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How to Build a Ghetto

Traffic starts stuffing up at the corner of Alameda Avenue and Quebec Street at about 7:30 a.m. The cars leaving the former Lowry Air Force Base stream into a double line of shiny luxury sedans and caravans of SUVs. The cars heading north, onto the base, are driven by construction workers. They, too, drive SUVs and new pickup trucks. At Lowry, times are good even for the carpet layers.

After most of the cars have left the base -- say, about 9 a.m. -- if you walk north on Quebec next to a seven-foot brick wall nicknamed "The Great Wall of Lowry," you'll come to a crossroad named Cedar Place.

Turn left onto Cedar Place and you'll enter Park Heights, where the sign reads "Custom Homes. From the $500s." As in $500,000. From outside the Great Wall, you can see only the massive domed rooftops and second-story windows. Residents say a few Denver Broncos live inside Park Heights, but they decline to identify which ones.

If you turn right instead of left on Cedar Place, you'll enter the more reasonable Crestmoor Estates. "From the $300s," the sign reads. It's a folksy neighborhood with two-story brick homes set back behind green, fluffy lawns. Porches are big but empty this time of day, save for a temporarily abandoned tricycle or discarded baseball bat and glove. The new fences between homes stand erect, with artful lattice work at the tops. Keep walking down Cedar Place and you'll notice that the houses don't change much. That's okay, though -- they're not supposed to.

Pass Rosemary Street, and the brick homes gradually begin to fade into rubble. Here the cement sidewalk simply ends. New homes are under construction along this row, but they are only skeletons now. You can see the workers inside them. The street is covered in dried mud, rocks, piles of scrap wood and electrical wires. Men in hard hats rumble past in tractors, kicking up whiffs of dust. Large numerals are spray-painted on sheets of plywood to identify the homes' future addresses. In front of these homes, spiked in the mounds of dirt that will one day be front lawns, signs read "Sold."

Look directly to the left of this mess on Cedar Place, which now resembles the main road of a Third World town. You'll see brown one-story houses, some surrounded by sagging chain-link fences, that have the character of Monopoly pieces. These homes were built in the late '50s, renovated in the '70s and left behind by the Air Force when the base closed in the early '90s. Plagued by asbestos, non-compliant with the Americans With Disabilities Act, they're useless today.

But if you walk farther into this square block of brown homes, you'll see that people still live in some of them, the ones that aren't fenced off. If you stroll onto East Maple Street and go to the corner house with the large tree, you've come to where Shely Lowe lives with her five children: Andrew, nine; Kadezshia, seven; Tamara, five; Kaila, three; and Eric, two.

The value of Shely Lowe's home starts somewhere in the $20s. As in $20,000. The inside of her home is painted canary yellow. The entire floor, from the kitchen through each of the four bedrooms, is linoleum. "Which is murder to keep clean," Lowe says.

It shouldn't be so easy to find Shely Lowe's home.

Ghettos don't rise overnight. They take years of planning.

If you studied a map created before Park Heights and Crestmoor Estates began sprouting up two years ago, you'd see that this neighborhood, made up of some 300 units of modest Air Force housing, was once known as Aspen Terrace.

Back in 1987, unaware of budget cuts that loomed around the corner, the United States Congress passed one of its more altruistic bills, the Stuart B. McKinney Homeless Assistance Act. Named after the passionate Connecticut congressman who sponsored it, the McKinney Act ordered that providers for homeless people would have first dibs on any surplus federal property, such as retired military bases. President Ronald Reagan signed the bill into law.

In 1988, Congress was forced to accept the Base Closure and Realignment Act, sparking the closure of 352 dollar-draining military bases around the country and the realignment of 145 others. By June 1990, the Air Force announced that Lowry's time had come. At approximately 1,860 acres centered between Denver and Aurora, Lowry was one of the largest, most neighborly bases to be axed. The Air Force left behind 867 units of military housing, spread out primarily among three neighborhoods, all of which straddled Quebec, the base's main north-south road: the Blue Spruce community to the north, Sunset Village in the middle, and Aspen Terrace to the south.

Some of the units were spacious two-bedrooms with 900 square feet; others had four bedrooms and 1,600 square feet. Many were connected in military-efficient duplexes and fourplexes. All of them were "set up perfect for families," says Catholic Charities vice president Mary Boland.

In 1992, Catholic Charities and the Colorado Coalition for the Homeless, along with other nonprofits and public entities such as community colleges, bombarded the Air Force with applications, hoping to get a free piece of Lowry. The generous opportunity was too good to let pass: "The size, condition and capabilities of the requested surplus property will more than likely never be available again," Catholic Charities wrote in its application.

And the Air Force surprised local lawmakers, developers and residents when it awarded 200 units -- just under 25 percent of the housing stock -- to homeless families. "It was wonderful," Boland recalls.

Not everyone was so relieved. People who lived nearby started muttering about Lowry turning into a "homeless city."

The person most responsible for making sure the homeless units are inserted inconspicuously into the emerging community, like needles into a haystack, is Montgomery Force, deputy director of the Lowry Redevelopment Authority (LRA). Yet it is Force who has been accused by neighbors, city council members and lawyers of building a ghetto.

Force disputes their accusation. "There has never, ever been a concerted effort to plan a ghetto," he says. "You just don't wake up one morning and say, 'This is what I'm going to do.'"

But drive through Lowry, and you'll see that that's exactly what happened.

In 1993, still one year before the Air Force deserted the base, the city councils of Denver and Aurora formed two advisory boards and a citizen's board to create a document that would guide Lowry's renaissance.

As they were drafting the Reuse Plan, the authors acknowledged their obligation to the McKinney Act. They also mandated that the transitional housing for homeless families be dispersed among the three major neighborhoods "in a manner that makes it difficult to identify any building as a homeless project." And, they added, "no existing housing development should have more than 15 percent of its units rented by homeless families."

Catholic Charities' Boland agreed that clustering the homeless units was the wrong approach. She noted that grouping the units together drew attention to the neighborhood and stigmatized the families. "In poor neighborhoods, they tend to reinforce their negative behavior," Boland says. "If they are in a positive environment, they then emulate the positive -- such as going to work, buying a house, taking care of it."

But even though it was well-intentioned, the McKinney Act had never won praise for its clarity. The document neglected to outline formulas or procedures that dictated where, when and how much housing should be reserved for homeless people -- or who would pay for the maintenance and upkeep of the structures. It left the details to the developing body (in Lowry's case, the LRA) and the homeless providers (here, Catholic Charities and the Colorado Coalition for the Homeless) to settle the details.

After the Lowry Reuse Plan was adopted, the two city councils created another governing board, the nine-member Lowry Economic Redevelopment Authority (later renamed the Lowry Redevelopment Authority) to oversee its implementation. Since the vast Lowry base sat on Denver and Aurora turf, the LRA ruled as its own quasi-city government; it needed a quorum to hold meetings, and public-notice laws applied.

The LRA's Montgomery Force argues that the Reuse Plan, like the United States constitution, is a "living document," with interpretations that can evolve over time. He also complains that the document is "nearly a decade old" and was shortsighted from the beginning. Engineers originally estimated that the base would require $60 million in infrastructure improvements; that number is now topping $120 million. The Reuse Plan figured the base would be filled by 1,768 new apartments and homes; when construction ends in 2004, that number will settle at 3,200. And, Force says, several of the Air Force homes once approved for living quarters had to be condemned. "What you thought you got," he says, "wasn't what you got."

And ever since the Air Force had set aside 200 units for the homeless, residents in the bordering Historic Montclair, East Montclair, Crestmoor and George Washington neighborhoods had campaigned against the idea. Tempers flared at neighborhood meetings as residents stoked fears about crime, drugs and panhandling. "You should have seen some of the fliers landing on porches," recalls Boland, who lives just a few block west of Lowry. "Things reading 'They'll bring AIDS to the neighborhood.'"

Neighbors also worried about their property values. One solution they suggested to the LRA was that the Monopoly homes be demolished and replaced by new ones -- ones that might help increase the value of their own homes.

The Reuse Plan allowed for such demolition; in fact, it encouraged it: "A new image must be created for Lowry quickly so that it does not retain the look of an abandoned military compound...Successfully changing the image and creating desirable, new housing and upgrading the existing areas will help attract compatible employment opportunities to Lowry and increase the tax base."

But even though anxious neighbors had proposed such a solution, they weren't satisfied with it. So the LRA, along with the homeless providers and city council members from Denver and Aurora, worked to ease the perceived burden of housing so many homeless people in one place. Mayor Wellington Webb and city councils groveled for help from the federal office of Housing and Urban Development and came up with what is known as the "Denver Compromise."

In January 1994, the Denver Compromise paid homeless providers in metro Denver $7 million in exchange for reducing the number of homeless units at Lowry from 200 to 88 (with two to be used for administrative purposes). Mayor Webb had come up with the number, figuring it was ten percent of the original 867 units on the base. HUD pitched in $5 million and the LRA tossed in $2 million.

Boland says Catholic Charities and the Colorado Coalition for the Homeless took the payoff because the organizations desperately needed the money. Places such as the Aurora Housing Corporation, for example, used $400,000 as seed money to purchase an off-base property.

Boland and her peers, however, failed to see that the Denver Compromise was actually the first stroke that would paint Lowry's homeless into a corner.

"There was much concern over our decision," Boland recalls. "On one hand, do we stand pat and say those 200 units are ours by federal law? Or do we agree to a compromise with the neighbors and the city? It wasn't in our interest to have our families stigmatized from the get-go. So we agreed, in the end, to a compromise.

"It felt like a solution."

But it wasn't.

In October 1994, Denver city planners and LRA administrators approached Boland and the Colorado Coalition for the Homeless and asked them to waive their rights regarding the specific addresses of the 88 McKinney homes. In their original application, the agencies had designated where homeless families would live; now, instead of being married to particular addresses that had been approved by the Air Force, the LRA and city planners asked Boland to let them shuffle the homeless families around the base as old Air Force housing was demolished. The LRA argued it couldn't sell new tracts with Monopoly homes wedged in between. It agreed to respect the 15 percent dispersal rule while new streets were forged for future subdivisions.

Again, the deal at first appeared to have its benefits for Catholic Charities and the Coalition. While it was obviously good for the developers, the homeless providers in some cases were able to trade up for higher-quality Air Force units. Also, Boland interpreted the terms of the new agreement to mean they would get brand-new units if entire neighborhoods such as Aspen Terrace were razed and rebuilt.

The agreements also hinged on another factor: Once the LRA received title to the land from the Air Force, it was to notify Catholic Charities and the homeless coalition, since the two homeless providers held equitable interest in the land. The LRA couldn't go swapping titles or selling the units behind their backs.

By December 1994, with all signed agreements and contracts in place, homeless families moved into their units. Following the terms of the Reuse Plan, 30 units were designated in Aspen Terrace, 30 in Sunset Village and 28 in Blue Spruce.

The dispersal plan worked well. Some women who moved into the units were fleeing from domestic violence and needed to hide out. Residents of surrounding neighborhoods who had been upset with the original plans were hard-pressed to notice anything different: Their real estate values didn't drop, AIDS didn't come to their neighborhoods, and their streets weren't overrun with drugs.

In 1997, workers were ready to start building new, $500,000 castles. But before they could, there was one simple provision: Any developer who purchased land to build new homes needed to negotiate with the homeless providers. Indeed, representatives of Trammelcrow Company, the first developer that attempted to purchase Sunset Village, met with Boland several times. But after a few meetings, frustrated by the inability to work out a compromise in which the homeless units wouldn't become a glaring nuisance, the developer withdrew its bid. Since then, neither Boland nor CCH representatives have been invited to meetings regarding land purchase and development.

That same year, Boland was approached by the LRA's then-deputy director and told that a portion of Aspen Terrace east of Quebec was slated to be torn down for redevelopment. Boland says she was also told that the "majority of the units" would remain affordable rental properties. Since this project would erase nearly a third of Aspen Terrace, Boland reminded the LRA that the 15 percent rule still applied and that her displaced families would need to be housed elsewhere. "I didn't think much of it," Boland says.

Once the area was flattened, Park Heights was built up, and the neighborhood hosted 1998's prestigious Parade of Homes. Mayor Webb spoke in front of a large crowd and officially welcomed the Lowry development into the community. The LRA received awards for its smart planning and its traditional-yet-hip brick homes that adhered to its marketing scheme: "Lowry. Old Ideals. New Ideas." Buyers grabbed houses quicker than the LRA could lay them down.

And expectations for the rest of Aspen Terrace grew. On December 30, 1998, without notifying Catholic Charities or the Coalition for the Homeless, the LRA filed an application with Denver's Department of Zoning to rezone Aspen Terrace from multi-family rental units to single-family residences. The city council approved the application.

Boland says no one told her that the tractors had crossed Quebec into the eastern portion of Aspen Terrace. Once she learned about it, however, she confronted Force. "If you're selling units," she told him, "you've clearly held title for a while." Indeed, the LRA had received titles to the land in February 1999 but did not disclose this fact until Boland broached the issue in July 1999 -- which Boland says is a violation of the 1994 agreements.

"They were under the assumption we needed to [notify them]," Force says, citing the fact that the LRA fulfilled its obligation by providing notice of its public meetings. Force denies the LRA had any obligation to consult the homeless providers. "Everything we have done has been out in the open. It's not hard to see what's going on out there. The ability to know what is going on at Lowry is clearly there. There were several opportunities to know what was going on at Aspen Terrace."

Upset by the accusations, Force sent Boland a letter. "We have stated at every meeting or discussion we've had that if we can't develop a compromise plan that meets both our desires, that we would then abide by the current agreement," he wrote. "That agreement is to place 30 units in Aspen Terrace, 30 in Sunset Village, and 28 in Blue Spruce. The LRA has done nothing to violate that commitment and has no intention of doing so."

Despite Force's insistence that he wouldn't violate any agreements, however, early last year he announced new plans that would do just that. He wanted to rezone 194 acres in the northwest section of Lowry, eliminating all multi-family units with the exception of a slice in the Blue Spruce neighborhood -- and that plan allowed for 92 densely populated units to remain, a number suspiciously close to 88, some neighbors believed. Combined with the already-passed rezoning of Aspen Terrace, the action looked as if Blue Spruce had been designated the dumping ground for the homeless at Lowry.

Since Force needed to win approval from the Denver City Council to rezone the neighborhoods, he needed to make a presentation. And that's when people started accusing him of building a ghetto.

At a council meeting on August 7 last year, Force took his maps and prepared statements and stood behind the podium. Since the Air Force had left the area unzoned, Force argued, he needed the councilmembers to shape up the area for "the future of Lowry."

Force told the council he intended to build half-million-dollar homes just two blocks from homeless units on Seventh Avenue, and that would make Blue Spruce a "high-quality neighborhood." A planner for the LRA, who had designed the neighborhood, spoke after Force, adding, "The sum total of efforts was to achieve greater diversity in the neighborhood, and I think we did that." Another planner explained that the LRA's ability to mix and match people from such diverse economic situations was "the magic of the urban neighborhood."

The presentation continued to run smoothly when Paul Dougherty, president of the Citizen Advisory Committee, spoke to the council. Dougherty praised the plan, then the LRA, and used his time at the microphone to fire a preemptive strike against Boland, who was in the audience. "They are not an unresponsive bureaucracy," he said of the LRA. "If this council does not approve this zoning, it will seriously disrupt the LRA's plans. It would probably cause the LRA to drive themselves bananas to give in to their opponents."

Then Boland spoke. "The LRA has not lived up to our agreement," she said. Boland said she wasn't trying to stop the massive rezoning -- that task was too big -- but she wanted the council to understand how the slow-drip process was clustering homeless people on the base. She complained that the homeless units were getting pushed into corners and pockets, surrounded by high-end housing. She argued that she'd agreed to waive the LRA's obligations under the McKinney Act in good faith, based on pledges from both the Lowry redevelopers and the city's planning office.

Boland's remarks caused a volley of bickering. Councilwoman Polly Flobeck, whose district includes Lowry and who has worked closely on the redevelopment, told the council that Boland's words felt like a "kick in the teeth."

Councilwoman Cathy Reynolds characterized Boland's depiction of events as "extortion," an attempt to hold the Lowry redevelopment hostage over the issue of 86 homeless units.

Councilwoman Susan Barnes-Gelt set forth on a meandering soliloquy in which she offered her sympathy for both homeowners and the homeless. She concluded on this compassionate note: "In my opinion, it's in the entire community's best interest, in the long-term interest in property values at Lowry, not to isolate homeless families in substandard units in certain neighborhoods, because then, we'll be creating a cycle of neighborhood disinvestment that we should absolutely not be creating in our newest [neighborhoods]."

Councilwoman Debbie Ortega saved some of the harshest words for Force and the LRA: "You have created an environment where now they're all concentrated, where nobody wanted to see the folks who would be in those units isolated or put in a place where they were clearly identified." Ortega was so incensed that she moved to postpone the discussion. When her motion failed, she slapped her microphone to the side and refused to vote on the rezoning. "In the future," she advised Boland, "don't listen to the planning office."

Councilwoman Joyce Foster: "If we allow 86 units of distinguishable homeless properties to become part of Lowry, what we're going to do is add" -- she paused, looking for the right word to suit her emotion -- "We're going to ghettoize it. This community -- you're ghettoizing it." She looked directly at Force and said, "And also, we'll be putting a lot more money into public safety on this property. So we either pay now or pay later."

For a moment, it seemed that the councilmembers might have been ready to halt construction until the issue was resolved. But they didn't. By a nine-to-three vote, with councilwomen Ortega, Foster and Ramona Martinez in the minority, the council rezoned the northwest neighborhood for single-family units.

The new plans for the Blue Spruce neighborhood angered residents once again. "This is violating the original promises made to the public," says Christine Romano, who lives in the East Montclair neighborhood just north of Blue Spruce and served on Lowry's Citizen Advisory Committee for five years. "Those five years were an arduous and taxing process," she says, noting that she helped adopt and approve the Reuse Plan. "And now the most important parts are being violated."

What residents thought they got, Romano believes, wasn't what they got.

Shely Lowe grew up in Detroit and came to Denver in May 1998 to visit a friend. She enjoyed the area so much that she decided to make it her home. But she had trouble affording the rent on a house that was large enough and found that most landlords were hesitant to rent to a family with so many young children. She reduced her sights to an apartment.

After several failed applications for two- and three-bedroom apartments, Lowe had a friend apply for her. The friend interviewed with the landlord, accepted the apartment and signed her name to the lease. Then Lowe and her children moved in. Last July, after almost a year, the landlord discovered that Lowe and her children were living in the unit and immediately evicted her.

For the first few weeks she checked her family into residential hotels, burning $250 a week while looking for new a place to live. By the end of the summer she was broke. With no options remaining, she gathered her pride and her possessions -- "I had to break down" -- and moved her family into Denver's Samaritan House shelter.

In November, after passing a screening process, Lowe was selected to live at one of Catholic Charities' homes at Lowry. All of Lowry's homeless units are for families; renters can't have warrants or felony convictions, nor can they be alcoholics or drug addicts. The providers select only those who have a shot at succeeding, Boland says.

At 28, Lowe is working and taking classes at Cambrian College. In late 2001, she plans to graduate with an associate degree and become a surgical technologist. She's also enrolled at Mi Casa, a vocational school for potential business owners. With the aide of a Mi Casa loan once she completes the three-month course, by the end of the year Lowe hopes to open a temp agency for medical assistants.

She wakes up each weekday at 4 a.m. She gets her five children dressed, fed and ready for school. "We all wake up at 4 a.m.," she says. By 6:30 everyone's loaded into her white Ford Taurus. At 7, Lowe drops off her youngest children at daycare and races the others to school near downtown Denver. She then heads back toward Lowry for her own classes. Though the bell rings at 7:15, Lowe doesn't arrive until 7:45 on good days, 8 on bad days. She's made a deal with her professor that allows for the daily tardies.

Lowe leaves school at 10:45 a.m., does her grocery shopping, comes home and studies. At 3:30 p.m. she leaves the house and begins making the rounds to pick up her children; by 4:45, they're all home again. At about 5:30, Lowe leaves the children with a friend who babysits, then heads to work, where she files paperwork at an office after everyone has gone home.

The Lowry home has given her a place to stabilize her life and get her finances in order. She pays only $117 in rent, her utilities are covered by Catholic Charities, and she now saves between $100 and $150 every month. She's on a 24-month plan, which will expire in November 2001. "When I leave, I'm going out with cash in hand. And I plan on buying a house," she says. "I've been on a good-luck streak since I've been here."

But last month, when Lowe turned in her rent check, she heard a rumor that her home was going to be torn down.

Two months after the city council meeting, Catholic Charities and the Coalition for the Homeless sued the LRA for breach of contract in Denver's U.S. District Court. The lawsuit accuses the LRA of purposely initiating zoning restrictions and failing to honor promises not to isolate some of its citizens. "Despite repeated assurances to Charities and the Coalition of its intention to honor its agreements," the lawsuit reads, "the LRA has failed to carry them out. Instead, it has developed the neighborhoods in a manner that is incompatible with its obligations, to the detriment of both the homeless population and the surrounding neighborhoods."

Demolition of the remaining Aspen Terrace homes is at a standstill until the parties reach a settlement or go to trial and let a judge and jury decide. But construction continues to grow around the units as planned. The lawsuit also asserts that the LRA has no intention of re-facading the units to help them blend with the surrounding homes as originally promised.

Since December 1997, Force and representatives from Catholic Charities and the homeless coalition had been meeting in private to come up with yet another "compromise."

This one would have cleared the way for tearing down the remaining homeless units while still allowing the homeless providers to own their 88 units. The plan would have housed the homeless in two buildings with a total of 240 units (one third for the homeless, a third for below-market rents and a third for at-market rents). At one point, Boland acknowledges, architects were hired and maps were drawn.

The two buildings would have been located next to one another, just north of a golf course in the center of the base. Again the idea seemed like a solution. The project appealed to the homeless providers; after all, they would get brand-new units. And despite all of their attempts to get homeless units dispersed throughout the neighborhoods, the approved rezoning and the mushrooming of high-priced homes had, in reality, already pushed them to the edges. The only thing that held up the deal, Boland says, was the contaminated groundwater under the spot where the two buildings would go. Before it left Lowry, the Air Force surveyed the land and learned that TCE, a degreaser believed to cause cancer, lurked beneath much of the base. On parcels where it found TCE, the Air Force couldn't pass along the title until the mess was cleaned up. Such was the case near the golf course -- where a complete removal is still several years away. And since the LRA doesn't own the land, the hypothetical deal was called off ("Plots and Subplots," December 4, 1997).

That's when Catholic Charities and the Coalition for the Homeless filed the lawsuit against the LRA. If they win, the homeless providers want their units to be dispersed -- though that may be impossible due to demolition and rezoning -- or they want money.

Since the lawsuit, the LRA and homeless agencies have also agreed "in concept" to another compromise, according to the Lowry group. This plan would make the 92 units in Blue Spruce and a second apartment building elsewhere at Lowry available for the homeless.

"What's objectionable," Romano says, "is taking them out of the elite areas of the base and putting it all into one neighborhood which is adjacent to one of the poorest neighborhoods off the base [Romano's East Montclair]. They're concentrating poverty, and they're doing so next to a neighborhood that's already blighted."

"They never really accepted the notion that we had a right to be there," Boland says of the LRA. "Their attitude has been that the public would be better suited if the base was redeveloped with housing at the highest possible price. And the homeless housing just didn't fit into that scheme."

Force believes the LRA has acted in good faith all along and says the homeless providers changed their tune too often. In hindsight, he says the LRA invested too much time trying to negotiate regarding the two mixed-income buildings near the golf course. Once the LRA focused it efforts on that proposal, Force says, it stopped attempting to blend the Aspen Terrace units with their prosperous surroundings. "Frankly, we never talked about [the effects of] clustering. We talked about renovating the facades to help make the units meld with the neighborhoods around them." But the idea of making a $20,000 unit look just like a $350,000 home across the street proved a difficult one to put into reality. "Of course," Force says, "two years ago we didn't know those houses were going to sell at those prices. If we hadn't pursued a mixed-income community," he adds, "we might have done things a little differently in Aspen Terrace.

"We're all losers if we end up in court," he concludes. You can't have an issue this complex settled in a courtroom; it won't work."

But outside the courtroom, life at Lowry continues to work for people like Shely Lowe. She enjoys her neighborhood and feels that she fits in with her neighbors. She remembers that when a nun from Catholic Charities first drove her onto the base, she said, "You put homeless people in these homes?' Then we turned the corner. And I said, 'Okay, okay. That's where we're going to live.'"

She knows that Aspen Terrace "sticks out like a sore thumb," but she refuses to complain. "When I drive here with friends, they say, Oh, my gosh! You live here?' And I say, No, no, no, no. We're hidden in the middle.' Don't get me wrong, I do love living here. But we are hidden back here."

Lowe looks offended when she hears the word "ghetto" attached to where she lives. "Do you see any of that going on here? People like living here. They enjoy what they have here. It's quiet out here.

"With a home, it's home," she adds. "There's a yard, with grass. A place to play. Everyone has their own space, their own rooms -- and that makes a big difference. You can say, Go to your room,' or they can say, I'm going to my room.' Because when you're living in a one bedroom apartment or a shelter, you don't have any space. But this is a home. You can just come home and relax, and you don't have to worry about anything."

You leave Aspen Terrace and continue to walk through the Crestmoor Estates neighborhood until high noon. You've seen the ads that say Lowry was voted "Community of the Year" in 1999 by the Metro Denver Homebuilders' Association and that Lowry has twice received the Governor's Award for Smarth Growth.

So you decide to buy a house. You walk back along Cedar Place and into the air-conditioned sales office of Richmond American Homes, where you're greeted by the bubbly saleswoman.

After you announce your plans to buy, she tells you with immediacy and with a hush in her voice, "I only have three units left."

You listen as she pitches Lowry: Home values on the base and around it are through the roof; the place is great for kids; it's the hottest property in urban Colorado. She has the Richard model available at $394,995, a two-story, four-bedroom home with a two-car garage. There's also the Arthur -- which, she adds, "I just love" -- another two-story, four-bedroom unit starting at $374,995. The Andrew, the Francis and the Maria are all gone.

You look beneath the glass-enclosed case with oak trim and study the map of the neighborhood. You search for Aspen Terrace and its $20,000 homes. Shely Lowe's home is not represented on the map. In fact, East Maple Street, the street her family lives on, doesn't exist. You ask, "Where are those homes on your map?"

"Where all that construction is going on?" she asks. You watch her pull out yet another map, one that now includes East Maple Street -- Lowe's street -- but still no homes. The area is a blank. Across the blankness, it reads, in calligraphy, "Westerly Park." You listen to the saleswoman explain how this new neighborhood is "filling in really quickly."

You ask her once more about the brown homes that are already out there.

"The ones behind the fences?"

"And the other ones next to them."

"Oh," she sighs, circling her fingernails over the empty space on the map. "That's where Lowry Elementary is going to go."


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