Nonprofit The Fax purchased two motels on East Colfax with future affordable housing in mind

“The people staying in these motels aren’t tourists. They’re using the motels as last-resort housing.”
6 min. read
The Westerner Motel on East Colfax Avenue. Oct. 20, 2022.
Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite

Two motels on East Colfax will soon house those experiencing homelessness and will one day be redeveloped to provide affordable housing on the corridor.

The Fax Partnership purchased The Westerner and Sand & Sage motels, located at 8405 and 8415 E. Colfax, last month and will have about 34 units available for those in need of  shelter.

Monica Martinez, The Fax's executive director, said the purchase is the nonprofit's first step towards providing immediate housing for the unhoused or those in between housing, while they work on development plans to create permanent and affordable housing for the corridor. It's part of the nonprofit's goal to strengthen East Colfax from Monaco to Yosemite.

"This is a transit-oriented corridor," Martinez said. "Our community desperately needs more units, affordable, market-rate. We just need more housing. We're committed to providing affordable housing...These properties are good for bringing in cash flow and providing immediate housing and eventually redeveloping."

The Western Motel on East Colfax Avenue. Oct. 20, 2022.
Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite

Though they weren't easy to make, Martinez said the motel's purchases are reflective of the organization's growth over the past few years as the city and other groups start to invest intentionally in anti-displacement strategies, as Martinez puts it.

"We've been trying to buy land on the corridor for a few years now and we just consistently been beaten out by more nimble private investors," Martinez said. "We tried to buy the Ahwahnee Motel. The La Vista Motel. We were always just unable to move as quickly as the other investors."

The Sand and Sage Motel on East Colfax Avenue. Oct. 20, 2022.
Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite

Martinez said the organization needed to take a big leap in order to compete and part of that jump was approaching the owner of The Westerner and Sand & Sage.

She said both were closed due to abatement issues, so The Fax inquired about a potential sale and heard nothing for a few months, until the owner agreed to sell.

"We put the two properties under contract and took a risk," Martinez said.

Martinez said a diverse group of lenders stepped in to help complete the $4.5 million purchase including the Colorado Housing and Finance Authority and national nonprofit Enterprise Community Partners. The Fax could also receive grant funding from the Department of Housing Stability and the Colorado Division of Housing.

Using motels as temporary or transitional housing is something the city has looked into in recent years, especially during the height of the pandemic. Britta Fisher, Denver's chief housing officer, previously said using motels is "practically instant housing" and a tool more cities are utilizing.

The Aloft hotel at 800 15th St. May 25, 2022.
Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite

Recently, City Council voted to renew the city's contract with one such hotel, the Aloft Denver Downtown hotel, to continue offering long-term shelter for 140 people experiencing homelessness and who are particularly vulnerable to COVID-19. But the same didn't happen earlier this year with the Quality Inn, which housed 140 people experiencing homelessness with similar COVID-19 concerns.

"The people staying in these motels aren't tourists. They're using the motels as last resort housing," Martinez said. "Most motels on the corridor are renting for $80 to $90 a night. The minute we bought them, we lowered the nightly rate. It's a good housing strategy that more nonprofits and local governments should look into because it's effective and immediate housing."

Martinez said the motel will continue operating as a motel for about a year. The Fax lowered the rates to about $60 a night and $340 for the week. The Westerner has some rooms available, but Sand & Sage is at capacity.

That's the immediate housing portion. The next step is to lease the property to Volunteers of America Colorado.

Martinez said when she approached the city for funding, the city said she should connect with VOAC, which is working on its own motel redevelopment project. VOAC's owns the Aristocrat Motor Hotel, now the Volunteers of America Family Motel, on West Colfax and is looking to redevelop the property to provide additional rooms and resources for families needing housing assistance.

The Volunteers of America Family Motel on West Colfax Avenue, once called the Aristocrat Motor Hotel. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

Those plans, however, require closing the motel and displacing its current residents. But thanks to VOAC and The Fax's partnership, those residents will now stay at The Westerner and Sand & Sage until renovations are completed.

"The intersectionality of issues is bringing nonprofits together," Martinez said. "They thought they were going to have to shut down their family homeless housing program. But now they can bring them over to use and they'll use our property for about two years."

Once work at VOAC's motel is finished, The Fax can start doing its own renovations.

Martinez said by the time The Fax is ready to redevelop the site, she hopes all the plans are ready to be set in motion.

It'll take some time, but Martinez said she'd like to see the area rezoned for a height increase of maybe five to six stories for a denser space filled with affordable units.

She'd also like to see the ground level be used for something the community needs such as a recreation center or a library, two things the East Colfax neighborhood's residents have wanted for a long time.

"I look forward to working with the East Colfax community to determine what goes there," Martinez said. "What AMI level? Do they want family housing or senior living? Probably rentals but what about affordable homeownership? Overall, I believe you need higher density housing on your transit corridors. With the bus rapid transit service coming, this acquisition couldn't come any earlier."

In the interim, Martinez said The Fax will continue to look for ways to reenergize the corridor for the existing residents and business owners. Another way the organization is looking to achieve that goal is by creating a cultural district.

Martinez said the move is another way to revitalize the corridor on the community's terms. Currently The Fax is working on a logo and will look into more branding opportunities.

"The cultural district is a means of claiming this community for who's there now," Martinez said. "By branding it as a cultural district and saying this is who we are, I believe we're telegraphing to any new development, new investment, new people that moved in 'You're joining this community, you're not displacing it.'"

Recent Stories