A community-driven project in Montbello focused on affordable housing and access to fresh food may be receiving additional funding from the Department of Housing and Stability.
On Wednesday, the Safety, Housing, Education & Homelessness Committee approved a $3.3 million loan agreement between HOST and Montbello Organizing Committee for their Montbello FreshLo Hub, a project that’s been in the works since 2018. MOC is a neighborhood group that focuses on food justice, housing and community wealth building.
“We have stayed the course since day one,” said Donna Garnett, the executive director of MOC. “There’s too much riding on it. The community has really invested their hearts and their passion and their deep commitment to this community…We had a tiny gap in funding and this will help close the gap.”
In 2014, Montbello’s only full-size grocery store, Safeway, left the neighborhood, leaving a hole in food access and turning the neighborhood into a food desert.
According to city data from May 2021, Montbello residents have the option to shop at 7-Eleven or the Family Dollar on Peoria Street and East 47th Avenue — that’s pretty much it. There is a Walmart on Chambers Road and Gateway Avenue that’s technically considered Montbello, but it’s located on the outskirts of the neighborhood, closer to Green Valley Ranch.
The absence “galvanized the community to come together and demand access to a full service grocery store and or a community-based market,” Councilmember Stacie Gilmore said during the committee meeting. That vision turned into the FreshLo Hub.
For folks in the northeast neighborhood, the development will be a massive one-stop shop featuring housing, retail stores, a cultural hub and a much-needed grocery store. It’ll take up the 1.39-acre lot at 12300 East Albrook Dr., which was purchased by the MOC for $600,000 in February 2020. The site used to be the Montbello Park-n-Ride, which closed in April 2016.
The Hub is a two-phase project. Housing comes first and then a food retailer. Total project costs were initially estimated at $55 million, but with the pandemic increasing costs for supplies, the new budget is around $70 million.
The housing phase is fully funded now, but the project is still shy $10 million for the retail side of things.
The proposed financing for HOST will help complete the Hub’s housing facility, which will be a six-story building with 97 units of one-, two-, and three-bedrooms.
About 25% of those units will be for those at 50% of the area median income and 7% of the units will be for those at or below 30% AMI.
For a single person, 50% AMI is $41,050 and 30% is $24,650.
The ground floor will host WellPower, a mental health nonprofit, office space for MOC and a business incubator powered by MOC’s Building Wealth from Within program, a 12-week program geared towards helping residents grow their entrepreneurial skills.
MOC was recently named a 2022 Bank of America Neighborhood Builders recipient “for their work in the Denver community removing economic barriers and advancing economic opportunity.” They received a $200,000 grant, which will help fund the Building Wealth program.
A commercial building will be on the same site and will host a food retailer, an arts and education center, and retail space for local business owners.
The proposed loan from HOST will move to city council in the upcoming weeks. If approved, Garnett said the groundbreaking should occur in February.
“I like to tell people that this development, this building, is not our only project, just our first one,” Garnett said. “We have a 10-year plan of how to keep bringing development and resources to the community. Our mantra is development without displacement. The last thing we want to do is create a great community that our neighbors can’t live in because they can’t afford to. This long road to providing what our community wants and needs… we’re coming to the end of that journey.”