By Alexa Culshaw
Denver officials joined Urban Land Conservancy (ULC), Columbia Ventures and Clínica Tepeyac on October 23rd to celebrate the groundbreaking of Viña, a 150-unit income restricted apartment development located at 48th Ave. and Race St. Viña represents the first phase of an affordable mixed-use development spanning six acres across an entire city block in the Elyria-Swansea neighborhood in northeast Denver. In addition to providing affordable housing, the project will include the expansion of local healthcare services by Clínica Tepeyac.
“Community and family supporting projects like this, located just steps away from our transit system, don’t happen by accident. They are intentional and planned to provide opportunity for the residents here,” said Mayor Michael B. Hancock. “Denver is extremely proud to have made a key land investment here years ago through the ULC, and to continue investing in much-needed affordable homes here that will serve the community for generations to come.”
The City and County of Denver worked in partnership with ULC in 2015 for the swift acquisition of the former industrial site, with a goal of preserving and redeveloping the property for future community benefit. A City loan, totaling $1.5 million, helped make the land acquisition possible prior to anticipated future market rate development forces.
“We share the community’s concerns about families in Elyria-Swansea experiencing involuntary displacement due to the many public improvements planned and under construction in the area,” said Erin Clark, ULC’s Vice President of Master Site Development. “Our goal is to make sure local residents and organizations like [Clínica]Tepeyac have an opportunity to maintain their long-standing roots here and can enjoy the benefits of these community investments without being priced out.”
Developed by Columbia Ventures, Viña will offer units ranging from studios to three bedrooms, with a focus on serving lower income families. Forty-five units will be income restricted to households earning up to 30 percent of the area median income (AMI), which is up to $21,000 for a single-person household or up to $30,000 for a four-person household. Thirty units will be income restricted for households earning up to 50 percent of the AMI, and 75 units are restricted for those earning up to 80 percent AMI.
Viña offers more units at 30 percent AMI than all 19 affordable projects in the defined market area. This range of affordability was reached following a number of community meetings with neighborhood stakeholders to help drive the need for deeply affordable housing options in this part of the city.
“This is an important milestone because it demonstrates the power of collaboration between three distinct partners and the community,” said Dillon Baynes, Managing Partner of Columbia Ventures. “We know that community input and support are critical to our success, and we will continue to partner with community leaders through every development phase.”
ULC will continue to own the land under the approximately two+ acres of the six+ acre site to ensure that the housing, clinic, and retail space in the new building remain permanently affordable and will always serve the local community. Using a land trust model, ULC and Columbia Ventures have entered into a 99-year renewable land lease under the condition that 51% of the housing built across the six-acre site will be affordable to households earning no more than 80% of Denver’s AMI.
The Elyria-Swansea neighborhood is 80% Latino with more than 70% of its residents qualifying as low-income with limited access to healthy food. Clínica Tepeyac is a community health center in Globeville that is currently operating at capacity.
“Many of our patients are essential frontline workers who are an integral part of our economy and live with disproportionate health risks, like COVID-19,” said Jim García, Chief Executive Officer of Clínica Tepeyac. “Our families often need a combination of services and resources that we will be able to offer in this new and significantly larger clinical facility.”
At the groundbreaking ceremony, García, introduced long-time Clínica Tepeyac supporter and Colorado business leader, Marco Abarca, President and Owner of Ready Foods, Inc.
“I have been a supporter of Clínica Tepeyac since 1997, I remember when we started at Guadalupe church, the tiny clinic we had on the next block over; I remember how we started the fundraisers in the parish hall at Guadalupe church, the first tortilla making events, the move to this neighborhood and the move from different buildings.
“It gives me such joy — to that right over there,” said Abarca, pointing at the new project on 48th Ave and Race St., “that the plans and about how much larger the organization [Clínica Tepeyac] will be able to be and how many more people will be able to be served. There will be dentists, there will be a pharmacy, they’ll have x-ray machines and it’s so beautiful to see this, remembering how humble this vision started and all the steps we took.
“So, I’m thinking to myself, why am I here, why are all of us here?
Right now, we are in a pandemic and we have lost 225,000 Americans and I’ve heard that by February we could lose 400,000 of our people. And who are disproportionately represented in the dead? It’s poor people, Brown people and People of Color, and the reason why I participate is because it’s unfair what’s going on right now – and this clinic, these apartments are a step that we as a society are taking to try and make us a better country, it makes a better city and it gives me such pride to see how we started, how humble and where we are and where we’re going to be – thank you all for what you do,” ended Abarca.
Denver City Councilwoman At Large, Deborah Ortega also spoke at the groundbreaking event. Ortega has extensive roots in the northeast Denver area, working for former Denver City Councilman Sal Carpio, and going on to become the District 9 Councilwoman.
“This is going to create opportunities not just for entrepreneurial benefits to the community, but jobs as well and during this time, especially is so critical,” said Councilwoman Ortega. “This overall project is creating synergy for this neighborhood it becomes a focal point of bringing new people and hopefully bringing back people who have left because of the unaffordable crisis that people have experienced or the pushout that has occurred.”
Councilwoman Ortega applauded the efforts of Clínica Tepeyac and their commitment to excelling in the healthcare industry, especially for Spanish speaking clients.
“Clínica Tepeyac offers their services in native language to many of the people that live in these neighborhoods that have benefited from the services offered to the community for the many years they have been here; and they also provide a safe place because for people accessing resources that are trying to do that in their native language it is so important to feel that they are in a trusted environment and I know residents from these communities feel that when they come to Clínica.
“This overall project is creating synergy for this neighborhood it becomes a focal point of bringing new people and hopefully bringing back people who have left because of the unaffordable crisis that people have experienced or the pushout that has occurred.”
Deborah Ortega, Denver Councilwoman At Large
They are able to address some of the serious health ailments that these communities have experienced such as asthma, as a result of living so close to so many industries that have impacted these neighborhoods for so many years, such as Suncor, and ASARCO that was a long standing business in the neighborhood and the impacts of the I-70 project.”
The Councilwoman also highlighted the commitment by the project’s dedicated partners.
“I just want to say thank you to all the entities, to Columbia to ULC, to the City of Denver, to CHAFA, all the different entities that have been part of making this overall project a reality for this neighborhood – bringing back more residents to the neighborhood in a community that lost a significant part as a result of the I-70 encroaching into the neighborhood is really important to maintaining services for the community.
“I have been a proud supporter of this project from early on and truly honored to be here today and look forward to the grand opening when we can all walk into the new project and be able to see what we envisioned on that drawing as a reality that we can all be proud of. I take my hat off to you all of you that have been a part of this,” ended Councilwoman Ortega.
Public finance partners for the Viña housing development include Denver’s Department of Housing Stability (HOST), Colorado Housing and Finance Authority, and the Colorado Division of Housing. HOST provided a $3,750,000 cash flow loan to support construction.
Viña is the latest city-supported affordable housing development under construction in Denver. A total of 1,808 affordable units that have received city financing are currently under construction at 23 sites throughout Denver. An additional 904 income-restricted units are in the planning stage.
Alexa Culshaw is the Communications and Grants Manager for the Urban Land Conservancy. The Weekly Issue/El Semanario contributed to this article.
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