This Old Housing Project

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Despite its adversarial posture, the housing authority wants largely the same thing Post wanted -- to redevelop East Village. The DHA hopes to embark on a complete makeover, much like its demolition of a public-housing project in Curtis Park last year to pave the way for a mixed-income redevelopment that is supposed to break ground this fall. The details may vary if Post does wind up with control of East Village, but both sides would need each other. Any city development needs private know-how, and any private development needs city approval.

What residents want, though, may be something else altogether. The sale of East Village could force hundreds of residents to be dislocated at once -- forced to take government vouchers and seek apartments in the private sector at a time when the tightening rental market has prompted more landlords to shun such vouchers. Even if East Village is redeveloped gradually, those who are forced out may find it difficult to return when the project is completed years from now.

Barros and a handful of the more than 600 tenants at East Village have formed the East Village Resident Council to offer another alternative for the future of their community: They don't want redevelopment. They don't want mixed-income. They want someone to fix up their places and leave them alone. This is their neighborhood. So the council rallies neighbors for a march on City Hall. Members sell Indian tacos on Saturdays to raise money. Barros and a few others even drove to Los Angeles a few weeks ago to try to arrange a meeting with Alan Casden, the chairman and CEO of Casden Properties.

Casden wouldn't meet with them, but they haven't given up hope. "We want to keep our housing the way it is, with our yards and our trees," Barros says. "We want it fixed up. I don't want things torn down."

Barros knows the odds are against her. "The real issue," she says, "is we're fighting capitalism. If they own us, they could tell us to get the hell out of here."

After Post announced its $14 million contract last week, the developer essentially did own them. "People were happy. They were screaming and yelling because Post said they would give us five-year contracts," says Barros. "But I wasn't too happy. We need to see this in black and white." She'd rather see a contract preserving affordable housing at East Village for 25 years, but she realizes that five years may be the most the residents can ask for.

For some longtime residents, their apartments represent much more than simply cheap housing. There are probably few neighborhoods in Denver that match East Village for the ease and abundance of its front-door socializing. People sit on the wood stoops that line each sidewalk leading into their buildings and maybe smoke or drink or shoot the shit. Parents -- some of them not much older than teenagers -- chat about jobs or relationships or who's going to buy the neighborhood. Their children whiz by on bicycles or inline skates, many of them donated by the Denver police.

The cops are an occasional presence but not an oppressive one. Stereos and televisions are loud, but the only guns being fired are in action movies. Mormons ride around on bicycles seeking new members. When the outside lights go out, a woman will fiddle around in the circuit breaker attached to her building until they come back on.

The place may not have the green lawns and cute cul-de-sacs of the suburbs, but it does have a fragile sense of community. Yet East Village is the only neighborhood in town on the verge of being bought and demolished outright.

Still, many East Village residents just want to leave.

The signs are posted above every door of all 23 federally subsidized apartment buildings that make up East Village. They read: "No trespassing/loitering. This property is closed to the public. Access is limited to residents, their guests, staff, agents and vendors of the property owners. D.R.M.S. #38-115 Drug Free community -- selling or use of illegal drugs is not permitted on the grounds or in a living unit."

Twenty years ago, the buildings of East Village -- which resemble suburban duplexes, with vertical beige wood siding and brick -- were deemed state of the art. Their large and open grounds were a refreshing break from years of low-income apartments crammed into ugly high-rise fortresses. On the fringes of East Village are fifty Denver Housing Authority apartments in a dozen buildings distinguished by dark brick and yellow stucco. Though the DHA properties go by the name Arrowhead, people usually refer to all 249 apartments as East Village.

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T.R. Witcher