Not-for-profit association hopes future urban garden will help northern Denver residents stay in place despite gentrification

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Community leaders in northern Denver are looking for solutions as rents begin to rise and gentrification continues to infiltrate the streets of the working class.

As more and more residents are considering leaving or being evicted from their rented home, a non-profit organization in the area hopes to use the new state grants to help neighborhood families become firmly rooted clean and figuratively.

The $ 100,000 Colorado Department of Human Services grant to the Focus Points Family Resource Center will fund a year of planning for future community gardens in the Elyria-Swansea and Globeville neighborhoods. The gardens will create flexible jobs with a living wage, prepare participants for a career in agriculture or start their own food business, and offer nutrition classes to parents and children. The non-profit organization has until July to plan its launch.

Focus Points leaders hope the program, Huerta Urbana, will help participants earn enough money to stay at home, escape public assistance and address the lack of healthy food in the neighborhood.

"We have to serve the whole family to move the needle," said Slavica Park, director of economic development and workforce at Focus Points.

The grant is part of an initiative of the Colorado Department of Social Services to focus on multi-generational solutions for families in programs. The focus points were one of 10 programs that received funding after 32 programs applied for competitive funding, said Mary Alice Cohen, who heads the department's two-generation programs.

"This movement looks at the needs of the family and groups these services together to help the family integrate into the middle class," she said. "It's about the whole family and what they need to thrive."

Geraline Hernandez, 1 years old, left, finishes ...

Hyoung Chang, the Denver Post

Geraline Hernandez, 1, smiles after finishing writing letters to Santa with her mother, Mari Vazquez, 31, right, at the Focus Points Family Resource Center.

For 25 years, the Focus Points Family Resource Center has been offering education, workforce development and children's programs in Denver, Executive Director Jules Kelty said.

Focal Points will work with various partners to create the Urban Agriculture Program, including Colorado State University and community colleges that can help participants pursue higher education. More importantly, the planning grant will allow non-profit organizations to work with neighborhood residents to generate ideas.

"I guarantee the community will have better ideas than we do," Kelty said.

A survey of 500 residents of Globeville and Elyria-Swansea published in 2017 found that about half of the tenants did not have a lease, which made them vulnerable to evictions and rent increases, and about 40% had to deal with an increase in rents. About 58% of homeowners have been approached to sell their home, where the majority have been living for more than ten years.

A controversial expansion of Interstate 70 already Displaced families living in 56 homes and an update of the Western National Complex, which is also a partner of the program, has fueled fears that development will only push current residents on.

Between 2015 and 2017, the median value of homes in Swansea increased from 41 to 88 percent, according to the city and county appraiser's office in Denver. Denver's median growth rate was 26% for the same period.

"It's critical to aggressively invest in affordable housing, but housing strategies also need to be combined with strategies to strengthen the economic capacity of existing residents," said a city report examining gentrification. .

That's where Focus Points comes in, said its leaders.

"We know we have helped people keep their homes," Kelty said.

About 90 percent of Focus Points' clients are Latino, including recent immigrants and refugees, and most have poor English skills, Kelty said. The non-profit program includes English language courses for GED preparation and vocational training while simultaneously offering child care and education programs.

Along with other programs, the urban garden will be a program to "earn money while learning", in which participants will be paid to attend classes and educational programs. Free programming is not enough in vulnerable low-income communities, Park said. Many families need two incomes to survive.

"Even if the class is free, it takes them away from their kids or work," Park said.

Focal Point leaders hope that between 10 and 15 people will be able to work in the garden in its first year of work, once it is installed.

The program will join another neighborhood urban farm program, The GrowHausand both will work together to create jobs and food for residents. The GrowHaus lost employees who had been forced to relocate because they could no longer afford to live in the neighborhood, said Executive Director Kayla Birdsong.

"Every organization in this neighborhood thinks and talks about (gentrification) all the time," she said.

Adding more jobs and growing space in the community is welcome, Birdsong said.

"There is still a huge opportunity for food to be grown here," she said. "I do not have to worry about having too many resources all of a sudden."