James Jewkes is no stranger to a 60 hour work week. As a 19 year-old fresh out of high school, James remembers working multiple jobs to support his infant daughter, all while struggling to make ends meet. Despite these overwhelming responsibilities you will not hear him complain even though circumstances today have not changed much. James still works multiple jobs (managing a practice studio in RiNo, working part time as a sound engineer, DJ’ing on the weekends and volunteering for an art gallery in Berkeley) all while raising his daughter and paying the bills. One thing has changed however as he has a safe and affordable home that he and his daughter have lived in for almost five years at Evans Station Lofts, an affordable rental housing development at the Evans light rail station in south Denver.
To say James had a difficult high school experience would be an understatement. Born in New Mexico and raised in Conifer, Colorado, extenuating circumstances led James to leave home at 16 and move to Denver to complete high school. A stranger to Denver with no nearby friends or family, James lived out of his car while attending McLain high school in Lakewood, Colorado. James explained that he loved his last years in high school, as he built strong relationships with teachers – many of whom lent him their couches after learning he lived in his car. A natural born musician, James was offered a chance to audition at The Julliard School following his high school graduation (it should be noted that he graduated on time) but simultaneously learned he was expecting a child and had to decline the audition. Albeit disappointed, James knew the opportunity was not realistic at the time.
So at 19, James found himself with a daughter, multiple jobs and his very first apartment. As the cost of living in Denver continued to rise, James fell victim to displacement. In the five years between his first apartment in Lakewood and his residency at Evans Station, James moved a total of eight times. It seemed as though no matter how many hours he worked, at the end of the day his housing costs were beyond his control. In order to continue providing for his daughter, pursuing his career and volunteering in local communities (his true passion), James needed affordable housing. So in 2012, he signed up to be on the waiting list at the not-yet-built Evans Station Lofts.
“So I pay all of my taxes on time each year, I care for my daughter, I volunteer – and you are going to call me lazy because I live in affordable housing?”
This unfounded generalization is frustrating for James. He cannot seem to connect the dots between a person needing affordable housing in an increasingly unaffordable city – and being lazy. In both his work circle and apartment complex, James knows many people benefitting from affordable housing, and none fit the bill as lazy or entitled. It is quite the opposite in fact. James explained how most of his neighbors are caregivers, nurses and teachers. They are people who dedicate their lives for others, and in return need to apply for affordable housing waitlists, face homelessness or fall subject to the judgement of others.
For those that oppose affordable housing, James’ message is simple, “stay out of the arts district.” As gentrification ensues, artistic communities are seeing an influx of people moving to these trendy and cool neighborhoods. Many of Denver’s neighborhoods were built by artists who care for the community, and yet they are the ones forced to leave once the foundations have settled. James is all too familiar with situations like these, which is why he is very grateful for his apartment at Evans Station. While the approval process to remove him from the waitlist was virtually instantaneous, James had to wait for over one year for the development to complete construction. In the fall of 2013 he was one of the first tenants to move in.
“I really was very lucky,” James explained. “I was able to move into a brand new apartment. My daughter had her own room and this is definitely the nicest place we have ever lived. It is a true gift.”
Urban Land Conservancy (ULC) purchased the land adjacent to the Evans Light Rail Station in 2011. The very next year, ULC partnered with Medici Consulting Group to begin the construction of 50 units of transit oriented affordable housing. Evans Station Lofts has since been recognized both locally and nationally for changing the face of affordable housing through innovative building design and development. In 2013, Evans Station took home the 2013 Mayor’s Design Awards for excellence in architecture, design and place-making. By the summer of 2013, the Evans Lofts were 100% leased so families like James and his daughter could finally move into a beautiful, new and affordable home with many amenities including a computer lab, fitness center, rooftop deck and bike storage.
Looking ahead, James has no plans to move and continues to be as passionate about every job he has, both work and volunteer. His daughter, who will be 11 this year, is following in her father’s footsteps. James said she is extremely musically gifted, playing nearly every instrument as well as sharing his passion and talent as a DJ. On the weekends she volunteers with her dad (James racked up nearly 700 volunteer hours in 2017), and has a tight knit group of friends in her apartment building.
Home has a different definition to everyone, and for James and his daughter home is a place where they can establish friendships and a support system and be comforted with the stability that allows them to focus on work and activities that make them happy. ULC is honored to have worked in partnership to develop their home at the Evans Station Lofts. While it is a beautiful building, what matters is how these 50 homes have transformed and supported the lives of the families living there.