Mari­posa Dis­trict is lead­ing the charge

Rents are in 3 bands: af­ford­able, work­force, mar­ket-rate

The Denver Post - - NEWS - By Erin Dou­glas

Seven years ago, a turn down Osage Street from West Col­fax Av­enue would take you to an area with pretty much the same peo­ple it has now: mostly Latino, mostly women and mostly low-in­come.

While the faces haven’t changed, the face of pub­lic hous­ing has.

Col­or­ful new apart­ments now stand in the mixed-in­come neigh­bor­hood, sur­rounded by parks, and a new pool that re­placed the Den­ver Hous­ing Author­ity’s se­verely de­pressed and ob­so­lete South Lin­coln Homes.

Though the con­tem­po­rary ar­chi­tec­ture might evoke fears a “prob­lem” pop­u­la­tion be­ing driven out by a more af­flu­ent group of res­i­dents, the $197 mil­lion Mari­posa Dis­trict wasn’t a ploy by DHA to build more lux­ury apart­ments in cen­tral Den­ver. In­stead, it was a plan to give the res­i­dents who al­ready lived there an up­grade — and more op­tions by tripling the num­ber of units avail­able.

DHA the over­haul cre­ated a place where peo­ple of dif­fer­ent abil­i­ties, races and ages could find af­ford­able hous­ing based on their in­come level. The fi­nal phase opened at the end of June. On Fri­day, DHA hosted a project-com­ple­tion event.

The Mari­posa Dis­trict is lo­cated near RTD’s 10th and Osage rail sta­tion. The brick pub­lic hous­ing built in 1954 fell to mod­ern apart­ments and con­dos and the city added more ca­pac­ity. Be­fore con­struc­tion started in 2012, 252 peo­ple were liv­ing in the 14-acre area. Now, about 1,500 peo­ple oc­cupy the 581 mixed-in­come units.

Each unit is fin­ished with the same ameni­ties as ev­ery other, but ten­ants pay dif­fer­ent rents de­pend­ing on area me­dian in­come. Rents fall into three bands: af­ford­able, work­force and mar­ket-rate. Each build­ing houses ten­ants from each band, with peo­ple pay­ing as lit­tle as $50 for an af­ford­able unit and as much as $1,700 for a three-bed­room mar­ket-rate unit.

The project took seven years to com­plete and was done in stages to avoid dis­plac­ing fam­i­lies and el­derly and dis­abled ten­ants who may have had nowhere else to go.

DHA’s ex­ec­u­tive direc­tor Is­mael Guer­rero said the phased ap­proach is what caught the at­ten­tion of other hous­ing au­thor­i­ties around the coun­try.

“It was of­ten a model of de­mol­ish­ing the en­tire site and build­ing from the ground up,” Guer­rero said about past tac­tics.

“We knew that was a con­cern, so we started build­ing re­place­ment hous­ing first, and then de­mol­ish­ing af­ter fam­i­lies had op­tions (of where to go).”

In cases where projects are razed and re­built, typ­i­cally only 10 to 15 per­cent of ten­ants re­turn. About 48 per­cent re­turned to the Mari­posa Dis­trict.

Of the res­i­dents who came back, 78 per­cent were fe­male, 41 per­cent were black and 45 per­cent were Latino.

The com­mu­nity is in­tended to be di­verse and in­clu­sive. DHA de­signed cer­tain build­ings to be ap­peal­ing to the dis­abled or el­derly by mak­ing them easy to nav­i­gate, and oth­ers to be at­trac­tive to young fam­i­lies who wanted things like a front and back door.

The Mari­posa com­plex is, for the most part, fully leased. DHA of­fi­cials said va­can­cies only open up when ten­ants move on. And they ex­pect it to re­main that way for a while – the wait list to get into some of the build­ings is more than a year long.

“For us this is more than a hous­ing de­vel­op­ment,” Guer­rero said. “We truly set out to make a new neigh­bor­hood trans­for­ma­tion.”

DHA ex­pects to add an­other 58 units to Mari­posa. The agency is de­vel­op­ing a sim­i­lar project in Sun Val­ley neigh­bor­hood, just a few miles west, where 750 units of af­ford­able, mixed-in­come hous­ing will be built us­ing a $30 mil­lion grant.

“This is a cat­a­lyst for in­vest­ment in the neigh­bor­hood,” Guer­rero said. “We know there are new apart­ments be­ing planned in the neigh­bor­hood and home own­er­ship is putting some pres­sure on home­own­ers. We’re def­i­nitely see­ing that a de­vel­op­ment like this has a larger cat­alytic ef­fect.”

Pho­tos by RJ San­gosti, The Den­ver Post

Doris Wat­son re­cently moved into a two-bed­room apart­ment that is part of the $197 mil­lion re­de­vel­op­ment of the South Lin­coln Homes.

Jef­frey An­der­son, who works for Den­ver Hous­ing Author­ity, helps set up for a cel­e­bra­tion to mark the fin­ish of the com­plex.

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