DENVER — Billie Whitecalf has lived in the same low income complex along the West Colfax corridor for more than a decade, but has no idea where she’ll live come April. “I don`t know where to go. I mean I can`t take my animal out on the street , it`s cold outside,” said an emotional Whitecalf.
She’s among two dozen residents being forced out by the redevelopment of nine square blocks near the old St. Anthony Hospital between Sloan’s Lake and West Colfax Avenue.
Residents of the Autumn Arms complex received letters on February 18, saying “you must vacate your apartment by March 31, 2015.”
The notice from the Saint Anthony’s Group LLC states “we understand that moving is a difficult and stressful process.”
Residents of the Autumn Arms, many of whom are elderly, disabled and low income, say moving will be more than stressful.
“I’m up the creek without paddle,” said 68-year-old Joyce Cheepo. The long-time resident says finding another two-bedroom for she and her husband at $650 a month will be impossible. “There’s no more $650 apartments,” said Cheepo who is dependent on an oxygen machine to breath. “I`ve lived here since 2002. When I became terminally ill I thought this was my home.”
Thanks to a housing voucher Whitecalf pays $360 a month for rent. A developer with the Saint Anthony’s Group LLC tells us the complex is being renovated into market rate apartments. When it reopens this summer, rents for a one-bedroom unit are expected to go for $900 a month, far more than most of the residents say they could ever afford. “It`s a major shock, it`s a major shock. I think I grew some more white hairs. I don`t know where I`m going to go,” cried Whitecalf.
Rick Padilla is Denver’s Directior of Housing and Neighborhood Services and he has nothing encouraging to say to the residents of the Autumn Arms. “The average rent in the city for a one-bedroom is $1,100 to $1,300, it`s very expensive.”
The Denver Housing Authority won’t be much help. Last year 18,000 people entered a lottery for 1,000 housing subsidy vouchers. This year 23,000 people have applied.
In October, Mayor Michael Hancock held an affordable housing summit.
At the time he said the city intended to build 3,000 units of affordable housing in five years but admitted it’s not nearly enough. “If we are to build a world-class city where everyone matters, we must have a housing infrastructure in which everyone who works hard and plays by the rules can find affordable housing for their families,” said Mayor Hancock.
The redevelopment of the old St. Anthony Hospital neighborhood shows the renaissance of Denver but also the challenges for long-time residents now being priced out of their own neighborhood. “It`s impossible, because there`s no way we`re going to find housing in the next 5 weeks. There`s no way,” complained Whitecalf.
Affordable housing is defined as not having to spend more than 30 percent of your income on housing. In Denver, more than half of all renters make $30,000 a year or less, making it incredibly difficult to spend only 30 percent of your income on rent.