For a number of years our economy was on an unprecedented upswing. This economic boom led to double-digit increases in housing costs and a crisis in affordable housing in Colorado. Now, with a serious economic downturn and the loss of jobs and retirement savings, we may see an even greater need for affordable housing in our state. With a mission to “foster heritage preservation through tangible and highly visible projects for direct and demonstrable public benefit” the State Historical Fund (SHF) is proud to have provided funding to a number of projects over the past ten years which have involved organizations using historic sites to provide for, or support, affordable housing throughout the state.
Our most recent grant award impacting affordable housing went to Senior Housing Options, Inc., for work on the Barth Hotel on 17th Street in Denver. In January, the SHF awarded the organization $189,564 to restore one masonry wall; replace the roof, gutters, and downspouts; upgrade the elevator and radiators to meet current building codes; and upgrade the life safety system of the 1882 hotel. Another $200,000 in funding for the project is being provided by the City and County of Denver.
F. C. Eberly, a prominent architect who drafted plans for the Tivoli Brewery, designed the building. It has 62 units providing housing to very low-income seniors and individuals with disabilities. The median income of the residents is $6,600 per year, and the cost to maintain Senior Housing Options, Inc.’s programs is subsidized by the Medicaid Alternative Care Facility program. As Anne Warhover of Downtown Denver Partnership, Inc., stated in a letter of support for the grant application, “The housing need the Barth fills is critical to the downtown Denver population and its diversity.” The Barth Hotel provides much-needed housing to these low-income residents in a location that keeps them in a familiar neighborhood with access to public transportation, maintains diversity in an upwardly mobile community, and preserves part of Denver’s unique cultural heritage.
The 1873 Northern Hotel in Fort Collins, restored with assistance from SHF and other groups, also provides seniors with affordable housing. After 25 years of efforts by a number of groups, individuals, and the City of Fort Collins, the National Development Council and Funding Partners for Housing Solutions put together a funding package to restore the hotel’s lobby and Art Deco façade. The complex financial package included SHF grants totaling $450,000, Low Income Housing Tax Credit Equity, historic tax credits, and grants from the City of Fort Collins and the Fort Collins Downtown Development Authority. In addition to serving as the anchor for the north end of Fort Collins’s Historic Downtown District, the hotel now provides housing to low-income senior citizens.
A creative re-use project which received SHF support involved a 1999 grant made to the Housing Authority of the City of Pueblo, in association with El Centro Pueblo Development Corp. The project involved the rehabilitation of the historic Rood Candy Building, an early twentieth-century manufacturing facility, for use as apartment housing for low- and moderate-income families. The goal of the Housing Authority was to preserve and reuse this important Pueblo landmark and provide the affordable housing desperately needed by the community. The Housing Authority structured a financing package that included loans from Minnequa National Bank and the Colorado Division of Housing, and the use of Tax Credit Equity, but required additional funds to close the gap that existed in the construction funding. SHF provided $150,000 to fund masonry, door, and window restoration. The total budget for the rehabilitation project exceeded $3.4 million.
Another example of a re-use project involved the rehabilitation of the former Bains Department Store in Alamosa for mixed commercial and low-income residential use. The Fund provided $194,792 toward the $428,488 budget. The Bains Building in downtown Alamosa was built in the early twentieth century and is a symbol of the 1930s economic recovery experienced in that community. La Puenta Housing, which serves the San Luis Valley by providing emergency shelter, food assistance, and homelessness prevention activities, partnered with SHF, local savings and loans and banks, the Coors, Gates, and Boettcher Foundations, and a number of volunteer organizations to rehabilitate the Bains Building to provide “a demonstration project for the Alamosa community to show the feasibility of using a historic structure in meeting critical housing needs.” One goal of the project was to maintain the original skylights that provide natural light to the second floor hall. The architectural firm, Faleide Architects, P.C., accomplished the goal of preserving this character-defining feature by creating small “indoor porches” under the warm diffused light of the skylights. According to the architect, “the skylights have been linked very closely to the success of the rehabilitation of the building.”
Other projects that have benefited affordable housing efforts have included rehabilitation of the Lowell School in Colorado Springs for use as offices by the Housing Authority of Colorado Springs and associated organizations, and a number of traditional multi-unit residential projects which have included affordable units in their mix. These SHF projects show how organizations combining historic buildings and creative funding strategies can save our cultural heritage and address critical housing needs in our communities.