The Colorado Coalition for the Homeless wants to buy a Park Hill hotel, turn it into a subsidized micro-unit apartment building and move quickly to house people coming from shelters and the streets.
“The idea is that we can connect with people who have been waiting for housing,” said Cathy Alderman, the Colorado Coalition for the Homeless’s vice president of communications and public policy. “We think it’s a smart investment for us and for the city.”
The state’s Department of Local Affairs announced last month it had granted the coalition a $4.17 million loan for the 139-unit permanent supportive housing project, part of a total of $10.4 million for affordable housing across the state that its housing division awarded in July and August.
Alderman said her group is seeking further funds from private sources and the city. She added that the coalition will throw in its own cash that was originally earmarked for a would-be much larger project at the Federal Center in Lakewood that federal officials quashed.
It can cost $35 million and take three years to build 100 new units of housing, Alderman said. Buying the Quality Inn at 3737 Quebec St. in Northeast Park Hill and converting its rooms into studios will cost less than a third of that and take just a few months, she said.
Britta Fisher, Denver Economic Development & Opportunity’s chief housing officer and the designated head of a planned city housing department, said in a statement to Denverite that coalition has “a solid track record of creating much needed homes for our most vulnerable populations.”
The hotel renovation “is clearly an innovative use of existing property that will deliver supportive housing with the quickest turnaround,” Fisher added.
If the financing is secured, the coalition hopes to start moving people in by December. The main renovation work involves adding kitchenettes to the units and upgrading the building’s fire sprinkler system, Alderman said.
The hotel-turned-homes will be the coalition’s 20th housing complex.
Services planned for the Quality Inn apartments include connecting residents to medical care and jobs. Subsidies will ensure residents pay no more than 30 percent of their income in rent. For some, income may come from disability and other benefits. Many people experiencing homelessness are working, and that that is a reason some shun shelters, which often have strict opening and closing hours, Alderman said.
“Checking in or checking out don’t always align with work schedules,” she said. Apartment residents will “have keys. They can come and go as they please.”
Alderman said the Quality Inn project draws on lessons learned from Denver’s pilot social impact bond program, which aims to save money spent repeatedly arresting and jailing people experiencing homelessness or caring for them in emergency rooms. In that program, financed in part by private investors with a social mission, the coalition and the Mental Health Center of Denver use police arrest data to identify people experiencing chronic homelessness, then get them housing and health care, food, transportation and legal support. The coalition has found that once people who are eligible are identified, getting them quickly into a motel room while an apartment is secured helps ensure a successful transition to permanent housing.
The coalition also has found that placing families in motels temporarily has been a way “to start getting people on the path to stability quicker,” Alderman said.
“We know that this model works,” she said, adding the coalition had been looking to buy a hotel or motel for some time when it came across the Quality Inn opportunity.
Not everyone will see a 300-square-foot studio as a permanent home. Alderman said the coalition will work to ensure that those who don’t move on to other permanent housing. Those that do stay are likely to include older men and women who “want less to take care of,” she said.