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There goes the neighborhood

The homeless lost more of their homes at the former Lowry Air Force Base on October 17, when Catholic Charities and the Colorado Coalition for the Homeless accepted a cash settlement to end a civil suit against the Lowry Redevelopment Authority. The agreement reduces the overall number of "transitional units" at Lowry from 88 to 70. In exchange, the two groups will split $3.7 million for future projects.

James Mauck, president of Catholic Charities, said his group would use the money to search for properties off the base. "We feel very pleased with the settlement and the potential for where [the money] will go."

In the civil suit, which was filed in August 1999, the two charities had alleged that the LRA, eager to develop the base with new homes, was unfairly clustering the 88 transitional units in one area, forcing the depreciation of property values. At the time, Denver councilwoman Joyce Foster called it the "ghettoizing" of the community ("How to Build a Ghetto," June 8).

The deal is the latest in a history of agreements between the LRA and the two charities. In 1993, shortly after the 1,850-acre base closed, Catholic Charities and the Colorado Coalition for the Homeless were awarded 200 units, under the federal Stuart B. McKinney Homeless Assistance Act, for people who were trying to get off the streets. But the next year, the LRA and local politicians who wanted to convert the base into a model community pressured the two providers into accepting a combined $7 million to reduce the number of units from 200 to 88. Called "The Denver Compromise," the arrangement enabled the providers to buy or build transitional units throughout metro Denver.

Originally, Catholic Charities and the Coalition held the titles for units in three different neighborhoods: Aspen Terrace, Sunset Village and Blue Spruce. The units were dispersed evenly to avoid creating a concentration of low-income homes, which could lead to a depreciation of property values and stigmatization of the neighborhood. Under the new agreement, only the Blue Spruce neighborhood will house below-market rentals and transitional units. The Coalition, however, gained the right to buy nine acres of land inside Lowry in an area still to be determined. By 2003, the Blue Spruce neighborhood will house thirty homeless families while the still-undecided neighborhood will house the other forty.

The settlement angered some residents who live in the neighborhoods that border Blue Spruce. Christa Romano, a resident of the East Colfax neighborhood and a former member of the LRA's Citizen Advisory Board, says the settlement fell far short of the intentions of the original plan, which was to disperse the transitional units throughout Lowry. "That the homes weren't dispersed is a big disappointment for everyone who worked on an equitable reuse plan," she says. "Before the settlement was done, we asked to be part of it. And somehow that fizzled away."

Monty Force, deputy director of the LRA, didn't return phone calls from Westword. But in a press release, he said, "This has been one of the most difficult issues we have worked through at Lowry, but we are very pleased with the result. The Lowry solution can be used as a national model for other base-closure communities trying to implement the McKinney Act at the local level."

Mauck says Catholic Charities will begin searching for affordable properties off the base in the near future. "The outcome was a recognition that homeless people need to get integrated back into the community through transitional housing. And I think we were able to preserve that mission. When the textbook is closed, the final analysis will be that there is more transitional housing in Denver than before the McKinney Act."

 
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