Meet John Parvensky, president of the Colorado Coalition for the Homeless since 1986.
During the past 20 years, the Coalition has developed 1,600 units of quality housing for homeless and extremely low-income households.
Parvensky tells us about his latest project, which combines housing and health care for some of the neediest families in Denver.
What was your path into affordable housing?
I started working on affordable housing issues while in law school in 1978, working with low-income neighborhood groups in Philadelphia. I was researching mortgage redlining and developing Community Reinvestment Act organizing strategies on housing issues. In 1985, I began working with the Colorado Coalition for the Homeless focusing on lasting solutions to homelessness. Developing affordable and supportive housing was, of course, the most critical need. Over the past 20 years, we have been able to develop 1,600 units of quality housing for homeless and extremely low income households. It is great to see the CRA continue to incentivize investments by banks in the creation of affordable housing.
How is the homeless and low-income population changing in Denver?
Denver has gone from one of the most affordable to one of the least affordable cities in the last decade. Consequently, we are seeing an increase in homelessness among families with children, single adults, veterans, and youth. The Mayor’s Housing Task Force estimates a need for 27,000 new units of housing in Denver for households below 30 percent of the area median income. The number of homeless children attending our schools in Colorado now exceeds 23,000, and too many families are crowding into motel rooms as the de-facto affordable housing. The lack of affordable housing options is making ending homeless nearly impossible.
Tell us a little about your latest development:
In August, we finished the Renaissance Stout Street Lofts and Stout Street Health Center—an integrated health-care and housing development in Downtown Denver. It combines a 78-unit low-income housing tax credit (LIHTC)-financed supportive-housing project with a 54,000-square-foot New Market Tax Credit (NMTC)-financed health center providing medical, mental health, substance treatment, dental, vision, pharmacy, and social services for more than 13,000 homeless and at-risk individuals and families. The first two floors house the Health Center, with three floors of housing above. The Coalition operates both the supportive housing and the Health Center. Combining traditional LIHTC and NMTC financing structures, while complicated, helped us leverage more than $35 million for this development. The housing leased up in three weeks, with many residents moving directly from the streets to brand new homes.
How is your organization changing?
The Coalition continues to grow to meet the increasing needs of homeless families and individuals in Colorado. We are becoming a “trauma-informed” organization, recognizing and addressing the traumatic experiences of those we serve in our housing and service programs. We are also being called upon to continue to think “outside the box” to expand our capacity to develop more housing and integrated health services for the most vulnerable in our community. This includes combining 9 percent LIHTC and private-activity bond financing to create additional housing units.
What has encouraged you this year?
While controversial in some sectors, the Affordable Care Act has been a game changer for homeless and low-income individuals and families in Colorado. Through expanded eligibility for Medicaid, and our focused outreach and enrollment activities, we have been able to decrease our uninsured patients from 85 percent to 35 percent, and we expect this to drop below 25 percent by the end of the year. This expands health care and supportive service options for those we house, while improving health status for these individuals and decreasing unnecessary emergency health care costs for the community.
What has discouraged you this year?
The continuing impact of sequestration on the HUD budget, particularly cuts to the homeless assistance and Sec. 8 programs which are devastating to those we serve. It is unconscionable that Congress is trying to balance the budget on the backs of the most vulnerable families and individuals in our country.
If you could add any feature amenity to your developments, what would it be?
We have been able to incorporate health centers, child care, a Pizza Fusion restaurant, coffee shops, community centers, a YMCA fitness center, urban gardens, and swimming pools in our developments to date. The one thing we would love to add is a healthy grocery store that meets the needs of our residents and the community in our food deserts.
Favorite way to spend a Saturday:
I love to bicycle through the mountains of Colorado or through the streets of Denver. I love it when I can combine a long bike ride to one of our construction sites or developments to gauge progress or hear from those we house about how things are going.
If you could take a crash course on any subject, what would you like to learn?
I would like to study housing economics to learn how to demonstrate to policy makers and civic leaders why it is not reasonable to expect the private market to provide sufficient housing opportunities for the lowest-income households without a significantly increased public investment in creating affordable housing.
What’s next for John Parvensky?
We plan to break ground on a 103-unit, TOD project in Northeast Denver in October. Then I am taking my wife for a two-week trek to Patagonia, Chile, for some R and R. Longer term, I hope to develop new partnerships that allow us to expand the resources needed to build sufficient affordable and supportive housing to meet the needs in our communities –both at the policy level and at individual development level. I will be chairing the board of directors of the National Coalition for the Homeless for another year as we work to expand rental assistance opportunities across the country.