A new activist group to rep minorities rises out of government-led plans for east Denver

The East Colfax Community Collective has urgency and a perspective they say is underrepresented when the city talks growth.
4 min. read
Main Htoo carries her son through the Hidden Brook Apartments in East Colfax, Nov. 21, 2019. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

East Colfax residents are launching a group called the East Colfax Community Collective to give locals a greater say on decisions made for their neighborhood.

The group was formed in response to the East Area Plan, a blueprint for development in the area for the next 20 years. The group wants to make sure residents and business owners aren't left out of the plan's drafting process. Group members timed Thursday's announcement ahead of an East Area Plan community workshop scheduled for Saturday.

Group member Brendan Greene said their goal is to make sure policy decisions made about the neighborhood are driven by the people who call it home. He said the group will ensure city planners aren't compromising on the neighborhood's future.

"We do not believe the market is more powerful than our community and the policymakers that represent us," Greene said.

Dawn Howard, representing the Colorado Cross Disability Coalition, speaks during a East Colfax Community Collective press conference announcing their inception, Nov. 21, 2019. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

Greene said the group will meet separately but also participate in the East Area Plan's public process, including attending Saturday's meeting. They want to develop a list of demands that will call for things like adding affordable housing, expanding programs like Section 8 vouchers, supporting the area's immigrants and refugees, and providing assistance for the disabled.

Community Planning and Development spokesperson Laura Swartz said city planners have been working closely with the group and other neighborhood organizations affected by the plan. The East Colfax Community Collective and the city's planning department will meet for a workshop tentatively scheduled for January.

"We are grateful that they have decided to prioritize anti-displacement because that is one of our priorities," Swartz said, adding the city planning department wants to ensure residents' priorities are reflected in the plan.

Worries about displacement are heightened by the recent urban redevelopment area established by the Denver City Council in August. The decision declared a strip along East Colfax blighted, a move meant to foster development with financing tools.

Among other concerns, Greene and company worry new development will erode the area's culture. Nebiyu Asfaw, of the Ethiopian American Development Council, said the neighborhood contributes to Denver's overall identity. It is among the most ethnically diverse neighborhoods in the city; Saturday's meeting will include Amharic, Burmese, Karen, Somali and Spanish interpreters. At least 63 percent of East Colfax residents identify as race or ethnicity other than non-Hispanic white.

Asfaw wants to see support for local businesses along the East Colfax strip to help avoid them packing up their bags to nearby Aurora.

"No other neighborhood embodies the spirit of the Mile High City than East Colfax," Asfaw said.

Dawn Howard, a community organizer for the Colorado Cross-Disability Coalition, said there are half a million people in Colorado with significant disabilities. She called on adding more housing for people with disabilities and for the city to improve its strategies to help place them in permanent housing.

Towanna Henderson has lived in East Colfax for 27 years. She's been to three community meetings for the East Area Plan and has left feeling like the city planning department isn't capturing the resident's concerns. She called displays made available at meetings confusing and the commenting process inadequate.

Brendan Greene opens a press conference for the East Colfax Community Collective as they announce their inception. The Hidden Brook Apartments, Nov. 21, 2019. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

"I personally have concerns about the increased taxes, the promises of low-income housing that cannot be fulfilled and overall increases in the cost of living that will displace our residents," Henderson said.

Rename St*pleton for ALL member Kim Brewer noted that Stapleton, which was developed with an urban redevelopment area, now has high median home prices and few people of color among its residents nearly 20 years after it was conceived.

"We will not allow this to become another Stapleton," Brewer said.

In addition to East Colfax, the East Area Plan includes Hale, Montclair and South Park Hill.

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