DENVER, Colo. — The United States is nearly 7 million rental homes short of what’s needed to house low-income families, but the infrastructure bill could invest $150 billion into affordable housing to help fill that gap.
Some cities are already building solutions, pairing affordable housing with job opportunities to lift people out of poverty.
Denver’s Sun Valley neighborhood is building all new affordable housing, but on the first floor of one of the apartment buildings is a grocery store.
It’s bringing jobs to residents and providing food to a long-time food desert. Eighty percent of residents in the Sun Valley neighborhood live below the poverty line, so investment in the community is sorely needed.
Selena Ramirez grew up in Sun Valley’s affordable housing for 10 years, but her family was displaced as the whole area was redeveloped.
“Growing up here was just so great,” she said with a smile. “I grew up with lots of cultures, lots of different languages spoken. Ours was just a very tight-knit community.”
Although those years were happy, they weren’t without struggle.
“We either had to go to Family Dollar or 7-Eleven, which isn't the healthiest options for food. And then, they knocked down the Family Dollar. So, then you're relying on 7-Eleven, and you don't have transportation, you're surviving on like hot pockets,” said Ramirez.
Ramirez is hoping to move back to her community as soon as more new affordable housing buildings are finished.
“This is my community. I've lived here for 10 years. It's my heart,” said Ramirez.
She’s even more excited to move back to this new development because she is now managing the Decatur Fresh grocery store on the first floor of one of the development’s buildings. The store specifically employs neighbors and residents of Sun Valley and gives them job training.
“The first real priority was access to healthy and affordable food. Other priorities included economic opportunities and employment opportunities,” said Annie Hancockof the Denver Housing Authorityabout this redevelopment project.
“Our prices are important. We want to make sure that people come down and actually afford to, you know, shop here,” said Ramirez.
On top of the prices being cheaper than typical grocery stores, the food at Decatur Fresh caters to the diverse neighborhood. There are foods from many cultures, so residents can feel more at home in their community.
This single infrastructure investment is solving several problems in the community.
“It's thinking about all the different elements of infrastructure,” said Hancock. “Providing spaces like this that bring food to the community, that provide economic opportunity. These are also critical to really creating an environment that people want to be living in and can sustain.”
Hancock and David Nisivoccia, the executive director of the Denver Housing Authority agree: now is the time to build these kinds of affordable housing developments all over the country.
“My first hope is that people see this as a bright example of what can be done, how a neighborhood can be transformed,” said Nisivoccia. “In the last year, the real estate price went up 20% for an average house, and this year, in 2022, they're projecting the same. Most people can't afford that, right. So, the need is great.”
As Ramirez’s neighborhood transforms to meet the needs of her community, she’s learned that: change can bring even greater success.
“Now that it's being redeveloped, people are coming in and they're getting to see the beauty that we grew up with. They're getting to experience what we experienced, and we're getting to share our community with the world.”
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