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A study on gentrification made 12 recommendations for Denver. Three years later, here’s where the city stands.

A mobile home and trailer park sits half a block from new housing on West Kentucky Avenue and South Utica Street in the Westwood neighborhood of Denver on Jan. 17, 2019. (Jeremy Sparig, Special to The Colorado Sun)
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More than two years after it issued its report, the city has implemented a variety of measures to address concerns identified in the study. Some programs, such as jobs associated with highway construction, fall under the purview of the state or another jurisdiction. The Sun asked the city’s Office of Economic Development for a progress report. Its response has been edited for space.

Collaborate across agencies on strategies to mitigate displacement.

Evidence: Created the Neighborhood Equity and Stabilization Team to facilitate communication and coordination of city agencies and community partners to assist businesses and residents at risk of displacement. NEST — which named Irene Aguilar its director in October — began meeting twice a month in December 2018.

Address potential for involuntary displacement in neighborhood plans.

Evidence: The city points to work through the Denveright planning process that names several key areas, some of which specifically address displacement and gentrification concerns, that will inform Comprehensive Plan 2040 and Blueprint Denver. City agencies also are working with communities on area plans, three of which should be finished this year and include a variety of strategies to mitigate displacement.

Create a robust permanent funding source for affordable housing.

Evidence: The city created the first dedicated fund for affordable housing in 2016, allocating approximately $15 million a year, and then last year Denver and its partners doubled that fund to $30 million per year. In the face of declining federal housing funds, this marked the city’s first locally funded, long-term commitment to affordable housing.

Preserve existing affordable housing.

Evidence: The city’s efforts to preserve existing affordable housing include both investment and policy strategies. To support the preservation of units with existing income restrictions, the city and its partners updated the Preservation Ordinance in 2015 to include a right of first refusal when properties are at risk of converting to market rate. Additional updates in 2018 clarified the right of first refusal and increased the minimum affordability period for projects receiving city subsidies from 20 years to 60 years. Since May 2016, OED has invested $9.5 million to support the preservation of 592 existing income-restricted rental homes across the city, including units for seniors and individuals who were formerly homeless.

Bank land in neighborhoods at risk of involuntary displacement.

Evidence: The city has purchased two East Colfax properties, has sent out RFPs seeking affordable housing partners, and plans to make its selection in the next few months. Through city council it already has completed purchase of a property on North Washington Street, part of which will be developed as affordable and workforce housing More than two years ago, the city also purchased property at 41st Avenue and Inca Street, and construction on rental and sale units is underway. In terms of banking land in neighborhoods at risk of gentrification, the city’s Office of Economic Development has issued a request for partnerships and currently is hoping to have relationships in place this spring.

Protect existing homeowners.

Evidence: OED and its partners developed a new program to help stabilize residents experiencing a housing crisis called the Temporary Rental and Utility Assistance program, and recently announced the Temporary Mortgage Assistance program, which offers financial assistance to homeowners who are facing hardship due to unexpected changes in their employment status. The city also expanded its property tax rebate program to cover qualifying low-income homeowners with children.

Use the study’s neighborhood typology to evaluate investments.

Evidence: Denver has been working on a tool that will take into account public and private investment in a neighborhood and seek to gauge how those investments will affect things like housing prices. Residents will be able to access the information via the city’s website and use it to make more informed decisions to help them remain in the neighborhood. The office of economic development also uses the study’s data and maps to inform funding decisions.

Provide technical support to neighborhood businesses to manage changes in customer base.

Evidence: Denver City Council approved $650,000 for a lending program to help minority- and women-owned and small businesses grow, but also neighborhood businesses impacted by displacement and changes in their marketplace. That program’s rules should be finalized in the next month or so. The city also is working with community partners on technical assistance directly in neighborhoods, and plans to announce details soon.

Tie business incentives to community engagement that benefits low-income residents.

Evidence: Denver has worked to employ incentives to attract companies that share its vision for inclusiveness, sustainability and social responsibility. A recent example: VF Corporation, which relocated its headquarters to Denver, already has invested in the community by collaborating to fund The North Face Climbing Boulder in Montbello.

Make training for middle-income jobs available to neighborhood residents.

Evidence: The city is designing a pilot demonstration workforce program geared to training and job placement efforts for large public projects — a program recently mentioned in the New York Times. Through OED’s Workforce Services Division the city seeks to train and place youth and adults in high-demand occupations in industries such as health care and information technology.

Support entrepreneurship in gentrifying neighborhoods.

Evidence: The city is working with several entrepreneur support groups (Mi Casa, Sistapreneurs, FoodBridge, to name a few) located in low- to moderate-income neighborhoods to develop ways to help entrepreneurs. The OED also has distributed 10,000 copies of a multilingual business start-up checklist. Its small business lending program in 2018 helped finance projects in several “neighborhoods of change,” including Clayton, Five Points, Montbello, Sun Valley and Westwood. Those funds are tied to a mandate for hiring low- to moderate-income individuals for a majority of those jobs.

Preserve industrial space and middle-skill jobs.

Evidence: The draft Comprehensive Plan 2040 and the update to Blueprint Denver identify areas where manufacturing space is encouraged — a step toward preserving these jobs. OED continues to work with businesses through technical assistance and supports several manufacturing businesses, including Birdon/NamJet, a firm that manufactures military bridging vehicle/boats.


 

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Colorado Journalism’s Generation Next

The Colorado Sun has been pleased to work with the University of Colorado’s News Corps, led by Chuck Plunkett, to showcase the work of student journalists who pursued various elements of our larger look at gentrification in Denver. Many of the program’s participants produced excellent work, but we present this week what we felt were the best of the best — work that promises a bright future for local journalism in Colorado and wherever these talented students land.

Monday

WESTWOOD: Staff writer Kevin Simpson explores the Denver neighborhood of Westwood and its struggle to retain its identity while dealing with the challenges of gentrification, which has become a top issue for city leaders. Freelance photographer Jeremy Sparig contributes a wide array of images. Freelance graphic artist Carrie Osgood sketches maps that show the demographic changes across Denver over the years.

PROGRESS REPORT: In 2016, the city published a report that made 12 recommendations for ways that Denver could mitigate the negative effects of gentrification. The Sun asked for an update. The city summarized its response to each of the recommendations.

Tuesday

SUN VALLEY: CU journalism students Amanda K. Clark and Shannon Mullane paint a compelling portrait of Denver’s Sun Valley neighborhood, which city officials hope will be a model for development without displacement — though locals aren’t so sure. Mullane also produced a short audio story on a community institution, while Lara Henry created a detailed, illustrated timeline of the neighborhood. Both Clark and Mullane also contributed photos.

REDLINING: Students Anna Blanco, Anna Mary Scott and Jackson Reed examine the practice of redlining and how, as a side effect of gentrification, it still echoes today. The package includes photos shot by Blanco and Reed.

ROOTS RUN DEEP: CU journalism student Will Halbert spent time with longtime Westwood resident Eve Ulloa and produced a poignant video that details all the things that bind her to the neighborhood.

Wednesday

ACROSS THE STATE: Sun writer Kevin Simpson returns to look at how Colorado’s hot real estate market has triggered early rumblings of displacement across the state — and how other cities are trying to prepare to counter the negative impacts of gentrification.

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