Denver Catholics answer America’s affordable housing crisis

Guadalupe Apartments color rendering. (Credit: Archdiocese of Denver and Catholic Charities of Denver.)

DENVER, Colorado – In Denver, winter has surely begun. With freezing temperatures and snowfall in the forecast, people with little or no access to affordable housing need options – and, thanks to the Catholic Charities of Denver, among others, and their “Guadalupe Apartments” complex, they’ve got a brand new one.

Justin Raddatz, Executive Director of Archdiocesan Housing, Inc., told Crux, “Archdiocesan Housing wants to be known as the group that will take on the toughest of projects, serving the poorest of the poor – that’s why we exist.”

Last Friday in Greeley, Colorado, Raddatz’s organization was able to celebrate a success.

With studio, one- and two-bedroom units available for qualifying applicants, the “Guadalupe Apartments” had its grand opening, with Archbishop Samuel J. Aquila of Denver in attendance, to give the new three-story building a formal blessing.

Aquila and Catholic Charities were joined in the celebration by other partners in the project, such as U.S. Bank, the Colorado Department of Housing, and the City of Greeley. Building the structure took 16 months, with a price tag of $13.5 million.

“It truly took an entire community to bring this great project together,” Raddatz said.

“Guadalupe Shelter” is located on the same site as the new Guadalupe Apartments. The shelter serves the homeless with 60 beds.

The housing residence will offer support services such as mental health referrals and assessments and employment resources. On top of the secular help, there are Catholic touches too, including a chapel across the street offering occasional Masses along with the perpetual presence of the Blessed Sacrament.

The building itself, of course, is named for Our Lady of Guadalupe.

“We hope that the true spirit of Christ is felt through the mercy, love, and compassion we will try to infuse in every interaction we have with residents and community partners,” Raddatz said in an email exchange with Crux.

“We welcome residents and employees of all faiths, and we hope that the joy in our works reveals the face of Christ to all we encounter,” he said.

Weld County, where Greeley is located, was in dire need of such a structure. Raddatz said the county is an acute example of the need for affordable housing, saying data demonstrated “at least 300 homeless households in Weld County, and our experience operating Guadalupe Shelter since 2010 confirmed the need.”

Greeley is hardly the only city suffering from a shortage of affordable housing, however.

The Washington Post reported recently on a new report from Freddie Mac, a government agency designed to promote home ownership, showing that the pool of apartments marked as “affordable” for low-income families across the country shrunk by over 60 percent between 2010 and 2016.

“We have a rapidly diminishing supply of affordable housing, with rent growth outstripping income growth in most major metro areas,” said David Brickman, executive vice president and head of Freddie Mac Multifamily.

“This doesn’t just reflect a change in the housing stock,” he said.

Brickman said that without government subsidies, affordable housing is disappearing. After the housing crisis of 2008 there were many more renters who had lost their homes and the vacancy rate was greatly reduced, which, combined with few buildings going up, gave the country significantly higher rents.

In the wake of recent devastating hurricanes, nobody should be surprised about how much damage extreme weather can also add to a city’s woes and its housing costs. Raddatz mentions that the consequences of 2013 floods in Colorado are still part of the problem, particularly for those in Greeley.

The floods, he said, “left many without homes or the resources to rebuild, [and] many of these people still have not recovered.” That background became a driving force for Archdiocesan Housing and others who worked to put the project together.

“We thought the combination of the Guadalupe Shelter, the Guadalupe Apartments, and service-enriched programming was a perfect continuum-of-care campus to help the most vulnerable in Weld County,” Raddatz said.

Paying for it, however, continues to be a concern.

“All of the project was funded by an array of Federal, State, and local subsidies,” Raddatz said. “These subsidies are limited, and competition for them is fierce. So even the best-equipped organization, with the most authentic commitment to building an affordable housing project, is subject to some very intense constraints.”

Creativity about funding, he said, is key, even while continuing working “through the typical channels.” He describes a process in 2016 in which the archdiocese bought existing apartment buildings, something they could do free of some of the confines of conventional financing. They’re hoping, he said, to find other such projects, as well as traditional ones like the Guadalupe Apartments.

Despite the difficulties of funding, the headaches of bureaucracy and competition, and the long and complex timelines, Raddatz is committed to continuing to provide affordable housing for those most in need.

“Developing and managing affordable housing for the poorest of the poor can be exponentially more challenging. But we persevere because we our serving a purpose much bigger than ourselves, and I believe that is why we have been successful.”

After all, he said, “we’re trying to bring the healing ministry of Jesus Christ to the poor and most in need. However, it’s in the poor that we see the face of Christ ourselves.”

And with winter nipping at our heels, there’s no forgetting what is at stake.

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