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Mitigating Displacement Through Housing in Denver, Colorado

Image of a three-story apartment building taken from ground level, with the name “Del Corazon” over the entrance.The Del Corazon apartments help to bring affordable, quality, stable housing to the longtime working-class neighborhood of Westwood in Denver, Colorado, which faces gentrification pressure in the thriving city. Credit: Ryan Dravitz Photography

Like many American cities with a thriving technology industry, Denver, Colorado, experienced a surge of economic and population growth during the 2010s. With new housing construction unable to keep up with the increased demand, housing prices in the city rose. As families with greater means sought out housing that fit their budgets, disruptive gentrification unfolded in some of Denver’s working-class neighborhoods. The lower-income Westwood neighborhood, with convenient connections to downtown, embraced a strategy to shepherd, rather than resist, the coming changes to expand opportunities for existing residents. The Del Corazon apartment complex, completed in spring 2018 by developer St. Charles Town Company, was one result of that city-led effort, adding nearly 200 units in the heart of the neighborhood. Along with other efforts to preserve and enhance the cultural, recreational, and economic life of Westwood, Del Corazon is helping the city keep its promise to a once-neglected but vibrant area.

Upgrading Substandard Housing

The Westwood neighborhood had long been a working-class area, built up around munitions plants during World War II. Much of the neighborhood’s housing consisted of dense single-family structures alongside numerous mobile home parks. The Del Corazon apartments, consisting of 197 units in 7 three-story buildings, were built on 4.5 acres of 2 of those mobile home sites. The 72 mobile homes at these 2 parks, which housed approximately 250 people, were in such disrepair that the parks were in danger of being shuttered for health and safety violations. Denver’s Office of Economic Development provided a $3.7 million loan to acquire the trailer parks from private owners and fund relocation assistance for park residents. All residents were given relocation compensation, and all were successful in purchasing a new trailer, moving into a rental unit, or purchasing a house. Former park residents were also given preference for units at Del Corazon. In fall 2014, after four years of effort, St. Charles Town Company succeeded in acquiring the sites.

Federal and state low-income housing tax credits along with tax-exempt Private Activity Bonds issued by the Colorado Housing and Finance Agency made up the bulk of the funding package for the $41 million project. Del Corazon consists of one-, two-, and three-bedroom units that rent to individuals and families earning no more than 60 percent of area median income. The project is designed to promote connection between residents and the surrounding neighborhood and features three small plazas; pedestrian paths; and community spaces such as a large shared kitchen, fitness center, computer center, and an exterior barbeque area. Ground-level units have patios, and elevated units have balconies.

Embracing Change and Preserving Community

In 2016, a study sponsored by the city of Denver found that Westwood exhibited all three of the signs city planners use to identify neighborhoods at risk for gentrification: a median income lower than that of the city overall, a percentage of renter-occupied units higher than that of the city overall; and a percentage of residents holding at least a bachelor’s degree lower than that of the city overall. With residents in other, similar neighborhoods having already been displaced by gentrification, the city adopted a plan to guide equitable neighborhood development, encouraging new investment and residents while addressing persistent problems, including a lack of neighborhood amenities, streets unfriendly to pedestrians, and below-average health outcomes among residents.

Aerial photograph of several three-story apartment buildings.The Del Corazon apartments, completed in 2018, were built on the site of two former mobile home parks and consist of 7 three-story buildings holding a total of 197 units. Credit: Ryan Dravitz Photography

The plan identified opportunities to enhance local parks and create a commercial and cultural corridor to anchor the neighborhood. Del Corazon’s location in the center of Westwood offers residents easy access to area amenities. To further improve the quality and quantity of housing in Westwood, the plan proposed the adoption of zoning rules friendly to accessory dwelling units and advocated for funding for a large-scale home retrofit program to revitalize the area’s aging housing stock. New parks have been built, and playground equipment has been upgraded. Thanks to resident advocacy, public transit connections in the neighborhood have been improved. The city created the Little Saigon Business District to encourage greater neighborhood investment and help organize local small business owners. The group District 3 Arts has built connections between businesses and local artists, resulting in new murals enlivening Westwood’s streets conditions.

Demand for affordable housing in amenity-rich neighborhoods in Denver is high. The city’s surging population, driven by an expanding technology sector, has created a demand for new housing that outstrips the available supply. Through comprehensive planning to preserve and enhance an existing affordable neighborhood, Denver is encouraging more projects like Del Corazon in Westwood. A mile from the Del Corazon apartments, another affordable housing development, built at approximately the same time, saw its 98 apartments fully leased out before opening. When Del Corazon opened its doors, the city had more than 2,500 affordable units in the development pipeline, illustrating the urgent scale of the community’s housing needs.

Source:

Colorado Real Estate Journal Staff. 2018. “Denver rises to a top 10 market for tech talent,” Colorado Real Estate Journal, 21 September. Accessed 2 June 2020; James Connor. 2018. “HUD PD&R Housing Market Profiles: Denver, Colorado,” 1 February. Accessed 2 June 2020; U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis. 2019. “Total Gross Domestic Product for Denver-Aurora-Lakewood, CO (MSA),” 12 December. Accessed 2 June 2020; U.S. Census Bureau. 2019. “QuickFacts: Denver city, Colorado; Denver County, Colorado.” Accessed 2 June 2020; Gosia Kung. 2019. “The Economics of Housing Supply and Demand and the Cost of Housing,” DenverUrbanism, 6 March. Accessed 2 June 2020; Kevin Simpson. 2019. “Denver’s Westwood warily watches redevelopment happen. Can it stay true to its roots when gentrification looms?Colorado Sun, 4 February. Accessed 2 June 2020; Del Corazon. n.d. “Welcome Home.” Accessed 2 June 2020; City of Denver. 2016. “The Westwood Neighborhood Plan.” Accessed 2 June 2020; Denver Office of Economic Development. 2016. “JumpStart 2016.” Accessed 2 June 2020; Joe Vaccarelli. 2016.. “Del Corazon will bring 197 affordable apartments to Westwood neighborhood,” Denver Post, 19 October. Accessed 2 June 2020; St. Charles Town Company. n.d. “Del Corazon.” Accessed 2 June 2020; Colorado Housing and Finance Authority. 2017. “Economic Profile: District 1.” Accessed 2 June 2020.

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Source:

Kevin Simpson. 2019. “Denver’s Westwood warily watches redevelopment happen. Can it stay true to its roots when gentrification looms?Colorado Sun, 4 February. Accessed 2 June 2020; Van Meter Williams Pollack. n.d. “Revitalizing Morrison Road is a Catalyst for Affordable Housing.” Accessed 2 June 2020; Adrian D. Garcia. 2017. “The first wave of new affordable apartments in Westwood are already leased out,” Denverite, 8 November. Accessed 2 June 2020; Joe Vaccarelli. 2016. “Del Corazon will bring 197 affordable apartments to Westwood neighborhood,” Denver Post, 19 October. Accessed 2 June 2020; St. Charles Town Company. n.d. “Del Corazon.” Accessed 2 June 2020; Denver Office of Economic Development. 2016. “Annual Report.” Accessed 4 June 2020. ×

Source:

Colorado Housing and Finance Authority. 2017. “Economic Profile: District 1.” Accessed 2 June 2020; Adrian D. Garcia. 2017. “The first wave of new affordable apartments in Westwood are already leased out,” Denverite, 8 November. Accessed 2 June 2020; Van Meter Williams Pollack. n.d. “Revitalizing Morrison Road is a Catalyst for Affordable Housing.” Accessed 2 June 2020. ×

Source:

Kevin Simpson. 2019. “Denver’s Westwood warily watches redevelopment happen. Can it stay true to its roots when gentrification looms?Colorado Sun, 4 February. Accessed 2 June 2020; City of Denver. 2016. “The Westwood Neighborhood Plan.” Accessed 2 June 2020.

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Source:

City of Denver. 2016. “The Westwood Neighborhood Plan.” Accessed 2 June 2020; St. Charles Town Company. n.d. “Del Corazon.” Accessed 2 June 2020.

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Source:

Adrian D. Garcia. 2017. “The first wave of new affordable apartments in Westwood are already leased out,” Denverite, 8 November. Accessed 2 June 2020; Denver Office of Economic Development. 2016. “Gentrification Study: Mitigating Involuntary Displacement.” Accessed 2 June 2020; Ben Markus. 2017. “Why Is Denver’s Housing Market Still On Fire? Supply And Demand,” Colorado Public Radio, 10 April. Accessed 2 June 2020.

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