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Former Johnson & Wales dorm halls to be transformed into affordable family housing

The four dorm halls will be remodeled into 154 affordable apartments.
Posted at 9:29 PM, Jan 05, 2023
and last updated 2023-01-06 00:29:48-05

DENVER — The residence halls on the former Johnson & Wales University Campus won't be empty for too much longer.

Construction will begin in a few weeks on the new affordable housing units that will soon be housed in the former Founders, Presidents, Johnson, and Wales halls. By next year, there will be 154 units ranging from studio to three bedrooms.

"This is an area of the city that is gentrifying really quickly. When we're looking at dorm buildings, it would have been really easy to transform those into studios and one bedrooms. But we and our design and construction partners really pushed to figure out how to create bigger units for families," said Julie Stern, director of real estate at Archway Communities.

They acquired the residence halls through a partnership with the Urban Land Conservancy, which worked with the Denver Housing Authority and Denver Public Schools to split up the buildings on campus for different uses.

The units will have rents affordable to people and families earning 60% of the area median income.

"That's about a $50,000 salary for a one person household, up to $70,000 for a four person household. There will also be a handful of units that we're setting aside for individuals and families at lower income levels, as well," said Stern.

The St. Elizabeth School has already moved into one campus building, while a Kitchen Network location has opened up in another. There are also plans to expand the nearby Denver School of the Arts into other buildings.

"I think this campus is beautiful. I've always felt like it was a bummer that the university wasn't here anymore, and that it was empty. So if it can be used for affordable housing, I think that's awesome," said Justin Isaacson, who moved nearby a few months ago.

Several neighbors Denver7 spoke to were happy to hear the project was moving forward, while others told us they are cautious of the project's unintended impacts, including more population and traffic in what they describe as an already congested area.

"I fully support affordable housing programs. However, I was a bit concerned," said Kathleen Homan, who bought a house across the street from the campus 10 years ago. "I am concerned just with the safety of having a young child in the area. I want to make sure that we're providing a safe area. And increased cars also means increased concern for any pedestrian."

Homan also said with the number of people in need already in the South Park Hill area, she hopes there's enough extra resources for those who will seek out the new affordable housing.

"I just want to make sure the resources are there, and our infrastructure is in place before we add additional residents to our neighborhood. That would be my concern. Do we have enough cops available? Are our schools prepared for the increase to having children in the area?" said Homan.

Archway Communities said any of their affordable housing projects do come with resources for their residents.

"The services we provide at all of our communities include things like a weekly food bank in partnership with Food Bank of the Rockies, lots of activities for kids — a kids club, and lots of math and science stuff. And then we really try to listen to what the community is saying they need, so it could be career support at some of our communities," said Stern, "We have lots of immigrants and refugees, and we would provide English language support citizenship classes. So we'll do the same here when we open and we start creating our community."

Financing for the affordable housing project came from grant and loan funds from the Colorado Division of Housing and the City of Denver's Department of Housing Stability, proceeds from the sale of federal and state low-income housing, tax credits to Hudson Housing and Chase Community Capital, and debt financing from Boston Capital and Western Alliance Bank.

For those interested in getting on a waitlist of the properties set to open in 2024, visit Archway Communities' website.