DENVER — In Denver’s Cole neighborhood, a blighted block where neighbors say violence and rundown homes were an eyesore for decades has now reopened as luxury-style affordable apartments.
“We've been working with homeless families for a long time, about 35 years. And so we're always looking for good places for our families to live,” said Jeff Johnsen, CEO of Mile High Ministries.
Johnsen lives in Cole and noticed the blighted block while walking his dog.
“I began walking around the property, praying and dreaming and imagining what could be here," he said. “We didn't know it would take 20 years to do something about it.”
Johnsen said it was a long process to raise the money needed to buy the property and develop affordable housing.
“It's been a movement of generosity just right from the start,” he said. “We had really good support from the city and from the state. But we also raised a lot of private philanthropy in order to help make it affordable.”
Now that the apartments are built, “we can make it over the long haul now, because of that generosity upfront to build it,” he said.
To live at the Clara Brown Commons, residents have gone through a months-long approval process based on their income and other factors. Many of the people moving in have longtime connections to the neighborhood, and some are even extended family.
"We've got a grandma living on one floor, and her granddaughter living on the floor down below her, which really is how community ought to be. It ought to be multi-generational,” Johnsen said.
Robert Smith, who moved to the apartments from Denver’s Five Points neighborhood, said he feels “stress-free now” and is excited about the benefits these new apartments will bring to the neighborhood and the city’s economy.
For Latia Mosely and her daughter, Malia Rainey, who are moving in this week, the “waiting game” of applying for an apartment has been worthwhile. “I'm excited. I'm happy,” Mosely said.
“I'm a native of Colorado, and I grew up in this neighborhood,” she said.
But now that she’s a mom, Mosely couldn’t afford most housing options in Cole anymore. Now, at the Clara Brown Commons, she said she has mountain views, new stainless steel appliances, an in-unit washer and dryer and shared community spaces where her daughter can play and make friends.
"To have this and be able to know I won't have to stress or worry about how I'm going to pay for a roof over me and my kid's heads is amazing,” she said.
Right next door, Habitat for Humanity built townhouses that are also available at an affordable price. And longtime residents in Cole said they’re glad to see the previously run-down block given a new life.
Johnsen said the apartments were only possible because of the generosity of donors. That’s why the complex was named after Clara Brown, a former slave who was reportedly the first Black woman to go west during Colorado’s Gold Rush.
“She was an entrepreneur, she was a philanthropist, she was a remarkable human being who cared for others,” Johnsen said.
Lovingly known as Aunt Clara, she built a successful laundry business and used her wealth to help other freed slaves and support Colorado’s first Methodist church.
“It's a delight for us to name the place after her. And that helps us to be reminded of her story every single day, to think about her resilience, her generosity, the love that she showed all the time,” he said.
If you're interested in applying for an apartment at the Clara Brown Commons, you can contact the management company Ross-Envolve at email@example.com or 720-990-3924.