A proposal submitted by the Colorado Coalition for the Homeless to use 59 acres of federal land in Lakewood to provide services and housing for as many as 1,000 people experiencing homelessness has been rejected by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services because it determined that there were issues with CCH's financing plan.
The project would have been completed in two phases: setting up temporary structures like geodesic domes to provide shelter, then investing as much as $120 million to build large, permanent apartment complexes with 500 to 600 units.
The project's backers have gone to battle numerous times with an array of government agencies.
The Department of Housing and Urban Development determined that the site wasn't suitable for such services because part of the property used to include a landfill. But then the federal agency that manages the property, the General Services Administration, started advertising it for mixed-use development last year.
CCH saw this as hypocritical: How could the land be safe for private development but not to serve people experiencing homelessness? In August, CCH was able to get a federal judge to stop GSA from selling the land. Then, under a federal provision known as the McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act, CCH won a contract to develop the property to provide homeless services.
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Adding to the project's complications has been the strong opposition of Lakewood residents. Groups such as Lakewood Residents Unite, with its 800-plus-strong membership on Facebook, argue that the site will present safety and drug-abuse issues and will negatively impact property values.
After we ran our article on March 1 explaining how CCH acquired permission to develop the property, our inboxes filled with cranky comments from people arguing that in working with the federal government, CCH was going over Lakewood’s head to obtain permission to use the land. A member of Lakewood’s city council even called requesting that we link to the city’s fact sheet about the project, which lists contact information for federal departments that residents can contact with questions and concerns.
"We understand that there are needs and gaps in addressing homelessness in our community and the entire metro," says Lakewood Mayor Adam Paul. "But we believe concentrating a homeless population in one area is an old-fashioned idea and ultimately stigmatizes those residents who are disadvantaged. The size and scope of what CCH had proposed also did not fit with the multiple plans that Lakewood residents helped create for this site. I have hope that we can involve the coalition, our residents, community members and all the stakeholders in finding thoughtful and bold solutions to address this need that also honors the city’s plans."
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Lakewood officials have clearly been feeling the heat from their constituents. In mid-March, a delegation of city council members and Paul were in Washington, D.C., meeting with representatives, including senators Michael Bennet and Cory Gardner, to express their concerns about the project. Paul has said he believes homeless services are necessary but should be spread out in smaller developments.
CCH spokeswoman Cathy Alderman says the nonprofit will appeal the most recent decision.
“We needed to submit a reasonable financing plan, and we did that pursuant to regulations and requirements as we thought they needed to be done," Alderman says. "But HHS seems to be following some old standards in their rejection of our financing plan. It didn’t have anything to do with the disposition of the site in terms of its environmental standards."
"We are very disappointed," she continues. "We believe HHS erred in its decision based on the law and the facts. We will immediately appeal to HHS, and if we do not get a positive response, we will likely be going back to court to protect the rights of people experiencing homelessness in Lakewood and Jefferson County."