Just in time for the cold weather, Denver's second tiny home village opened this week in the Cole neighborhood. It has fourteen units earmarked for women and trans individuals.
"The first two residents have moved into the Women's Village this week. Before moving in, one slept in a stairwell, the other in an abandoned warehouse. Now they are sleeping in a safe, stable, bright, community-based environment where they can begin their healing journey together," says Cole Chandler, director of the Colorado Village Collaborative, the nonprofit behind the facility.
Tiny homes are designed to be a bridge between homelessness and long-term housing. The site in Cole, as well as the Beloved Community Village, a Globeville facility that's also run by the Colorado Village Collaborative, not only has tiny individual units that residents can call home, but places for them to cook, use the restroom, and shower.
The decision to locate a tiny home village in Cole met with little resistance from neighbors — unlike the relocation of the Beloved Community Village from RiNo to Globeville in the spring of 2019. That move got pushback, as some residents argued that the city had frequently used that largely Latino part of town as a dumping ground for projects that wouldn't fly in whiter and wealthier neighborhoods.
"It’s just not the same narrative in this neighborhood. It’s not really a hot-button issue here," Mike Dugan, president of the Cole Neighborhood Association, told Westword earlier.
That lack of controversy could stem in part from neighborhood views of what the property looked like before.
The Women's Village is located on a parcel of land south of East 38th Avenue between Gaylord and York streets on property formerly owned by Douglas Bruce, the infamous author of TABOR, the Taxpayer Bill of Rights.
"It was very poorly kept. It was actually awful. And then, over time, it just progressively got worse, and then it got so bad that the tenants over there, they ended up vacating the place," says Sandy Douglas, who lives across the street. "There were police over there. Drugs. You name it. Every kind of bad behavior that was going on in a housing unit was happening."
A total of 32 one-bedroom apartments spread across four buildings occupied the property once owned by Bruce. In 2004, he'd sold the complex to a limited liability company, he told Westword in an earlier interview — but he still held the first deed of trust.
"He had neglected them badly," says Jeff Johnsen, executive director of Mile High Ministries, the landlord of the property being used for the new tiny home village. "For the last fifteen years, at least, only three of the units were occupied. It was just a very, very bleak place."
After it generated over $1 million in liens, the City of Denver seized the property. In 2017, Mile High Ministries paired with the TYL Foundation, a family foundation out of Littleton, to purchase the land. Now, Mile High Ministries plans to build 61 subsidized, affordable apartments in what the organization is calling Clara Brown Commons, in honor of a former slave who came to Colorado and made her fortune. The organization, which hopes to start construction in 2021, also has plans to build townhomes on the property for sale to lower-income buyers, as well as a community center and nonprofit space.
And the fourteen women and trans individuals who will call the tiny home village home are part of the plan.
"Our hope is that they’ll live there temporarily during these years that we’re doing construction, and I hope some of them are able to move in and have permanent housing at Clara Brown Commons," Johnsen says.
The homes also have a connection to an alleged bid-rigging process associated with the Colorado Convention Center. As part of a settlement with Attorney General Phil Weiser, Mortenson Company agreed to build the units for free.
Chandler anticipates that the other residents of the new village, some of whom are currently living outdoors in tents, will move in over the next few weeks.
In late 2019, Denver City Council passed an amendment creating room for tiny home villages in the Denver zoning code. Council will soon be voting on a series of zoning-code amendments that address group living situations; some of these could create even more opportunities to establish tiny home villages in the city.
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