Housing is — as you may have heard — an enormous issue in Denver right now.
So, it’d be an understatement to say this class of Who’s Next: Housing is a group of people you’ll want to meet.
Last year, we introduced our first-ever Who’s Next, highlighting rising stars in Denver and Colorado politics. This time around, we looked for people starting to make waves in all areas of housing, from affordable housing to tiny homes to architecture to co-ops. We asked for your nominations and you delivered. And from that pool we selected this standout group of 14.
Want to meet them? You can. We’ll be bringing them together to recognize their work and talk about what’s next from 6:30 to 9 p.m. Jan. 23 at the new Mirus Gallery, 1144 Broadway. And you can get your tickets now.
For now, please digitally meet the roster.
Paul Bindel, 33, hopes to knock down a couple of barriers to cooperative housing, namely city restrictions and financing, to make the shared-cost living model a viable part of Denver’s future.
Bindel is co-founder of Queen City Cooperative, along with Sarah Wells and Stephen Polk. The gist: co-ops provide permanently affordable homes because members own a share of the building, not an individual unit. Co-owners can sell that share, but only at a limited price, which is baked into the initial agreement. Plus housemates share other building costs, lowering the ceiling for everyone.
It’s about sustainability, not profit. It’s also illegal.
“We invited the zoning department into our living room,” Bindel said. “Like a lot of Denver, we’re breaking the zoning code by having more than two unrelated adults together. But we invited them to help show them … how having a 4,000-square-foot house with just two unrelated people in it doesn’t make sense.”
Co-ops could be a game-changer if people can come up with the funding to buy property and attract additional funders. That’s why, along with advocating for new policies, he and others have started the Colorado Solidarity Fund, a pot of money dedicated co-ops and land trusts.
Katie Bonamasso, 37, first took an interest in housing issues growing up in the suburbs north of Chicago, where she watched as the city struggled with housing projects not far away. She wondered why it had to be that way, and carried that concern into college and a career in housing.
She’s spent the last 15 years working in supportive and affordable housing in Colorado, most recently as a project manager for the Corporation for Supportive Housing. The national nonprofit has hubs across the country, and here in Denver, Bonamasso has helped get 250 people most in need into housing that offers supportive services like mental health care on site.
So what’s on the docket for 2019? “Just continuing to do good work,” she says.
Laura Brudzynski, 31, is Denver’s director of the housing policy, programs and HOPE Initiative at the Office of Economic Development. Among her duties are working with agencies in the city to address homelessness and housing.
Brudzynski volunteered with Habit for Humanity before working with them full-time. She started working on the policy front after an advocacy trip to Washington, where she got a better sense of the systemic changes that were needed to improve affordable housing options. She ended up in Denver for grad school, working for housing advocacy organizations before she started working for the city in 2013. She was promoted to her current position in May.
In her role, she oversees the largest dedicated affordable housing fund in the state and this year led the effort year to double the fund from $15 million to $30 million. It’s a fund she believes will have help generations to come.
“That’s exciting,” Brudzynski said. “That’s going to impact thousands and thousands of families over the years.”
Cole Chandler, 30, is the co-director and co-founder at the Colorado Village Collaborative, the nonprofit organization that operates the tiny home village in Denver called The Beloved Community Village. He co-founded the collaborative in March 2017 with several people, including people experiencing homelessness.
Chandler is an ordained minister. Studying theology gave him a chance to “find a way to make himself useful to poor, marginalized people.” He credits his volunteer work at the Denver Catholic Worker House, where he worked as a live-in volunteer cooking meals, helping with intake and other duties, with helping inspire the tiny-home village. His overarching goal is supporting community-based housing, and the tiny village is the perfect illustration of what he calls a grassroots effort that rose from the streets.
“They’re popping up in the country in progressive cities as an important crisis response, in the midst of the housing crisis,” Chandler said.
She’s been fighting for and winning renters’ rights for a long time. This year, expect Andrea “Dre” Chiriboga-Flor’s work to pay more dividends with a Democrat-controlled legislature poised to pass new protections for renters in a state known for favoring landlords.
“We think that if tenants have to hold their end of the deal in the contract, landlords have to hold up their end too,” says Chiriboga-Flor, an organizer for 9to5 Colorado, a women’s justice group. “So people shouldn’t be evicted for withholding rent.”
The details aren’t finalized, but legislators will likely introduce a bill that would empower renters to withhold money from landlords who aren’t keeping up with maintenance or otherwise creating unhealthy living situations. Another potential bill would restrict application fees, which landlords can charge — and profit from. But the biggest splash could come from repealing Colorado’s ban on rent control and shifting the decision to local governments, an idea favored by some Denver City Council members to temper the affordable housing crisis.
Chiriboga-Flor, 29, has been advocating for these three bills, in some form, for years. This might be the year they get passed.
Jessica Dominguez has been teaching at Denver Public Schools for 17 years, primarily at Columbian Elementary in North Denver, and what she’s seen there has changed her approach to the real estate company she and her husband own, Love Thy Neighbor.
Dominguez, 41, has seen an influx in homeless students in recent years, while the real estate market booms, and she started getting involved in housing classes and programs, including the Real Estate Diversity Initiative. She and her husband attend committee meetings and make themselves a resource to communities in need — people who are fighting displacement and for sustainable housing. She’s also teaching classes around the city on equity and affordable housing.
It’s a grassroots effort, she said, and it’s just getting started.
Founder and CEO of Continuum Partners Mark Falcone, 55, said he intended to create a mission-driven company when he founded his real estate development firm in 1997.
“We always think of ourselves as human ecologists,” Falcone said. His firm tries to think about how their work can create a “cohesive society” that’s filled with “dynamic organisms” (that would be people). It means making sure they keep track of the impact their work is having and finding places that are ripe for positive development. During the late 1990s and early 2000s, this meant focusing on downtown Denver while everyone else was pouring money into the suburbs and things like big, regional malls.
We all know what happened next. That shift happened, and Continuum Partners did their part by helping oversee massive projects like the Union Station redevelopment and the Belmar Project that transformed a former mall site in Lakewood into a model for mixed-use development.
Their next big goal: Finding new models for affordable housing. With limited money available resources for affordable housing, Falcone said he wants to use the firms existing industry connections to “unlock” new funding mechanisms and work closely with the City and County of Denver.
Nathan Hunt, 29, started working at the Interfaith Alliance of Colorado in Sept. 2016. He was previously involved in the housing conversation in Denver though leading the Alternative Solution Advocacy Project, which comprised of faith leaders, non-profits and others to address what he called “the criminalization of homelessness.”
His latest project launched this year and is called The Congregation Land Campaign. Working with groups including the Colorado Community Land Trust, Cecil Developments and Radian Placematters, the campaign’s goal is to help faith communities who own land figure out ways to use their properties to build affordable housing and community development.
“That’s been a pretty fun project this year,” Hunt said. He said the campaign is currently working with seven different churches that own property ranging in size from a third of an acre to four acres.
Alison Joucovsky is at a crucial moment.
Her 3-year-old nonprofit, Sunshine Home Share, has come into a wave a funding from an abundance of sources and is starting this year by hiring a new social worker to help further their mission: pairing seniors who want to age in place and have extra space find someone in need of affordable housing to live there.
In addition to hiring more help for the 17 seniors they currently work with, Joucovsky, 48, and her team are working on two pilot projects with the city of Denver — one will create a position called a financial social worker, who helps people get to a place where they’re spending 30 percent of their income on housing, and the other will partner Sunshine with seniors-only buildings who are having to turn people away.
In 2011 Gosia Kung founded WalkDenver. She left the advocacy group a year ago, but not before building a small but potent organization that has won several victories over bureaucratic inertia.
Now Kung, an architect, is turning her attention to housing. It’s a “natural extension,” she says.
She says she will advocate for tools that allow more homes and more affordable ones in existing neighborhoods — adding density with duplexes and “four-plexes” — without building new housing. She also wants to ban parking requirements to lower housing costs, and would like to see Denver follow Minneapolis’s landmark move and ban single-family housing requirements citywide.
“I think there is interest and appetite among city leaders but what they need is citizen support, and I think this is where this initiative can come into play.”
Kung admits she doesn’t know exactly what form her initiative will take — a task force, an organization — but she will try to move the needle on housing.
Tiana Patterson sees her job as “being a conduit between the community and the government.”
She’s the state and local policy director for Enterprise Community Partners, a nonprofit working in affordable housing development, where she works with community organizers looks for policy solutions to housing barriers. In 2019, she and Enterprise will be pushing a bill to enhance the minimum standards for rental housing throughout Colorado implied in every rental contract — an issue close to her heart as a renter herself.
Patterson, 35, also wants to focus going forward on how housing is connected to health care and “making the circle wider and wider, bringing in more folks who can make difference.”
Fresh off of playing a key role in River North’s Beloved tiny home village, Tim Reinen and his nonprofit firm, Radian, are helping faith groups make use of their 5,000 acres of shovel-ready land to house Denver metro residents who need homes.
The initiative is called the Congregation Land Campaign. Some religious institutions see housing-needy people as their moral mission, and that mission gets easier when you cut land speculation from the development equation.
“They have been wanting to see action (on housing) for 30, 40 years, and they just haven’t known how to facilitate it,” Reinen said. “We’re saying, ‘You don’t need to know. We’ll match you up with who you need to know and what you want to know.'”
Radian is working with seven faith groups and has 20 or 30 congregations ready and willing.
Ean Tafoya is a mainstay in Denver civics. He’s treasurer of the Colorado Latino Forum and a former City Council staffer and candidate. But he will influence housing most as co-chair of the Zoning and Planning Committee for the city’s largest neighborhood organization, the Inter-Neighborhood Cooperation — even if the job is a bit wonky.
“A lot of people say that’s for the birds, right? But we follow past plans,” Tafoya says. “So if we want to create change 20 years from now and not be on the backside of change, then we have to be involved in the planning now.”
At 32, Tafoya looks different than the average member of Denver’s influential registered neighborhood organizations, which are comprised mostly of older homeowners. He will use his role to influence the city’s many budding neighborhood plans to include housing options beyond traditional single-family homes and shake things up to attain robust affordable housing requirements.
He will run for office again, he said. It’s just a question of which.
Amber Valdez, a lobbyist at Valdez Public Affairs, said her eyes were opened to the impacts of housing during a graduate class at CU Denver. The class made Valdez, now 34, see how much housing affects what’s considered success in Denver.
Her work to ensure access to affordable housing is now done through the General Assembly. As she points out, Colorado doesn’t have a statewide, dedicated and self-sustaining affordable housing fund. She’s currently working with state lawmakers to figure out how to establish such a program. “So we want something that will still be there, a pot of money that will still be there when times get tough,” Valdez said.
While her studies gave her a deeper perspective on housing, the Denver native said she remembers visiting The Gathering Place with her mother when she was young and seeing children who didn’t have homes.
“Now, to have the opportunity to alleviate the problem, is super special to me,” Valdez said.