Danette Hollowell spent over 10 years living in Denver’s Five Points neighborhood. She raised her two daughters there, and can remember the live music streaming from open garages as she strolled through her neighborhood. In the past, Five Points was host to a tight knit group of musicians, many of whom rented homes for just a few hundred dollars each month. For years, Danette paid only $900 per month for her three-bedroom home – today, that number would be well over $2,000. But when her building sold in July 2016, Danette and her neighbors were given a 30 day notice to relocate.
Growing up, Danette moved numerous times during her childhood, as her father was a chaplain in the Air Force. It wasn’t until he retired in Denver in 1996 that she found a more permanent place to call home. While working at the Mercury Café, Danette fell into a group of Denver University musicians. Although she was classically trained as a dancer, her new friendships led her to audition for Claim Jumpers, a musical group funded by the Denver Jazz Club. The intensive program offers scholarships for those willing to learn big band, swing and jazz, along with musical history and lyrics lost over time. And for Danette, the rest was history.
“I completely fell in love and have been singing jazz ever since.”
But in recent years, Denver’s artistic community has taken a huge hit due to the city’s high cost of housing. Danette explained that many of her past band members have moved out of the city, which creates high turnover that affects her work. Numerous musicians are moving to cities that promise support for the artistic community – others are packing away their instruments and going back to school or seeking alternative careers.
Danette explained that Denver’s growing cost of living is largely attributable to the unrealistic escalations in the cost of housing and the dwindling supply of affordable housing. These increases have created a domino effect that is quickly weakening the foundations of local communities. When asked about her thoughts to those opposing additional funding for affordable housing, Danette was baffled.
“So if this opposition is to affordable housing, is the opposition also to art? Is the opposition against music? Is the opposition against community? Because that is the only alternative. If you don’t give people places where they can live – particularly artists and families – then you are essentially telling them they have no place in your community.”
Danette Hollowell is faced with a tough decision in 2016. Due to her building’s bylaws, the fine print read that current residents were to be given Section 8 vouchers. Unfortunately, in Denver’s tight housing market, Section 8 vouchers are often times not a solution for displaced individuals and families, because the voucher cannot cover the market rent. In a 2016 article highlighting the challenges associated with the vouchers, NPR reported that, “the challenge is similar in other cities where rents are high and the market is tight: Sometimes vouchers don’t cover the rent or landlords prefer tenants without them.”
What were Danette’s options? According to Zumper in 2016, the median one bedroom rent in the Five Points neighborhood was $1,690. This meant in order for Danette to stay in the community she and her daughters called home, she would have to not only double her housing costs but also downsize to a one bedroom with three family members. With only 30 days left to move her family – and skyrocketing rental rates through Denver – Danette decided to join a waitlist for the Park Hill Station Apartments, even though there was uncertainty in how long the waiting period would be. Last month, Senior Housing Options said their wait list was running between 12 – 18 months. Other affordable housing developments cite their waiting lists at over 1,200 persons.
“There is this idea that people who need affordable housing are lazy, or want to live outside of their means,” Danette explained. “And I would have to vehemently disagree. I think that artists are fine living with less, we just need enough to live.”
Park Hill Station sits on property purchased by ULC through the Transit Oriented Development (TOD) Fund in 2013. ULC’s intent with the acquisition was to create a multi-phase development providing affordable housing and nonprofit commercial space within walking distance of a major transit line. Park Hill Station is the first phase of development, and offers 156 units of affordable housing units. After joining the waitlist, Danette received a call in the summer of 2016 that if she could move within two weeks, a three bedroom unit was hers. While she described the timing as a true Godsend, this didn’t negate the fact that Danette was uprooting her family against her will. Danette explained that this was one of her roughest years as a mother. Her children resented leaving their community, and felt suffocated by the lack of walkability and freedom they were accustomed to in their Five Points neighborhood.
Two years later, and Danette finally feels happy when she comes home to her new community in Denver’s Northeast Park Hill community. Her daughters now attend a high-performing public high school, with her eldest set to graduate in May. Danette explained that because she can afford her housing expenses, she has been able to continue her music career and provide for her family. She carpools multiple children from her apartment complex each morning and afternoon, a courtesy and benefit that would likely not exist had Danette been forced to find market rate housing.
“I really am grateful for Park Hill Station,” Danette explained. “Without affordable housing, I had just two options: leave Denver, or get two to three jobs so I can afford rent in this city. And that would have meant significantly less time with my family – and definitely no music.”
While Danette and her family have made the most of their move, situations like this have become common place. Unfortunately in Denver, displacement is too common an occurrence for many families. It is time that we pull together our resources – on both a city, regional and state level – to ensure Denver remains an equitable city for all.