Aug 1, 2022

With expertise in equitable development, educational outreach, and group facilitation, Morgan Turner serves as CCLP's Community Engagement Director. She previously served as Program Manager for Mile High Connects.

Recent articles

Going Green Without Gentrification

by | Aug 1, 2022

A key focus among advocates and decision-makers in the housing sector are policies and programs geared towards supporting communities that are safe, thriving, and affordable for the residents who inhabit them. But efforts to improve quality of life are often a two-edged sword. Gentrification—the process of urban development in which a neighborhood develops rapidly over a short time, changing from low to high value—results in the displacement of existing low-income residents as higher-income individuals move in. Tight-knit communities are torn apart, immeasurable historic and cultural value is destroyed, and once-affordable housing is lost forever. Neighborhoods of color end up disproportionately harmed, rather than benefiting, by what might otherwise be seen as positive civic transformation. 

The need to mitigate this harm only grows by the day, as cities continuously “reinvent” themselves and housing unaffordability rises to the level of crisis across the country. Individual well-being depends tremendously upon access to not only housing, but to a stable community. Preserving long-standing communities in the face of development pressure is therefore critical to housing policy that truly intends to foster greater quality of life for a city’s residents.  

In recent years, housing and climate justice advocates have started to take a closer look at the impact of “greening” neighborhoods—in particular, the ways in which improved public amenities, such as new parks, more tree coverage, and investment in sustainable infrastructure, result in increased rents and property values. This phenomenon is called green gentrification, and as with other forms of gentrification, the consequence is the displacement of lower-income residents and people of color. 

It is important to note that greening on its own is not a bad thing. “Sustainable investment,” “greening,” and “green infrastructure” projects can come from a place of good intention. These efforts might include creating new parks, increasing access to transit or bike lanes, and even updating sidewalks in neighborhoods that have experienced historic disinvestment. In fact, research shows that greening can have positive impacts on health, including reduced exposure to air pollution, improvements in mental health, and increased adoption of healthy behaviors like physical activity. But too often we see that new investments aimed to promote health, sustainability, and access to natural spaces serve instead as tell-tale signs for existing residents to pack their bags.  

It is critical that cities continue to invest and increase access to outdoor spaces and clean transportation. However, cities also cannot expect low-income residents and neighborhoods of color to reap the benefits of greening if existing residents cannot remain in the long-time neighborhoods they helped to build. 

 

The challenge… and perhaps a key to the solution 

The challenge before us is complex: how can cities equitably invest in greening and sustainable infrastructure, ensuring increased quality of life in communities disproportionately impacted by historic disinvestment… while also mitigating the gentrification and displacement which denies those same communities the opportunity to share in those improvements?  

One part of the solution, however, appears to be simple: Green investments must be centered in community voice and lived experience. Authentic and open conversations with communities is a great place to start.  

In June, as part of a national peer-to-peer cohort, alongside Energy Outreach Colorado, Conservation Colorado, Southwest Energy Efficiency Project, and Colorado Cross-Disability Coalition, Colorado Center on Law and Policy hosted a community forum to discuss the impact of green gentrification in the Denver region. This cohort, Towards Equitable Electric Mobility (TEEM), aimed to ensure that electric mobility investments—also a type of greening—would advance equity among communities disproportionately impacted by climate change and a current lack of clean mobility options. 

In the forum, we posed the following question to community members:  

“How does Colorado, a state associated with vibrant days, sustainability, and the outdoors, continue to advocate for greening communities without further displacing them?”  

While the forum did not settle on a simple solution, participants made one thing clear: community must be involved. Community members with lived experiences and expertise need a seat at the table to make critical decisions about their communities, just as city officials, planners, and other decision-makers already do. All too often, however, community members are not invited to participate. Indeed, communities are often driven away, passively and actively, from the process.  

One community member shared that, “People tell us we do not know enough; we [are] made to feel that we are not smart enough to sit at [these] tables.” It became clear through the ensuing discussion that residents of impacted neighborhoods care deeply about what happens to their communities, but civic development processes do not always provide communities adequate opportunity to express their needs and desires, or to showcase the brilliance found among their residents. 

We know that hosting one community forum is simply not enough to properly engage with and value a community. It does not single-handedly solve the significant structural challenges that come alongside economic growth and sustainable investment. Based on the engagement and dialog of this event, however, such efforts appear to be at least a first step—of many—in centering community voice in planning green investments, and thus ensuring that “greening” can equitably benefit low-income residents and communities of color.  

Be sure to keep a look out for details on the next Colorado TEEM cohort event where we will continue the conversation with the communities most at risk of displacement, and work toward shaping solutions which will help mitigate green gentrification! 

Recent articles

HEALTH:
HEALTH FIRST COLORADO (MEDICAID)

To maintain health and well-being, people of all ages need access to quality health care that improves outcomes and reduces costs for the community. Health First Colorado, the state's Medicaid program, is public health insurance for low-income Coloradans who qualify. The program is funded jointly by a federal-state partnership and is administered by the Colorado Department of Health Care Policy & Financing.

Benefits of the program include behavioral health, dental services, emergency care, family planning services, hospitalization, laboratory services, maternity care, newborn care, outpatient care, prescription drugs, preventive and wellness services, primary care and rehabilitative services.

In tandem with the Affordable Care Act, Colorado expanded Medicaid eligibility in 2013 - providing hundreds of thousands of adults with incomes less than 133% FPL with health insurance for the first time increasing the health and economic well-being of these Coloradans. Most of the money for newly eligible Medicaid clients has been covered by the federal government, which will gradually decrease its contribution to 90% by 2020.

Other populations eligible for Medicaid include children, who qualify with income up to 142% FPL, pregnant women with household income under 195% FPL, and adults with dependent children with household income under 68% FPL.

Some analyses indicate that Colorado's investment in Medicaid will pay off in the long run by reducing spending on programs for the uninsured.

FOOD SECURITY:
SUPPLEMENTAL NUTRITION ASSISTANCE PROGRAM (SNAP)

Hunger, though often invisible, affects everyone. It impacts people's physical, mental and emotional health and can be a culprit of obesity, depression, acute and chronic illnesses and other preventable medical conditions. Hunger also hinders education and productivity, not only stunting a child's overall well-being and academic achievement, but consuming an adult's ability to be a focused, industrious member of society. Even those who have never worried about having enough food experience the ripple effects of hunger, which seeps into our communities and erodes our state's economy.

Community resources like the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), formerly known as Food Stamps, exist to ensure that families and individuals can purchase groceries, with the average benefit being about $1.40 per meal, per person.

Funding for SNAP comes from the USDA, but the administrative costs are split between local, state, and federal governments. Yet, the lack of investment in a strong, effective SNAP program impedes Colorado's progress in becoming the healthiest state in the nation and providing a better, brighter future for all. Indeed, Colorado ranks 44th in the nation for access to SNAP and lost out on more than $261 million in grocery sales due to a large access gap in SNAP enrollment.

See the Food Assistance (SNAP) Benefit Calculator to get an estimate of your eligibility for food benefits.

FOOD SECURITY:
SPECIAL SUPPLEMENTAL NUTRITION PROGRAM FOR WOMEN, INFANTS AND CHILDREN (WIC)

Every child deserves the nutritional resources needed to get a healthy start on life both inside and outside the mother's womb. In particular, good nutrition and health care is critical for establishing a strong foundation that could affect a child's future physical and mental health, academic achievement and economic productivity. Likewise, the inability to access good nutrition and health care endangers the very integrity of that foundation.

The Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC) provides federal grants to states for supplemental foods, health care referrals, and nutrition information for low-income pregnant, breastfeeding and non-breastfeeding postpartum women and to infants and children up to age five who are found to be at nutritional risk.

Research has shown that WIC has played an important role in improving birth outcomes and containing health care costs, resulting in longer pregnancies, fewer infant deaths, a greater likelihood of receiving prenatal care, improved infant-feeding practices, and immunization rates

Financial Security:
Colorado Works

In building a foundation for self-sufficiency, some Colorado families need some extra tools to ensure they can weather challenging financial circumstances and obtain basic resources to help them and their communities reach their potential.

Colorado Works is Colorado's Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program and provides public assistance to families in need. The Colorado Works program is designed to assist participants in becoming self-sufficient by strengthening the economic and social stability of families. The program provides monthly cash assistance and support services to eligible Colorado families.

The program is primarily funded by a federal block grant to the state. Counties also contribute about 20% of the cost.

EARLY LEARNING:
COLORADO CHILD CARE ASSISTANCE PROGRAM (CCCAP)

Child care is a must for working families. Along with ensuring that parents can work or obtain job skills training to improve their families' economic security, studies show that quality child care improves children's academic performance, career development and health outcomes.

Yet despite these proven benefits, low-income families often struggle with the cost of child care. Colorado ranks among the top 10 most expensive states in the country for center-based child care. For families with an infant, full-time enrollment at a child care center cost an average of $15,140 a year-or about three-quarters of the total income of a family of three living at the Federal Poverty Level (FPL).

The Colorado Child Care Assistance Program (CCCAP) provides child care assistance to parents who are working, searching for employment or participating in training, and parents who are enrolled in the Colorado Works Program and need child care services to support their efforts toward self-sufficiency. Most of the money for CCCAP comes from the federal Child Care and Development Fund. Each county can set their own income eligibility limit as long as it is at or above 165% of the federal poverty level and does not exceed 85% of area median income.

Unfortunately, while the need is growing, only an estimated one-quarter of all eligible children in the state are served by CCCAP. Low reimbursement rates have also resulted in fewer providers willing to accept CCCAP subsidies.