Update: A fundraiser is underway for Beloved Community Village.
Within a matter of months, 14 people could be living in small, off-grid houses on a currently vacant property near 38th and Walnut streets.
If approved by the city, it could set a new mold for temporary housing in Denver. The project, known as Beloved Community Village, is part of a nationwide effort to create new housing wherever possible for people experiencing homelessness.
“It’ll be like a little base of operations, sort of – somewhere I can go and plan things out and come back at the end of the day,” said Sandra Hermans, 27, who would be one of the first residents. She has been out of a home since January, thanks to a change of roommates, and hopes to use her time in the village to get herself into college to become a vet tech.
City staff confirmed that the organizers of Beloved Community Village have submitted a zoning application permit that would allow people to live at 3733 Walnut Street, a 0.6-acre property owned by the Urban Land Conservancy.
“Our idea is that we can find a place for people to live who desperately need housing, in a way that works for adjacent neighborhoods, in a way that works for dignity for residents, in a way that is legal and transparent. That’s my vision,” said Vern Rempel, senior pastor for Beloved Community Mennonite Church, a key sponsor of the project.
The current plan would put 11 small houses and a non-residential circular building on the lot, to open as early as April 16. It would look something like the rendering below, though with a different configuration of buildings:
In order to get approval, the organizers basically have had to argue for an entirely new type of land use.
“It feels like the city in the conversation is feeling better and better about the argument,” Rempel said. ” … They’ve been showing up at the table with us, over and over again.”
The work is happening not just through Rempel’s church but under the Colorado Village Collaborative, an effort that bands together the Interfaith Alliance of Colorado, Bayaud Enterprises, Denver Homeless Out Loud, potential residents and Beloved Community Mennonite Church.
“We sent in what we we hope is our final zoning application permit on Monday. The initial feedback was that it looked really good,” said Nathan Hunt, an organizer with Interfaith Alliance.
The organizers met in December with Mayor Michael Hancock, he said.
The plan is for the 14 residents, who have been selected already, to participate in the governance of their own village.
The village also is to include showers, restrooms and regular services provided by the nonprofit Bayaud Enterprises, such as laundry. The village would run “off-grid,” with solar panels, water tanks and portable toilets.
Construction should only take a matter of days, with much of the village arriving via flat-bed truck.
“The intention is to be a self-governing community of homeless folks who are networked with faith communities, networked with some of the agencies like Bayaud,” said Rempel, who founded the Beloved church about 18 months ago.
Rempel’s Mennonite congregation and other faith communities will work to form relationships with people living in the village, but there will be no expectation that people participate in any religious services or organizations.
The project is only slated for about a six-month lifespan at the 38th and Blake Site, according to its website. After that, the organizers hope to have another Denver property lined up for it.
Urban Land Conservancy has long-term plans for a mixed-use development including affordable housing, market-rate housing and commercial space that could go up to 16 floors, on the 38th and Blake site. Those plans are a ways out, according to ULC spokeswoman Christi Smith.
Hunt said the project has received a nearly unanimously positive response from neighborhood associations in Cole and Curtis Park and from district organizers in RiNo.
The organizers aim to raise $20,000 through a fundraiser starting mid-March, and is working with potential
Similar plans are under discussion for St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church.
“The city is committed to finding innovative opportunities that connect people with safe housing options,” wrote mayoral spokeswoman Amber Miller in an email. “… Our focus throughout this effort is ensuring healthy and safe living conditions for individuals.”