As Stapleton has developed, a number of committed volunteers have been meeting monthly to review the actual development against the vision in the Green Book (Stapleton’s Development Plan) and to work with Forest City on meeting the vision.
“Stapleton in many ways is better than what the Green Book called for,” says Jim Wagenlander, a Park Hill resident who has been on Stapleton’s Citizens Advisory Board for 23 years. “I don’t think any of us anticipated it would turn out as successfully as it has. And some people just want to talk about that. And maybe some don’t ever want to talk about that. I think both have to be discussed. In a few areas we’ve fallen short and I don’t think you sweep that under the rug. But that doesn’t dismiss the other successes.”
The Housing and Diversity Committee, which meets monthly, has been concerned for a number of years that the products that have been built at Stapleton don’t meet the goals and projections set in the Green Book for rental and affordable homes.
Rental and affordable homes are a key component of the social justice principles on which Stapleton was created. Two of the principles in the Green Book are: create a community that accommodates a diversity of people—ages, incomes, races, occupations and lifestyles…; and facilitate the development of affordable housing…through a broad mix of housing types, densities and price ranges.
The Stapleton Affordable Housing Plan states it “assumed that approximately 8,000 for-sale dwelling units and 4,000 multi-family rental units will be developed at Stapleton upon final buildout.” As of April 30, 15.3% of the total (all rental and for-sale combined) 6,350 units at Stapleton were rental, half the percentage “assumed” in the Housing Plan.
And Forest City’s contract calls for 10% of all for-sale units to be affordable. As of April 30, with a total of 5,380 for-sale units, only 4.78% were affordable (housing statistics are provided by Forest City each quarter).
Members of the Housing and Diversity Committee have been raising concerns that a range of factors, including the marketing of Stapleton, the cost of homes, and the lack of housing diversity, have contributed to a less diverse population than the Green Book envisioned (as shown in the photo above)—and that, in turn, has influenced how people perceive Stapleton.
Tom Gleason, vice president—public relations for Forest City Stapleton, Inc. says, “It is human nature to seek simple solutions for complex challenges. Forest City has created housing diversity at Stapleton that includes rental homes for low income families transitioning from homelessness, Somalian refugees, and others earning as little as 30% of the Area Median Income in addition to our market rate rentals that attract middle and upper income tenants. And, our for-sale housing, which in the early years started in the middle $100s for affordable and market rate homes and went to more than $1 million, has been marketed widely throughout the broad community, including communities of color.”
How is Stapleton perceived?
Angela Williams, a Stapleton resident and this area’s state representative answers, “Outside of Stapleton the perception is viewed as an upper class gated community. When you look at diversity from a socio-economic, housing and people of color perspective, we know it’s just not present at Stapleton and these areas could use improvement.”
Councilman Chris Herndon, when asked how he thinks Stapleton is perceived outside the community, says, “The perception of Stapleton runs the gamut…The vision of Stapleton is to be an inclusive community and there are some facets where we’re doing a really good job with inclusivity and there are certainly other factors we can do better on. When people look at the demographics of Stapleton along the lines of race, Stapleton is not a reflection of the city and county of Denver, so there are people that think from a race standpoint Stapleton is not as diverse as it could be…I wouldn’t say Stapleton is solely unique to have challenges along the lines of diversity, I would say they’re pretty similar to the challenges of other communities in Denver and far NE Denver.”
Kevin Marchman, board chairman of the Stapleton Development Corporation, says, “What I hear is that Stapleton is a gated community. I don’t think that, but I can see why you come to that conclusion…I come up here (the 29th Ave. Town Center) and shop. It’s not unusual to me that I’m the only black person there… People are asking me all the time, why isn’t Stapleton more diverse?”
Why don’t more people of color move to Stapleton?
At a recent Housing Diversity Committee meeting, Alice Kelly, a Park Hill resident who has been active in the Stapleton Citizens Advisory Board (CAB) for over 20 years, talked about an African American couple she knows who lived at Stapleton and moved to City Park North because they felt more comfortable there. Park Hill resident and recently named president of the Stapleton Development Corporation (SDC) Tammi Holloway said, “I think it’s almost too late (to change the perception of Stapleton).” She says she has friends who can afford to live at Stapleton and looked at Stapleton, but have chosen to drive longer distances and live further from the city because they don’t feel comfortable at Stapleton.
Angela Williams says, “Diversity is more than just affordable housing. We have a lot of different groups at Stapleton that are very active. Business groups, mom groups, singles groups, LGBT groups. But we do not have a group for people of color. We have a community at Stapleton that embraces inclusion for all residents. And we have a community that would put gates up around Stapleton if it were possible. People of color that have socio-economic status (to move here) have told me Stapleton just is not embracing. Park Hill is one of the most diverse embracing communities I know. You’ve got all kinds of people who live there. It’s a different feeling when you’re in Park Hill. It doesn’t matter what color you are.”
Why have rental and affordable for-sale housing lagged?
The Affordable Housing Plan states, “Forest City shall endeavor to develop or cause to be developed Affordable Housing Units at a pace consistent with the pace of development of market-rate housing at Stapleton.”
“That continues to be our endeavor” says Gleason, “but the affordable for-sale housing program has a number of challenges that has limited its success, not only at Stapleton but throughout the City of Denver. Gleason said those challenges include a limited pool of interested buyers who can qualify for a mortgage, restrictions on the amount of allowable appreciation and the restrictions the program places on owners when it comes time for them to sell their homes. “
Councilman Herndon, who is familiar with the city’s efforts to make affordable housing available to a greater number of people, says, “Economic conditions had a hand in changing the dynamics of the community. With that we had a lag in affordable housing product. It certainly prevents diversity from happening as fast as it could.” He also acknowledges the importance of timeliness, “because one thing we don’t want to do is build and not have the occupancy, so timing is always a key piece of development. We certainly want things as best as we can, but we have to make sure that the market conditions are right. But understanding that this (affordable housing) is a requirement, I appreciate Forest City as they continue to let us know as a city where we have challenges…and sit at the table with us and find ways we can better it.”
Although affordable for-sale homes are only at 50% of their goal relative to market priced homes that have been built (4.78% rather than 10%), Forest City has exceeded a requirement that 20% of all rental units be affordable, with 28.6% of rental units being affordable as of April 30.
Alice Kelly, at a Housing Diversity committee meeting, acknowledged that there was market pressure for single family homes. “The community was growing. Young people were looking for housing and that’s what they wanted.” She added that Forest City President John Lehigh has told her, in regard to housing products, “This development is market driven.”
But Kelly and Bev Haddon, President of the Stapleton Foundation, both said they think having one-third rental housing would have created a more diverse community.
Wagenlander agrees and points out, “This is the city’s property…If we don’t provide rental housing, we’re denying housing to a lot of young families and minorities and different groups that are well represented in Denver but have not been able to move to Stapleton.” He adds that Jim Chrisman, senior vice president at Forest City, has said Forest City will fill in now with more rental. “Even if that happens, the image of Stapleton is now being set,” says Wagenlander. “I don’t know of anybody who thinks of Stapleton as being diverse. The failure to get the one third rental units developed skewed the demographics for the community and that just becomes self-reinforcing.”
Kelly adds, “Years ago when the SDC Board was searching for a master developer…what attracted some of us to Forest City was that they had a terrific track record of building affordable housing all over the country. The vision of the Green Book is that you should be able to live where you work and work where you live whether you are a table waiter or a CEO.”
Damon Knop, a Stapleton resident says, “If I moved (I won’t), that would be why. Even if it’s 95% great, I would move because my kid goes to a school with all white people instead of how it was when I went to East. There were tons of rich people and tons of poor people and you’re just going to school together. At Stapleton it’s total keeping up with the Joneses going on here. It’s not what I thought I was buying.”
Tammi Holloway concurs with Knop about the value of a diverse community. “When I went to East, I didn’t know if I was rich or poor. Now I know. But when I was at East I didn’t know. The socio-economic status of your parents didn’t trickle down to you as a child. We all just got along.”
Gleason says, “The projection for one third rental units was for full build-out of Stapleton, and we are several years away from reaching that point. It is important to remember that the very earliest phases of development at Stapleton did include 466 units of rental housing. And since that time, 645 more units have been completed, with another 152 coming in the next three months.”
Is it too late?
Jim Wagenlander thinks it’s not too late to change the perception and a lot can still be done. “Forest City has said it needs to reflect market conditions and economics whenever the issue (of rental and affordable percentages) has been raised, but that’s avoiding the requirements that are contained in the documents they signed. If those agreements are followed, I believe the kind of diversity that was a goal and a commitment of Denver and Forest City and the community originally can be satisfied.”
Damon Knop acknowledges Forest City is catching up on the rental housing, but adds, “It’s kind of too late to change what Stapleton is looked at as. Whether we can change it a little here and a little there to make it more diverse as we build out, maybe. They say they will build the 10 percent (affordable for sale), but it’s hard to imagine they will save all their losses til the end.”
Tom Gleason says Forest City intends to honor that commitment, which is why it sets aside lots for “Income Qualified Homes” as it moves forward with the development of market rate homes. “We have the lots and we have the commitment, all we need are interested and qualified buyers. We would welcome more help from the Stapleton Citizens Advisory Board in attracting those buyers.”
What can be done to reach the goals?
Stapleton’s Citizens Advisory Board (CAB) has, for years, been writing an annual report to the Stapleton Development Corporation (SDC) saying the measurements for diverse housing aren’t being met and SDC has passed on the reports to Forest City. SDC board member Justin Ross, who has repeatedly spoken out on the issue said at the March SDC meeting, “As a board, we haven’t been very thorough with addressing the report over the years. We’ve been very lackluster at best… I can’t remember in my history where there’s been some real formative response to CAB’s report…we still have this affordable housing looming over our head that’s not being addressed. The numbers aren’t getting better.”
At an SDC meeting in January 2012, after intense discussions about what SDC should do, a motion was made to stop land sales to Forest City. It was voted on and didn’t pass. SDC then formed a committee to work with Forest City and the City to look at changes in the affordable housing program, which all agreed wasn’t working well. Forest City, the City and SDC worked to gain City Council approval of several measures to increase the potential for the Stapleton affordable for-sale program to succeed.
The changes will help existing homeowners sell their homes, “But,” added Justin Ross, “those changes weren’t an incubator for Forest City to build additional affordable housing. Affordable housing is a requirement at 10%. It is not up for discussion. We’re still drastically lacking and this board needs to do something about it.”
Tom Gleason says, “In addition to setting aside lots to meet the affordable for-sale commitment, Forest City will continue to work with the City of Denver and SDC to address the shortcomings of the program. Until the affordable for-sale program becomes more appealing and responsive to the needs of qualified buyers, it will continue to struggle. Members of the Stapleton Citizens Advisory Board were appointed to that position because they were considered active, credible members of their community. They can play an important role in creating a more racially and economically diverse community at Stapleton by more actively promoting the affordable housing program.”
With Forest City’s recent submission of a General Development Plan (GDP) for the large remaining parcel of land north of 56th Ave. (referred to as Section 10), the Citizens Advisory Board unanimously approved a resolution requesting that Forest City “take into consideration” putting an appropriate and adequate amount of affordable and market rate rental housing there. On June 26, the SDC board voted in favor of the resolution and Tom Gleason agreed Forest City would take the resolution into consideration. SDC also asked Forest City to bring a plan for meeting the housing goals to SDC’s August meeting.
“After 23 years, I have to be an optimist,” says Jim Wagenlander. “I think the city may have to be the one to engage itself in this process. That’s a shame because the whole concept of Stapleton was that the SDC board and the CAB would be the players to try to hold the developer to the vision and the legal requirements of the Green Book.”
Kevin Marchman, board chairman of SDC says, “I have made a personal commitment…I know the three decision makers over there (at Forest City), and we have to work together on this.
“I am extremely fortunate to have the experience I’ve received (as Assistant Secretary of Public and Indian Housing [U. S. HUD] and former executive director of the Denver Housing Authority [DHA]). What good is all that experience if I don’t do something in my own backyard? This project has the opportunity, before the window is closing.
“SDC has to step up. We’re the ones who signed the contract. I just want to make sure that we don’t continue to have the reputation that I sometimes hear we have.”