SEEKING PROVIDENCE: City lawmakers to decide fate of housing project

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The proposed site for Providence at the Heights shares a property line with neighborhood homes, causing concern for those residents.
Photo by Philip B. Poston/The Sentinel

It’ll be up to the Aurora City Council whether to allow a housing development aimed at helping people with disabilities and behavioral health problems experiencing homelessness.

The Aurora Planning and Zoning Commission denied a site plan for the project, called Providence at the Heights, unanimously in July. Second Chance Center, which will own the building, is appealing that ruling to city council members this month.

The building is slated to house 50 apartments, most of those one-bedroom units, in a three-story building, directly behind the Elevation Christian Church, near Tollgate Creek. The church is selling the land to the project.  Originally, the space was to be strictly for Second Chance Center clients, who are transitioning out of prison.

The Second Chance Center is an Aurora-based program offering services and aid to people leaving the corrections system.

But with more funding, from a variety of sources, came more caveats. Changes mean that residents could be parolees, but not necessarily. Second Chance Center will have no involvement in placing the residents, said Hassan Latif, Second Chance’s executive director. He’s hoping that Second Chance clients will be a part of the tenant group.

Tenants of the building would have to meet an income requirement, at or below 30 percent of median income. Services from Aurora Mental Health, Second Chance and various other agencies would be available for the residents. But it wouldn’t be required, Latif told the Sentinel.

Located at the southwest corner of Alameda Parkway and Joplin Street, the project would be just under a half-mile to a light rail stop, which Latif said is a significant detail for people who are coming out of homelessness and might not have the luxury of a car or being able to drive longer distances.

Latif said the units would also be near a lot of amenities important to the people who may be living at the location — including the Aurora Mall, municipal center, police department and library.

Planning and zoning commissioners said during the site plan hearing that the location was the wrong place for an otherwise good project.

Planning commissioner Dana Jackiewicz said during the meeting the church involved in the project should look at providing services like homework clubs or after-school facilities as opposed to the housing project.

The land belongs to Elevation Christian Church. Lead pastor Scott Bloyer said when the church moved to the location four years ago, church leaders knew they wouldn’t use that plot of land behind the church, but they did know they wanted to use it to further their mission in helping the community.

“This is who we’ve been since the very beginning,” Bloyer said, adding that the church and its congregation of between 200 and 300 people stand for “life-changing Jesus, and that may start with getting a place to live.”

There’s a lot of support from the surrounding community, Bloyer said. the residents who live directly behind the church have voiced their opposition to the project.

Second Chance says an overwhelming portion of city residents support their project, and they have data to show it.

A poll commissioned by the Colorado Criminal Justice Reform Coalition found 77 percent of those surveyed either somewhat or strongly support the new center. 401 Aurora residents were polled in late August on homelessness and affordable housing in addition to the specific Second Chance Center project on East Alameda.

The poll, performed by Public Policy Polling, also says 41 percent of participants think homelessness is a very serious problem in Aurora, nearly half believe a lack of affordable housing to be a very serious problem, and that 53 percent think the mayor and Aurora City Council are doing too little to address each of those issues.

“It’s a high stakes issue from the community,” Latif said. “That’s what I’ve gotten from it (the polling).”

For Leanne Wheeler, who serves on the board of the Colorado Criminal Justice Reform Coalition, the polling is an indicator that council should support the project.

“This is the type of community-supported solution that the city should be encouraging, not obstructing,” Wheeler said in a statement.

“The city council should afford this affordable housing development the same accommodation as other housing developments that received waivers under similar circumstances.”

One issue the location faces is parking. But between the parking lot and the parking lot at the church, Latif said he believes there’s more than enough for the tenants.

Latif said Second Chance is appealing the decision to the city council, and wants the public to know the truth about the project: “This would help people stabilize their lives,” he said. “We think our involvement and work really helps our clients. We have a recidivism rate of under 10 percent. So we think anyone experiencing these kinds of barriers could be helped here with the services available.”