In Denver, one non-profit is showing how innovative thinking can be used to close the affordable housing gap and tackle issues of homelessness. The Colorado Coalition for the Homeless will begin leasing apartments at Fusion Studios this month. The 139 micro-apartment complex is a former Quality Inn & Suites that was transformed in record time after being purchased by the group for $8.4 million.
This is the 17th building of its kind opened by John Parvensky, who has run the non-profit since 1985. These apartments will provide immediate relief for homeless citizens who are coming from shelters or directly off the streets. And with homelessness growing rapidly across the country, these types of solutions are vital in keeping people off the streets. This is particularly true in Denver, where the city's no camping ban is still being enforced. Though the law was declared unconstitutional by a Denver County judge, the ban remains in effect while under appeal.
“The project was really born out of desperation,” said Parvensky. “We were scratching our heads trying to figure out how we can shorten the time period so that the people who are on the streets tonight have a place to call their home as quickly as possible.”
In this context, it's clear to see how purchasing and transforming an existing building can be more effective than starting from scratch—both in terms of time and expense. According to Denverite, it can take up to $35 million and several years to build an affordable housing complex from the ground up. In the case of Fusion Studios, it took a matter of months to secure the funding from private, city, and state sources and to renovate the former hotel.
“This really shows what we can do when we get creative about problem-solving and affordable housing,” said Gov. Jared Polis. He also called Fusion Studios an “example of cutting through the red tape … at a teeny fraction of the cost of building something new and a teeny fraction of the time.”
Apartments will be filled on a rolling basis, with residents gaining access to special vouchers that will allow them to pay a rent that is no more than 30% of their monthly income. While many people will be paying their rent based on disability earning or other state funding, Governor Polis noted that many are currently working—some more than one job. Unfortunately, state wages are often not able to keep up with the housing market, which is part of the issue forcing people into homelessness.
Each 300-square-foot apartment will have its own bathroom and kitchenette. Additionally, they will each be furnished with a bed, dresser, desk, chair, television, microwave, and mini refrigerator, as well as a food pantry. To help provide residents better access to medical and behavioral health services, case managers will be working on-site. There is also 24-hour security, as well as a full-time property manager working to ensure the apartments stay in good shape.
As Colorado Coalition for the Homeless begins working with partners like Denver Health and the Metro Denver Homeless Initiative to identify good rental candidates, Fusion Studios is becoming a beacon of hope for what is possible when it comes to affordable housing. “I truly hope we can replicate this model and these partnerships at other sites in Denver and get more of our people housed affordably,” said Britta Fisher, executive director of Denver’s Department of Housing Stability (HOST).