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Denver’s Mariposa District: Supporting Healthy, Mixed-Income Living

In Practice
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Denver’s Mariposa District: Supporting Healthy, Mixed-Income Living

Exterior image of a multi-story, mixed-use building that incorporates several different materials and colors into the façade and bears the Mariposa name and butterfly logo.
Phase III of the Mariposa will open in early 2014, providing 87 rental residential units and approximately 11,000 square feet of commerical space. Image courtesy of the Denver Housing Authority.
The redevelopment of a distressed public housing development is now providing Denver residents with affordable and market-rate living options that offer easy access to the nearby 10th and Osage light rail station. Redevelopment of South Lincoln Park Homes, now known as the Mariposa District, follows the guidelines established by several local plans, including a citywide strategic plan to promote transit-oriented development (TOD) along Denver’s six light rail lines, a subsequent station area plan for the 10th and Osage station, and the Denver Housing Authority’s (DHA) master plan to replace obsolete public housing and add new units and commercial uses. Together, these efforts are expected to engender a healthy mixed-income community centered on access to light rail transportation. The redevelopment is a large effort, comprising nine phases to be constructed over seven years and resulting in more than 500 additional residences. With the first two phases completed as of October 2013, the Mariposa District, which won the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s 2012 National Award for Smart Growth Achievement in the Equitable Development category, moved closer to being fully realized.

Planning for Transformation

The partnership that produced the Mariposa District began in 2006 when the city of Denver, with input from DHA, began planning for TOD around the 10th and Osage light rail station. While the city was completing the station area plan, DHA initiated a cultural audit based on surveys and interviews of members of the South Lincoln Park Homes community. The cultural audit revealed that residents had a fear of displacement, as well as a desire for new housing to include units affordable to those of different income levels.

Taking into account the issues and desires surfaced by the cultural audit, DHA began creating its master plan for redevelopment of the 15.1-acre South Lincoln Park Homes site, as well as an additional 2.4 acres of land adjacent to the 10th and Osage station that it had purchased from the city. In addition to the cultural audit, DHA devised a number of strategies for increasing resident involvement in the project, including holding more than 140 community meetings and group interviews. To ensure that potentially underrepresented members of the community had the opportunity to contribute, DHA translated outreach materials into three languages and conducted door-to-door surveys and interviews.

While DHA and the city were conducting community meetings, DHA was also sponsoring a health impact assessment (HIA) to identify health issues in the community. The HIA found higher-than-average indicators of heart disease, as well as a high percentage of community members who did not exercise three or more times per week and were overweight or obese. The HIA also highlighted the need to create more opportunities for residents to engage in physical activity, such as widening sidewalks in areas with high levels of pedestrian traffic and improving bike facilities. To build on the findings of the health assessment, DHA customized the Healthy Development Measurement Tool (which was created by the San Francisco Department of Public Health as a means of integrating public health into land use planning efforts) to evaluate and guide healthy land use development. Using standards that correspond to recognized green development rating systems such as Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design for Neighborhood Development (LEED ND), DHA’s measurement tool laid out objectives for the new development, including sustainable and safe transportation, healthy housing, and environmental stewardship.

This public input helped shape the goals and design of DHA’s master plan, including the phasing of redevelopment. The resulting 2009 master plan calls for improved bike and pedestrian access to the station, high-performance buildings with energy-efficient features, a community garden, and a network of open spaces and parks. In addition, the plan calls for one-for-one replacement of public housing units and residential construction before demolition to prevent resident displacement. A mix of privately managed, subsidized affordable units and market-rate units (aimed at creating a mixed-income community) are also proposed. This will increase the number of units in the Mariposa District from 270 to 800, promoting high density residential development adjacent to the light rail station, as outlined in the city’s TOD plan. DHA’s master plan also adds commercial space, including office and retail space. A healthy foods store is not planned for the commercial space at this time; the community garden will provide fresh food choices onsite while the community works with an existing neighborhood store to stock fruits and vegetables.

Federal Agencies Aid in Redevelopment

Three dimensional rendering of the plan for the Mariposa District, illustrating how the new developments will be integrated into the urban landscape in Denver.
When all phases are complete, the Mariposa District will offer residents a healthy, walkable, and transit-oriented community. Image courtesy of the Denver Housing Authority.
In addition to master planning activities, the redevelopment also benefited from participation in several federal initiatives. Before master planning for the Mariposa District began, an EPA Brownfields Cleanup grant funded the removal of contaminants from the 2.4-acre parcel next to the light rail station. Remediating the brownfield allowed DHA to begin constructing Phase 1 on that plot of land before demolishing any of the South Lincoln Park Homes, effectively eliminating resident displacement. DHA was also selected as a Partnership for Sustainable Communities Brownfields Pilot in 2009. After the master plan was completed, DHA supplemented its development efforts with technical assistance and a series of design meetings provided and facilitated by staff from the Partnership for Sustainable Communities. The topics addressed include energy, transportation, and green infrastructure.

Realizing the Plan

Several phases of the Mariposa District are either complete or underway. Phase 1, known as the Tapiz, includes 100 public housing units for senior and disabled households, all of which were leased before construction was completed in January 2013. By June 2012, the 8,000 square feet of commercial space in Phase 1 was occupied by DHA offices, a culinary training school, a computer lab, a nonprofit organization, and community meeting space. Phase 2, which was completed in October 2013, has 93 rental residences consisting of public housing, privately managed low-income housing tax credit (LIHTC) units, and market-rate units, as well as 5,500 square feet of commercial space. All of the residential units are leased and nearly all of the commercial space is occupied. Both phases incorporate features that will decrease energy consumption by up to 50 percent. LEED Platinum certification is pending for Phase 1, which features a geothermal energy system, a greywater recycling system, and a rooftop solar photovoltaic array. Phase 2 was designed to meet LEED Gold standards.

Phase 3, which has been under construction since September 2012, will contain 87 market-rate, public housing, and privately managed LIHTC rental units and 11,000 square feet of commercial space. Six subsequent phases of the Mariposa District project will contain additional commercial spaces and the remainder of the site’s 800 housing units. DHA will maintain ownership of all land and will supervise all development in the Mariposa District. A partnership of DHA and the various tax credit investors will own the buildings in the development’s different phases. DHA will manage Mariposa’s commercial space, and a private company will manage the residential units.

Funding for the redevelopment includes funds from the Community Development Block Grant and HOME Investment Partnerships programs for Denver, state HOME funds, federal low-income housing tax credits, Affordable Housing Program funds from the Federal Home Loan Bank of San Francisco, DHA funds, and private loans. In addition, Phase 1 used funding from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, and Phases 2 through 6 received HOPE VI funding. DHA is currently investigating funding options for Phases 7 through 9.

According to Kimball Crangle, DHA’s senior developer, the Housing Authority anticipates that the Mariposa District will have a resident retention rate of 45 percent. Crangle notes that DHA’s “community-drive[n] design process has yielded a redevelopment that IS of the community... Our resident retention rates speak to the fact that the outreach process was authentic and successful in the eyes of our residents.” The Mariposa District’s quick lease-up and high occupancy rates also reflect the high demand for energy-efficient, affordable housing near public transit. With the help of both federal and local partners, not only has DHA ensured that the Mariposa District is community supported, but it has also designed the new mixed-income community to facilitate physical activity and encourage use of the nearby light rail station through improved pedestrian and bike infrastructure, meeting the goals of both the city and DHA and likely boosting light rail ridership in Denver.

Published Date: February 25, 2014

The contents of this article are the views of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views or policies of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development or the U.S. Government.