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Gentrification hits Denver neighborhoods
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By James Mejía

Brother Jeff is a fixture in Five Points as a historian, photographer and perpetuator of culture in the African American community. From his recent perch as chair of the board of directors for the Denver Foundation, he enjoyed a view of the entire metro area but has always remained steadfast in advocating for Five Points and her people. A native of Northeast Denver, Jeff has seen an influx of capital and investment in Five Points, not equally or equitably dispersed among residents and forever changing the neighborhood that is the heart of African American history, music and culture.

The historic importance of Five Points gives Jeff added passion to the plight of those moving on from the neighborhood. “The fact that Denver is the seventh most affected city speaks volumes, it creates tension. The effect of gentrification depends on what side you’re looking from. For some it’s a great opportunity, great re-emergence. However, there are individuals who are no longer able to be in a community they grew up in, a neighborhood their people established. Many are no longer able to access the community and are treated as outsiders, getting strange looks for sitting in front of their homes.”

Jeff’s mention of Denver as the country’s seventh most gentrified city comes from a recent Governing Magazine report on the top 50 gentrified U.S. cities. Denver has over 42 percent of eligible census tract neighborhoods meeting the definition since 2000. Colorado Springs is not too far behind as the 23rd most gentrified U.S. city. Colorado’s two largest cities are the only two that made the list of the 50 largest cities prone to gentrification.

Denver holds a total of 144 census tracts and 24 have gentrified seventeen of Denver’s gentrified neighborhoods, or 71 percent are from North, Northeast and West Denver. To be gentrified, a neighborhood starts at a lower average resident income and has reduced home values and lower educational attainment marked by numbers of college graduates. Denver’s eligible neighborhoods were in the bottom 40 percent on these measures compared to all neighborhoods in the metro area. Those gentrified neighborhoods now have home values in the top third compared to other metro area zip codes. The dramatic change in just a decade has forced out residents unable to keep up with higher taxes and unforgiving neighbors and incentivized others looking to cash out on their real estate windfall.

For Jeff, the neighborhood’s saving grace may be the non-profit institutions that have been serving Five Points residents for decades. “Good Samaritan, St. Francis Center, Jesus Saves, Stout Street Clinic, and Catholic Charities all hold their own properties. They have insisted on being part of the process, forcing other people out of their silos to be part of community conversation to solve problems.”

Not all non-profits have been able to withstand the property increase in gentrified neighborhoods. For many years, Servicios de la Raza was located in North Denver. When Executive Director, Rudy Gonzales came on board several years ago, he saw the writing on the wall. Property values in the newly monikered “LoHi” caused the Latino-centric non-profit to look for a new headquarters. “Yes, the gentrification played a part in the decision by the Board of Directors to move out of North Denver to Colfax and Federal. With the displacement of Latinos in North Denver and Latinos and African Americans in East Denver; and now encroaching in West Denver, [with] wildly increasing home prices the ramifications will be myriad; but, I think the loss of political influence and power in the bell weather city of the State of Colorado will be the most negative outcome of this rapid homogenizing of my our native city.”

Low income housing developer, Veronica Barela, CEO of NEWSED, hopes the City of Denver can work differently with community redevelopment authorities to combat gentrification and provide more housing. “The City gave us a map of gentrification, it’s the whole city. In La Alma/Lincoln Park, people are pushed out of the city, they are being pushed into the suburbs. We need a relationship with the City of Denver and CHAFA that helps develop low income units on a small scale. Gentrification will have far reaching consequences in both the brown and black communities. It’s going to get worse, not better.”





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