By Regan Foster
The focal point of the meeting room at Solid Rock Christian Center is a mural with a message: “Some of you will rebuild the deserted ruins of your cities. Then you will be known as a rebuilder of walls and restorer of homes.”
The biblical passage from the Book of Isaiah took on a special meaning Jan. 24, as Solid Rock Pastor Ben Anderson introduced a small-but-enthusiastic crowd to a plan to bring affordable housing to his 4.53-acre property in the heart of the Pikes Peak Park neighborhood.
“We want to … build something that Southeast Colorado Springs will be able to be proud of,” Anderson said. “We want to be able to bring something that is sustainable, that the rest of Colorado Springs will be able to look at and say, ‘They are really doing something special.’”
LAYING THE FOUNDATION
The roughly diamond-shaped property, at 2520 Arlington Drive, is bounded to the east and north by single-family homes, to the south by a storage facility and to the west by an apartment building. Whether within the roughly 6,888-square-foot church and conference center or outside on its sweeping lawns, the site is a hub for the neighborhood that surrounds it.
In the next few years, Anderson hopes to see the majority of the open space — including the existing parking lot, according to documentation at the Jan. 24 event — dotted with multi-family housing that is accessible to residents who work hard but don’t necessarily earn the incomes necessary to pay for housing elsewhere in the city.
The goal is for the units to be sustainable for those who earn 60 percent of the median income and below. In 2018, the median household earnings in the city were $61,324, according to the U.S. Census Bureau’s Quick Facts database.
To afford the average one-bedroom apartment in Colorado Springs, an employee must earn about $15.25 per hour, said Daryn Murphy, vice president of development for project developer Commonwealth Companies.
“We all know there’s a segment of the population out there that earns less than that,” he told the crowd.
BUILDING THE WALLS
Anderson, who is also the director of the Solid Rock Community Development Corp., has been pondering the idea of affordable housing on the undeveloped portion of the property for several months, if not longer. His congregation has partnered with Habitat for Humanity to build homes for those in need, but the idea of doing something closer to home was never far from his mind.
“We’re always … community-minded as a church, so we just kept talking about, ‘What can we do to continue the mission of community and fellowship in Southeast?’” Anderson said.
A housing conference spurred a slew of ideas and, with the guidance and partnership of the Interfaith Alliance of Colorado, the church worked through the early stages of finding a developer and exploring funding options. Community development block grants and Colorado Housing and Finance Authority assistance, among other financial outlets, could help keep down building costs to, in turn, keep rents low, Murphy said.
“All of these organizations came together to make sure it happens,” Anderson said.
Although the church owns the land on which the development will be built, the plan is for it to be sold to the community development corporation, which in turn will work with Commonwealth Companies to develop and build the units.
“The church benefits, the CDC benefits, the neighborhood benefits,” Anderson said.
But that’s still a ways down the road.
Before the ground’s ever broken, Anderson and his partners hope to get as much community feedback on the idea as possible. The housing plan is a work in progress, meaning everything from the number of units to building design and amenities is up for discussion.
Solid Rock and Commonwealth hope to host a series of community meetings to solicit ideas, like the one Harrison School District 2 Co-Superintendent Wendy Birhanzel raised at the Jan. 24 gathering. The curriculum development expert suggested offering before- and after-school care for resident children, which could include tutoring and district programming.
“These are the families we need to reach with resources,” Birhanzel said.
She also encouraged the developers to include neighborhood youth in the project. Harrison High School partnered with the city last year to provide students’ perspective on the nearby Circle Drive bridges, which are slated for replacement.
Birhanzel hoped to build on the success of that Student Ambassador Program to expose district youths to the many facets and career opportunities of a development project.
“Wouldn’t it be cool to have the workforce of Southeast build this and to have it resident-driven?” Anderson asked. “I think it’s doable. This project has to be the best in Southeast, so individuals’ property values are increased because of what we are building. There has to be a culture to it that is not only a Southeast culture but something people would be proud to live in, that’s sustainable for years to come.”
The planning phase is expected to take about a year, while Solid Rock simultaneously pursues the city’s blessing for the project. The property is zoned for single-family development, so it will need special permission to build multi-family dwellings.
On Feb. 5, Solid Rock filed for a zone change to multi-family residential for a church and two apartment buildings. The apartments would face Rainier Drive, the western edge of the property, and the plan includes parking and a new detention pond at the northeast corner of the site.
If everything goes according to plan, construction is anticipated to start in 2021. The hope is the development will be ready for leasing and occupancy in mid-2022.