Mariposa District is leading the charge
Rents are in 3 bands: affordable, workforce, market-rate
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.”
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.