption Team hosted a Leadership Forum at the Denver Foundation on July 28, which was attended by over 40 leaders in the government, non-profit, development, brokerage, philanthropic, and private investment fields. The group engaged in a lively conversation about how to best achieve the ultimate goal of the Capital Absorption work, which is to build sustainable systems and structures to deploy public and private capital into strategic projects that create or preserve affordable housing, community serving commercial facilities, and mixed-use developments in low-income communities near transit. The team shared with the group its efforts to date and received valuable feedback and creative ideas for how we might continue to drive the work forward for the remainder of this year and into 2017, including the buildout in partnership with DRCOG, of a regional community development pipeline designed to help connect project sponsors with impact investors looking to place capital.
Three Things to Consider About the Nonprofit Real Estate Market
While skyrocketing housing costs are at the forefront of our minds, it’s also important to bear in mind the impact of rising commercial real estate rates as well. The risk for small businesses and nonprofits of being priced out of Denver is extremely high, according to the report released by Denver Shared Spaces. Nonprofit Centers Network, and Mile High Community Loan Fund. Learn more about the potential for displacement, ways to combat rising costs, and check out Mayor Michael B. Hancock’s commitments regarding nonprofit space here.
Upcoming Training and Feedback Opportunities
Sharing Your Inspiring Stories
The Denver Foundation has launched an interactive website called Floodlight for nonprofits to connect with donors of the Foundation. If you have an inspiring story to share, come learn how to build your story by using the platform. When: August 22nd, 9:00 – 11:00 am. Space is limited! Contact Carmen Holleman, cholleman@denverfoundation to RSVP or for more information.
As Denver continues to grow and change, what are your biggest concerns? What changes in land use, mobility, parks and recreational resources would make life in Denver more enjoyable? Click here to take the Community Vision Survey.
With support from Mile High Connects, Growing Home is working with community members in the Blocks of Hope neighborhood to advocate for affordable housing and development. The project is focused in Southwest Adams County, a neighborhood which is already feeling the impact from two future RTD stations. Alma Garza is a natural community leader, “I felt that that I never or rarely had a say in what happens in my neighborhood. But, I’m excited things are changing. I have always been interested in fighting for what my community needs. I finally feel like my interests are being heard, words are being put into action. I am an immigrant mother of three and I’m organizing with Growing Home. Together with Growing Home we are identifying and developing community leaders who can give voice to community needs and perspectives in decision making forums and strengthen our neighborhood. With the help of Growing Home, we are organizing the 500 unit apartment where I live, probably one of the only ‘affordable places’ within Blocks of Hope. The tenants are addressing security, repairs, and employee relations. We are working hard to ensure that tenants know their rights, we are also building a sense of community and accountability in the buildings .We are bringing tenants from different buildings together that are experiencing common problems. There’s power in numbers!” *translated from Spanish
Blocks of Hope Resident Leaders
Westwood is a neighborhood in southwest Denver, SW of the corner of Federal & Alameda. The auto-oriented streets have narrow sidewalks and are poorly lit. Westwood Unidos organizes community members to help them achieve their priorities for a safer and healthier community. Resident-led projects include improving sidewalks, slowing traffic, improving transit access, and improving lighting.
In 2014 – 2015, with support from Mile High Connects, Westwood Unidos and 9to5 Colorado successfully advocated for the Route 4 Bus Line to be re-opened on Morrison Road. Since then, the route has been a big success; ridership numbers have justified the need for this route in the Westwood community.
On July 18th, the community celebrated a big victory with the successful passage in City Council of the Westwood neighborhood plan. Community members testified in support of the plan, which recommends calming traffic, increasing transit access, improving greenways, allowing for accessory dwelling units, and building a recreation center.
In 2016, the Westwood Unidos Safety Action Team has been busy beautifying the neighborhood to make walking and biking safery. Their project creates a safe walkway along 8 alleys that connect Federal Boulevard and local schools. These 8 alleys are overgrown with brambles and weeds, covered with graffiti, and full of dumped furniture and trash, making it impossible to walk safely and comfortably.
In order to tackle these alleys, on Saturday, April 23 Extreme Community Makeover and Westwood Unidos organized over 300 volunteers from Westwood and surrounding communities to pick up trash and clean graffiti during “Go Westwood! On June 28 and July 16, dozens of residents tackled the alleys again, continuing to clean graffiti and beginning to install art. The goal is to complete the alley on July 28th with the installation of art and mosaics and painted tires.
Finally, Westwood Unidos has partnered with various organizations to train youth leaders with a focus on economic opportunities and access to nature. In addition to testifying successfully in front of City Council, the youth leaders are semi-finalists in a grant to open a youth-run bike workshop.
Community members and partner organizations interested in getting involved in Westwood Unidos are welcome to the monthly Westwood Unidos Safety Action Team meeting, every 4th Monday of the month at 9 AM at Paloma Villa, 4200 Morrison Road.
Alley Project in Westwood
Together, Mile High Connects and the Denver Office of Economic Development (OED) comprise every sector of the community—MHC representing private and nonprofit assets and OED being, of course, local government. Thus there is great capacity and opportunity created by our organizations working together.
As different as our funding streams and governance structures are, MHC and OED share a great deal of aligned mission and core values. We’re both focused on creating and sustaining affordable and inclusive communities, and engaging citizens at a grassroots level, with the ultimate goal of truly equitable development that invites economy mobility for all. From this joint perspective, virtually every aspect of civic community-building is connected to every other by a common thread, even in ways not immediately recognizable. Nurturing entrepreneurs in low-income areas can create wealth to resist involuntary displacement caused by gentrification; modeling the creation of multi-use residential/commercial developments along transit lines can make real the vision of more economic diversity within every urban block.
OED has ambitious strategies for the future that are breaking down its own conventional “silos”–for example, figuring out how to link 21st century workforce development services to increased access to entrepreneurship, or helping local employers thrive because we are creating more affordable housing options for middle-skill workers, or making sure that the newest corporate relocations provide the maximum opportunity for longtime residents to tap into better wages. It is the inspiration that municipal government can draw from a vibrant independent player like MHC, and in return, the assurance to nonprofits that local government will willingly contribute capacity and innovation—along with a listening ear—that makes this kind of collaborative climate bear fruit.
For example, recently the two of us partnered with Denver Housing Authority, Denver Foundation, Enterprise Community Partners Inc., and the Gates Foundation to establish the West Denver Renaissance Collaborative (WDRC). The mission of WDRC is to ensure that the redevelopment of West Denver is done in an equitable fashion, ensuring that existing residents are the ultimate beneficiaries of the work, and that the neighborhoods impacted don’t lose their rich multicultural character. The West Denver neighborhoods that are part of the WDRC include Athmar Park, Barnum, Lincoln Park, Sun Valley, Valverde, Villa Park, West Colfax and Westwood. The WDRC is moving forward, actively engaging with stakeholders in the identified neighborhoods. Next steps this summer include identifying the needs of the different neighborhoods and identify programming and resources to meet those needs.
Terry Liggins is the Executive Director of Bennie E. Goodwin After School Program, which is located in Aurora, Colorado, but her heart and home reside in the Far Northeast Denver neighborhood of Montbello, where she has lived with her family for more than 15 years.
“A friend and mentor, Rich Male, approached me regarding some work around possible gentrification issues in the Montbello neighborhood,” Terry says. “He knew I lived in Montbello and thought I might be helpful in working with others to determine solutions. Once I found out the work that needed to be done, I knew I had to help.”
That was three years ago and Terry has since been involved, developing her strength as a leader with the Montbello Organizing Committee (MOC), a Mile High Connects grantee organization that works to engage Montbello community members and provide them with tools to develop grassroots leadership skills to address issues that affect their quality of life. MOC currently works with residents on task teams to address three main issues: retail and economic development, community enhancement, and transportation. Terry co-leads the Transportation Task Team (T3). To date the efforts of MOC have led to the cessation of service route changes that would have obstructed residents’ direct access to and from the only grocery store in the neighborhood. Additionally partnerships with council representatives have let to sidewalk and bus stop infrastructure improvements. Much more is in the works.
“I would like to see transit decisions on the community level be a more collaborative effort between RTD, city officials, and residents. I would also like to see decision makers be more proactive vs. reactive to local community needs around transit,” Terry says.
Why does Terry feel so passionately about Montbello? Perhaps it’s because it reminds her of “home.” “I really enjoy the diversity in people, housing, culture, economic status. It feels more like how the world should be. It also reminds me of the small community where I was raised in Pittsburgh—a neighborhood that consist of African American, Italians, Polish, Asians and more. We dined together, went to school together, went to church together, and played sports together. Sometimes thing went well and sometimes they didn’t, but at the end of the day we were still neighbors and friends.”
From her three years as a community advocate, activist, and resident leader she says that she’s learned that communication, flexibility, patience, and resilience are key. “Most of all I’ve learned to be a better ‘listener’, she says. “It’s vital to hear the voice of the community.”
Terry Liggins, Montbello Community Leader
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.