Seeing the impact stable, affordable housing can have on a person’s life is what drew Jeff Martinez to development.
“It can really change someone’s entire world to know they have a roof over their head,” he said. “When you see firsthand how that changes their lives, it makes you want to be involved with helping make that happen.”
Martinez is president of the Denver-
based nonprofit Brothers Redevelopment, which provides housing and housing-related services to low-income individuals.
The Denver native has been with Brothers for about 12 years; he previously served as vice president of programs and public affairs with the organization.
He graduated from Metropolitan State in Denver with a bachelor’s degree in journalism.
“I wanted to be a reporter, but I ended up working in public relations a few years before coming to Brothers,” Martinez said.
His professional experience includes providing public affairs programs and strategies for the city of Aurora, Solis Advertising & Public Relations, Kaiser Permanente and the Denver Regional Council of Governments.
Martinez spoke with the Business Journal this week about affordable housing challenges in his hometown and bringing Brothers to Colorado Springs.
How did you get into the affordable housing industry?
I worked as a public relations professional for many, many years after college. I worked for a couple of places, including the city of Aurora. … When I started, my part of town that I really represented was the Colfax corridor in North Aurora, called Original Aurora. At that time, they had decommissioned both the Lowry Air Force Base and then the Fitzsimons Army Medical Center and that was having a big impact on those nearby neighborhoods. But the city had really pegged that area for future development and our office at the time was responsible for championing a lot of the changes that the neighbors in those areas were going to see, including the redevelopment of both campuses. The city had spent a considerable investment to redevelop a little area they called the Fletcher Plaza enhancement area, and with that came not only the construction of a new [Martin Luther King Jr.] Library and community center, but also an affordable housing component.
That was really my first exposure to how cities and community partners can work together to spur affordable housing opportunities for people who need it. It was really a strategic investment because of all the growth the city was planning. … They really wanted to see some workforce housing built. The city administered a great deal of its entitlement, its community block grant funding, and did some other things to do that big redevelopment. I got to be the one who was really articulating that vision. … I grew up in Aurora, so for me, it was really rewarding, because those were my old stomping grounds. I graduated from Aurora Central High School and it was neat to be able to kind of be the tip of that spear, at least on the narrative of what people were going to see and what they could expect with the redevelopment.
Talk about Brothers Redevelop-ment’s mission.
We are a nonprofit that was established in 1971 to provide housing and housing-related services for low-income elderly and disabled residents primarily on the Front Range. But now, we have a bigger footprint across multiple states. The primary and most impactful way that we help our clients is through the provision of housing with our multiple programs. Right now, we have 13 affordable housing communities, providing 527 affordable apartments to seniors and folks with disabilities. Those populations comprise the bulk of who we serve with our portfolio, and then about a third of our portfolio serves low-income families. We’re building our 14th community right now in partnership with the city of Aurora. We’re building a 39-unit community that will open in July of this year, right near the Fitzsimons campus that will serve families and, we hope, veteran heads of household.
We also provide a lot of services to help folks stay in their homes longer and safely, which means helping them maintain their homes. In Colorado Springs right now, we have a home modification repair program. With that program, we will go in and make modifications and repairs on behalf of clients. … Mainly those are repairs that would help seniors age in place — stay in their homes longer. So we’re talking about installing wheelchair ramps and grab bars and stair glides and widening the doorways and changing out flooring to accommodate walkers and wheelchairs.
We do remodels of kitchens and bathrooms to accommodate disability or chronic illness. … We can do pretty much anything across that gamut of modifications and repairs. … We work in partnership with the city of Colorado Springs, and we’re really excited to be doing that now about three years. Another service we provide is housing counseling and rental counseling for clients. We also offer that service in Colorado Springs and that’s funded in part by the state’s division of housing. …
We also have our call center, Colorado Housing Connects, where folks can call us from all over the state for any housing-related question or need that they might have and we’ll help them better understand it or make some quality referrals. We also started to work in partnership with the state Department of Health Care Policy and Financing and the Division of Housing to help recruit landlords and property owners who want to avail their apartments or homes to people with housing vouchers. We really put our focus in helping people coming out of skilled nursing and nursing homes trying to transition back in the community. … We do a lot under that housing continuum and we continue to seek other ways that we can help and serve.
How is building an affordable community different from building a new apartment complex?
I think it mainly comes down to the expense. We, as a nonprofit — we’re going to look to a lot of public resources to help us develop a site. And we’ll look for those public resources generally, to help us acquire land and to help cover the soft costs with all the site work and site planning. … The difference between affordable housing providers and for-profit providers is we’re going to look for financial assistance from public entities because we’re going to need that because we’re going to have to keep the rents very low. That really challenges us from going out and tapping into a lot of conventional financing. So for us, that means a lot of relationship building with public agencies and local governments and the state folks. We want to build as many of those relationships as possible. It also requires us to generally pursue things like tax credits, where we will go through the Colorado Housing and Finance Authority. We’ll also look at other products to help finance the construction because, at the end of the day, we’re not here to make huge dollars. There really isn’t a ton of money to be made in affordable housing. So in order to make an asset affordable to develop, it requires a lot of deep subsidy.
Can you elaborate on the subsidies and tax incentives?
For our Aurora community, we received funding for construction from several public sources. Usually, you have a lot of participating jurisdictions that will avail some of their entitlement dollars toward the construction of new affordable housing. The state also will pitch in substantially depending on the size of the project to support those efforts. CHFA, through the awarding of tax credits, will also help to get us substantial funding for construction, and then from there, you also layer those public sources with other more conventional funding from banks or other financial institutions. … When you go in, if you’re doing an affordable deal, you might need six to nine different sources of funding to make a deal work — to help you close those gaps for funding.
Why aren’t more affordable housing projects being built?
Like I said, it is expensive. When you build a project, regardless of the type, there are the same costs associated. So take our $14 million community in Aurora being built — that would be the same cost no matter if we were doing it for affordability or if we were doing a market rate development. The difference is on the market side — their performance goals are going to look a lot different because they’ll be able to have rent there too, to essentially cover the costs of things over time. Whereas with us, we’re going to have the subsidies because we’re offering rents at usually 30 to 40 percent of area median income. And we’ll keep those affordable over 20 to 40 years. In Denver, they’re saying if they layer in a subsidy, they want rents lower for 60 years.
Why should a developer consider investing in an affordable housing project?
For us, it’s because of the need. We’re here to serve. If folks don’t have housing, they don’t have hope, they don’t have the ability to earn a living, they don’t have the stability that leads to them being a functioning or a contributing member of society.
How important is it for a city to have affordable workforce housing?
When we look at workforce housing, we’re looking at those folks who are integral to providing those services that businesses and communities really need. For instance, in Aurora, we know that they’re going to have this great campus there. And it’s going to have doctors and nurses and there’s going to be the teaching hospital with professors and administrators, but there are also folks who work on the administrative staff, like receptionists. There are folks who work on maintaining the facility; there are folks who are cashiers in the cafeteria. With workforce housing, we’re really trying to make rents affordable for those folks who are providing integral services but may not have the highest incomes.
What happens if a city doesn’t address the affordable housing issue?
You’re going to see a lot of jobs not being filled, because people won’t be able to live close enough to work there. A lot of the jobs I’m talking about are jobs that are integral to the functionality of businesses. … Small businesses suffer when folks can’t find a place to live, because they can’t fill their workforce needs.
Have you ever run into the challenge of neighbors not wanting an affordable project nearby?
I think most folks are normally supportive of the concept, but they also are concerned about the impact to their property. … They do have concerns. That’s why we must do everything we can as affordable housing providers to be good neighbors, and work with our neighbors and educate them on how we mitigate the impacts of density to the best of our ability. It’s talking about parking and how we manage our communities in a way that doesn’t bring any negative impact to that neighborhood. We maintain the grounds, have quiet hours after 10 p.m. … We have house rules and we really strive to make it a comfortable place for the people who are going to call it home. It’s also acclimating the neighbors to who we will serve with the new community, which for us is mostly seniors.
Has Brothers considered building an affordable housing community in Colorado Springs?
Absolutely. It’s on our radar. As we expand our services in Colorado Springs and throughout the Pikes Peak area, we are definitely interested in building there. It certainly will take some more partners moving forward, but we’ve had some preliminary conversations with folks. We still would need to get a better understanding into some of the needs and the growth that’s projected for the area, but if we had an opportunity to develop and acquire land in Colorado Springs, we would definitely take a look at it.