Some of Denver’s most vulnerable homeless individuals are on a path to stability with the opening of Sanderson Apartments in September.
Developed by the Mental Health Center of Denver (MHCD), a nonprofit community mental health center that has been providing housing and services for over 25 years, the permanent supportive housing project includes 60 one-bedroom furnished apartments and wraparound services.
“What we know is that there’s an estimated 3,300 homeless in Denver every night. So opening up 60 more apartments doesn’t solve that problem, but it helps,” says Oriana Sanchez, MHCD’s director of real estate and facilities.
An important component to making Sanderson Apartments a reality has been funding through the city and county of Denver’s social impact bond, which uses funds from lenders to provide housing and supportive case management services for at least 250 homeless individuals who frequently use the city’s costly criminal justice system and emergency rooms.
Launched in February 2016, the pay-for-performance model drives resources to stable housing and supportive services for the chronically homeless, many of whom struggle with mental health or substance abuse issues.
To deal with those issues and help residents regain their independence, Sanderson Apartments has a robust services team with case managers, peer specialists, a nurse practitioner, a psychiatrist, vocational counselors, residential counselors, and safety officers that are available or on site.
The development team pushed the envelope by designing half of the project as common areas, or engagement space, and the remainder as apartment space. This allows ample opportunity for residents to interact with one another as well as the residential team and case managers, says Sanchez.
Amenities include a library, a wellness room, a community room with a TV and a full kitchen, art space, courtyards, and a community garden.
The development is also one of the first buildings in the nation to be built from the ground up using the principles of trauma-informed design.
“We know upward of 95% of residents will have experienced trauma somewhere along the way in their lives. Trying to design in a way that doesn’t retraumatize people was extremely important,” says Sanchez. “What we did was take the philosophy of providing trauma-informed care and put it into design.”
Trauma-informed design elements include open and safe spaces, natural light, an open stairwell, and wider hallways so residents don’t feel confined.
In addition to the social impact bonds, the $15.7 million development was financed with low-income housing tax credits allocated by the Colorado Housing and Finance Authority, with Enterprise Community Investment as the equity syndicator and American Express as the investor. It also received HOME funds from the city, a housing development grant from the Colorado Division of Housing, and a loan from the Colorado Housing Investment Fund. MHCD contributed the land for the development.
All of the units also have project-based Sec. 8 through the Colorado Division of Housing and the Denver Housing Authority so residents pay no more than 30% of their income on rent.
Additional partners on the development include financial consultant S.B. Clark Cos., development consultant SCB Consulting, architect Davis Partnership Architects, and general contractor Deneuve Construction Services.