“We are in the midst of an affordable housing crisis in Denver. And with great crisis, comes great opportunity.” – David Bowers

This month, we hosted Washington D.C.-based David Bowers from Enterprise Community Partners to challenge affordable housing norms and inspire creative solutions with our work on the Congregation Land Campaign.

This campaign, in partnership with Interfaith Alliance of Colorado, brings a promising model of affordable housing development to the state. We’re bridging the gap between the shortage of land available for affordable housing projects, and the thousands of acres of land throughout the state owned by faith-based organizations.

In doing so, we are able to address the essential need for housing, while supporting diverse congregations in advancing their values around community development. We’re currently working with five congregations throughout Colorado, and eager to expand our efforts.

Rising Housing Insecurity

  • Nearly 39 million U.S. households live in housing they cannot afford​.
  • Over 11 million renter households are severely cost burdened.
  • Assuming current trends, the number of severely cost burdened households would reach 14.8 million by 2025.
  • Over 579,000 Colorado households live in housing they cannot afford​.
  • Over 165,000 renter households are severely cost burdened.

The problem: scarcity of land

Land, whether vacant or under some previous use, is the basis of supply for new development. Land that is currently zoned for new residential development is in limited supply in Colorado. Shift Data Labs estimates indicate the current inventory can support five years of growth.

Limited land supply, coupled with household demand, has resulted in land valuations that have risen measurably since 2010, led by a significant jump in multifamily rental properties. Unless land is preemptively rezoned for residential development, developing un-entitled land will be a much more expensive proposition.

High income markets—e.g., Boulder, Douglas Counties—are the most challenging in which to find land. Developers say that reasonably priced land can still be found in markets like Colorado Springs. In highly competitive markets, market-rate developers are willing to pay above appraisal value for land or forgo appraisals entirely. This is not an option for affordable housing developers, as they are constrained by appraisals which can lag quickly changing land prices.

Increasing land costs impact more than the land price itself: they also make it more difficult for affordable housing developers to secure and hold land in order to prepare for a low income housing tax credit (LIHTC application) or other financing processes. Land prices and related site characteristics can also impact the type of development that is feasible and/or cost effective for affordable developments.

Architects report hearing from the developers with which they work that they are getting their “third choice” for land sites. Better partnerships with—and commitments by—local governments are needed to secure land and lay infrastructure for affordable housing.

The solution: activating congregation-owned land

Radian and Interfaith Alliance have designed a workshop series that integrates inclusivity and participatory design through the decision making process of activating congregations’ land.  We start with initial visioning and dreaming for who the land asset could impact and facilitate these ideas into an plan that is viable.

 

It’s their asset. We help them see the options, the needs, what can actually be built, and who can help them do it. We are serving as a facilitator to answer and guide faith based institutions through the complex process of activating land.  Some questions that come up are:

  • Who will live here?
  • How will we handle the land deal?
  • Where will finance come from?
  • How will this affect our parking and other land uses?
  • What about our own financial interests?
  • Who are the right partners for construction, property management, and service provision?

We are encouraged by the overwhelming response from congregations within the Denver-metro region to create community beneficial uses on their land.  We believe this model of activating congregation owned land is a viable way to move the needle on the affordable housing crisis and increase social equity within our communities. Colorado needs creative solutions for housing our residents, and this is one slice of the pie.

We are actively looking for new congregations who are interested in moving the needle on the housing crisis. If you’re interested in learning more about how to get involved in the Congregation Land Campaign, reach out to us here.