Episode 79: A New Model for Public Housing at Sun Valley

Erin Clark, Chief Real Estate Investment Officer for the Denver Housing Authority, takes us into the story of the Sun Valley Redevelopment, in which 300 public housing units are being replaced and expanded to more than 900 units in a neighborhood plan shaped by long-time residents.

A playground structure in the shape of a fox outside Thrive housing. Credit Denver Housing Authority
Graphic for Episode 79 of Mpact Podcast shows a fox play structure outside an affordable housing development with an inset photo of podcast guest Erin Clark

The Sun Valley Redevelopment, a project of the Denver Housing Authority, is a multi-phase effort to replace and expand affordable housing options in one of the most diverse and low income neighborhoods in Denver. As Erin Clark explains on this podcast, the intentional efforts to work with residents to determine the elements of the redevelopment make it a model for a new kind of public housing.

Clark describes several years ago riding her bicycle along the South Platte River and seeing the then Sun Valley Homes, townhouses built in the 1950s. The community of Sun Valley, bounded by the river and three major roadways (Colfax, Federal Boulevard and 6th Street), was cut off from the rest of Denver. Generations grew up here, Clark says, in a very diverse community where up to 30 different languages were spoken. It also was an area with vacant land and giant oil storage tanks. 

The redevelopment of Sun Valley started with station area plans for the W Line light rail, part of the expansion of transit in Denver funded by FasTracks. A general development plan for the area followed and led to HUD Choice Neighborhoods planning and implementation grants.

Map of Sun Valley Homes - Denver Housing AuthorityThe design of the new Sun Valley, Clark says,

  • increases housing, replacing the 333 original units with more than 900,
  • responds to community needs – for open space, food access, family support and connectivity.

The first new buildings to open include a grocery store, Decatur Fresh Market, stocked with fresh produce and staples requested by community members. The neighborhood kids voted on the kinds of play structure they wanted to see. Architects listened to community desires for safe play spaces, a variety of unit sizes (up to 5 bedrooms) as well as more flexible spaces within each unit, such as big kitchens, common areas and laundry rooms.

The majority of the more than 900 new units are permanently income restricted because they are owned by the Denver Housing Authority. Yet, Clark says, the array of new buildings also provides the ability for people to stay in the neighborhood as their incomes and situations change. One building still to come, Flo, will be 100% affordable and designed for seniors and disabled residents. The new Sun Valley also features a redesigned street grid and environmental remediation. Construction starts soon of an 11-acre park along the river with spaces for contemplation and play. 

“Anyone who’s working in affordable housing, we are not in the business of concentrating poverty. We are in the business of building great homes for people that they can actually afford. . . . We can invest, we can replace the housing stock without replacing the sense of neighborhood, the sense of community. How do we capture that and build on it? That’s what we really sought to do in Sun Valley.” – Erin Clark

Unedited Transcript: Mpact Podcast Episode 79: A New Model for Public Housing at Sun Valley, with Erin Clark, Chief Real Estate Investment Officer, Denver Housing Authority

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