West Colfax Resident Finds Community in Affordable Housing
Welcome to Urban Land Conservancy’s sixth installation in our Resident Series. To date, we have grappled with the stigma of affordable housing, highlighting the reality behind each resident story. We have met tenants working multiple jobs to support their children, refugees chasing the American dream and domestic violence survivors fleeing an unsafe and hostile environment. Without affordable housing and other critical assistance services, many of these individuals would face a life on the streets. It has been our goal with this series to add a human element to affordable housing, and show that their need does not stem from laziness or a desire to take advantage of any system. These are real people, with real lives and real families who are using affordable housing as a stepping stone to something more.
In our sixth installation, we introduce you to Jeanie Chase, a resident of the Avondale Apartments in the West Colfax neighborhood. The 80 unit affordable housing development opened in August of 2014 and is a part of ULC’s Mile High Vista development, which also includes the Rodolfo “Corky” Gonzales Library. Del Norte Neighborhood Development Corporation developed and opened the apartments with full occupancy and an intimidating waitlist – which Chase remembers all too well, as she joined the original waitlist nearly a year before.
Chase is the type of person who makes the best out of an unfortunate situation. Born and raised outside of Denver with eight brothers and sisters, Chase’s life had a path that did not include living in a wheelchair, and being unable to work. But in November of 1981, Chase was diagnosed with Guillain-Barre syndrome, commonly known as GBS. The syndrome is incredible rare, affecting 1 in 100,000 Americans according to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. For those afflicted by GBS, the immune system mistakenly attacks the nervous system, which eventually can lead to paralysis.
Chase was temporarily paralyzed, which has left her in a wheelchair with little equilibrium or strength in her lower body. Chase explained that she has a goal to walk again – one that was hindered after a bus accident last year put her legs in braces. Today she continues her physical therapy regime, which she hopes will get her back on her feet one day.
While each case is unique – it is important to recognize the inherent additional costs associated with disability. In many cases, an individual’s disability makes work extremely challenging – if not impossible. There are often medications, personal assistance devices and increased medical bills that come with a disability. According to an article published by Salon in 2017, “What is perhaps less well-known is that studies consistently show that people with disabilities are disproportionately poor. They are more likely to become poor and, when poor, are more likely to stay that way, because of barriers to getting an education, finding decent work and participating in civic life. Taken together, these barriers significantly and adversely impact their standard of living.”
For Chase, finding affordable housing was a need, not a wish. Four years after moving into her one bedroom, one bathroom unit at Avondale and Jeanie admits she loves her home more each day. She has a balcony with a view of the mountains, and lives blocks from a light rail station and steps from multiple bus routes. In fact, that was her favorite part of Avondale – its proximity to bus. As someone who truly relies on public transportation, living along both RTD’s 14 and 15 bus lines allow Chase quick access to downtown, grocery stores and additional services. Chase’s testimony proves the necessity of affordable housing along transit corridors. Not only do transit-oriented developments (TODs) encourage transit use, especially for those living without a car, but they also spur economic activity. According to a report published by Shift Research Lab, TODs located within a ½ mile of rail and 1/4 mile of high-frequency bus routes generated $78.5 million in earnings for Coloradoans in 2017, $113.6 million in economic activity in Metro Denver and created more than 2,500 jobs.
Four years into her lease, and Chase realized her newfound love of Avondale is with its residents. Chase spoke highly of her neighbors, and the tight knit community they have created. Chase said this experience has also taught her a lot, and given her a better understanding of the word “community.” Chase explained that she knows now it doesn’t matter what a person looks like, what their life circumstances may appear to be or what color their skin is, as we are all just people who have the same needs at the end of the day.
“There are people in this apartment that have worked tirelessly to keep their home,” Chase said. “They are actively trying not to be homeless, as they don’t want to be homeless. And if it weren’t for Avondale, I don’t know what they would do.”
As Denver’s population continues to grow, affordable housing is needed now more than ever. Many residents like Chase and her neighbors are currently faced with rising property costs, skyrocketing rental rates and an overall increased cost of living in Denver. Many of Denver’s low – income residents face displacement daily and the threat of homelessness as affordable housing options have become a rarity. It is critical that we close the current gap of affordability, with Denver at a 60,000 unit shortfall in 2018. Affordable housing provides a roof for our most vulnerable population, as everyone deserves a safe and affordable place to live.