The Urban Land Conservancy celebrates the achievements of its partnerships that create and preserve nonprofit facilities and affordable housing for communities in metro Denver. ULC’s Monthly Partner Spotlight is awarded to partners who demonstrate the value of collaboration, furthering our mission to improve the lives of Metro Denver residents through our real estate investments and community assets.

Congratulations to our May 2017 Partner Spotlight of the Month: Colorado Village Collaborative!

According to the Metro Denver Homeless Initiative, there were over 5,400 homeless individuals living in metro Denver in 2016.  While there have been many well-intended efforts to address homelessness, such as the Denver Road Home Initiative, as a City and Region we are far from solving this challenging issue. With an inadequate number of shelters to provide temporary housing, local organizations and community members have made it a priority to create a lasting and permanent solution to help eradicate homelessness in Metro Denver.

To find a solution to homelessness, it certainly takes a village. And in Denver’s case, that village is the Colorado Village Collaborative (CVC), a group of organizations helping launch Colorado’s first tiny home community for the homeless. In 2016, Alternative Solutions Advocacy Project (ASAP) started to jumpstart the conversation around creating an immediate and permanent solution to the widespread problem of homelessness across the Denver region.

Photo Courtesy | Denverite

Cole Chandler, a pastor at Beloved Community Mennonite Church, explained that a cross section group of advocates including people experiencing homelessness, business leaders and faith leaders met in May 2016 to formulate a plan. Chandler explained that organizations such as Denver Homeless Out Loud have a long history of leading conversations on how tiny homes can be part of the solution in Denver.

“The momentum that Denver Homeless Out Loud has created around tiny homes really made this tiny home village a possibility,” Chandler said. “This in turn truly made the idea a vision for folks.”

Karen Seed, an organizer for Denver Homeless Out Loud (DHOL), believes that Beloved Community Village has been a long time coming. For years her organization has advocated for tiny homes to help the homeless, but despite working with various organizations, architecture firms and the city in the past, they were unable to find a site to host a tiny home community.

“This village is us,” Seed said. “I think it makes a lot of sense that it has happened so fast, because the foundations have been in the works for years. And those foundations are the community.”

As early as 2012, ULC was contacted by City of Denver’s Road Home to provide temporary shelter for homeless women in the Cole neighborhood, but the plan was unable to move forward. In 2015 ULC was asked to help with the purchase of a building to support a temporary shelter in North Denver. However ULC was not able to successfully move forward with the shelter due to neighborhood opposition.

“Given the challenges of doing temporary shelter through existing buildings, ULC started having conversations with housing providers, homeless advocates, religious institutions and public agencies about doing tiny homes on our own land ,” said Debra Bustos, the Vice President of Real Estate at ULC.

Experts from Seattle flew out in early 2016 to discuss their temporary tiny home communities for the homeless and what they found to be the best practices.  The Seattle visit was instrumental in getting the tiny home effort off the ground in Denver. By November of 2016, ASAP, Beloved Community Mennonite Church, Interfaith Alliance, Radian and DHOL had garnered significant support for tiny homes and initiated conversations with ULC about hosting a temporary tiny home community.

Fast forward six months, and Colorado Village Collaborative is officially half way through the construction of Beloved Community Village, Denver’s first tiny home community for the homeless, on ULC’s land at Walnut and 38th. Many believe that this is a major step forward, finding innovative ways to aid the homeless in Metro Denver. Chandler’s expects that with Beloved Community Village’s success, the process for creating new temporary tiny home communities will be easier in the future.

“Our goal is to create an organization that could build out the infrastructure and make this village a movement – so it is not just one village,” Chandler said. “We want to scale this horizontally and create as much of a community as we can.”

The entire community was designed and developed to be 100 percent mobile. Tim Reinen is the Executive Director of Radian, the nonprofit design firm that led all design and rezoning efforts for the project. Reinen explained that the entire community, from the structure’s foundational supports to the windows, can be reused and moved to a future location. Ensuring the community was mobile – along with restructuring the city’s zoning codes – proved to be two of the biggest challenges associated with the project.

“As a collective, Radian Inc. and CVC spent a lot of time working with city officials to change the zoning code,” Reinen explained. “We also faced multiple challenges in keeping the project temporary, as it relates to utilities and foundations, but we are proving it to be successful. Not only will the entire village be mobile, but it will also run completely off the grid.”

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There will be 11 tiny homes, one bathing unit (two showers, two sinks and two toilets) and one community gathering space at Beloved Community Village. Because the community is completely off the grid, trucks will make multiple stops each week to drop off fresh water supply, and remove wastewater.

Estimated completion of the temporary community is mid-June. Chandler said that CVC has been overwhelmed by the wave of volunteers, with hundreds of inquiries and over 80 volunteers at the site for the first day of construction. Alongside the volunteers are members of CVC, Whiting Turner (the construction company offering free construction services for the project) and future community residents.

Cleopatra Colorado and her husband Chris will be two of the first residents to inhabit Beloved Community Village. Colorado moved to Denver in 2016 and has been homeless for the majority of that time. Colorado explained that she does not have family or friends in Denver, so she stayed at a hostel during her first few months while she got settled. The hostel was abruptly shut down, which meant she was forced to the streets. One year later, Colorado is nailing down to the roof on her future tiny home.

“This village is not just about having a house,” Colorado said. “This is about the fact that I still exist. As an immigrant, I have to go through certain challenges and now in addition to that, I’m homeless.”

To learn more about Colorado Village Collaborative, you can visit their website here. The tiny home community will open to residents this June, and will lease the land from ULC for six months (the maximum allowable time per zoning requirements). We look forward to seeing the future of CVC, and believe that Beloved Community Village will be a successful model for future temporary tiny home villages in the region, creating a new solution for sheltering some of our homeless population.