For the first time in a year, Tina Brewer won’t be sleeping in a car, at a friend’s house, or at the Aurora home of the disabled man who pays her to cook meals and take him to doctors’ appointments.
The smell of paint was still in the air when she moved into her apartment in Stapleton’s new Mercy Housing development for low-income people who are homeless.
“There’s no place like your own home,” said Brewer as she unloaded the only housewares she had, which fit in the back of her four-door sedan.
Brewer is among dozens of the Denver metro area’s homeless who began moving from unforgiving streets to the plush, new apartments June 25.
The apartments will eventually be home to about 180 people who are currently homeless and meet income requirements. The new residents must make between about $16,700 and $31,450 annually depending on the number of occupants.
Brewer, who is 50 years old, said she likes her job as a personal care provider but it was tough living with the man she works for, who has polio and diabetes.
“Once you leave your mom’s house, no one ever wants to go back to live with anybody, especially at 50,” she said. “I have my own rules and I’m set in my own ways.” She wasn’t making enough money to afford a comfortable place of her own, so she was ecstatic when she found out she was the first person to move into the apartment complex. About 30 percent of her annual income will go toward rent. She plans to buy all new furniture, and her inaugural meal in her brand-new home was a celebratory feast of crab legs, steaks and salad.
“I’ll be here ‘til my kids come get me when I’m in my Depends,” she said. “I’m not going anywhere.”
The Bluff Lake development is near the intersection of Havana Street and East 31st Avenue and has 92 apartments. The residences are equipped with dishwashers, patios and balconies, vinyl flooring that resembles hardwood, stylish kitchen cabinets and countertops, and bright, open interiors.
The units were designed to give low-income people a place they’re proud to be living in, said Jennifer Erixon, senior vice president of Real Estate Development and Asset Management for Mercy Housing.
“We really want to make sure that this feels like home for people who are living here,” she said.
She hopes that future residents will become more motivated to look for stable jobs or go back to school because they’ll have a safe, comfortable place to call home, Erixon said.
“When it feels like home, we find that people are a lot more productive, they feel respected, and they can focus on the things they need to do in order to stabilize their lives,” she said.
Many of the people moving into the Bluff Lake Apartments have been homeless for several years and are currently living in hotels, or sleeping on friends’ couches, she said.
“Having a place like this that’s comfortable really can be a huge launching point for people,” she said.
To qualify for the housing program, people need to be making about 30 percent of the area’s median income, which in Arapahoe, Adams and Denver counties, is about $16,700 for one person, $19,000 for a couple, and $23,800 for a family of four. Their rent would be equal to about 30 percent of their income, Erixon said, and is flexible depending on how much the resident is making. Having an income doesn’t necessarily mean these tenants have jobs, Erixon said. Many of them receive disability payments from the government.
She said one of the men moving into the apartments became homeless 10 years ago after a serious injury when he worked as a carpenter. He’s currently living in a hotel in north Aurora.
Denver-based Mercy Housing, which develops and finances affordable homes, received money from the federal government, the state’s housing program, and the city of Denver to construct the $16 million housing development in Stapleton.
The Bluff Lake Apartments are opening at the heels of a homeless camping ban that Denver City Council members passed in May. Aurora City Council members will decide in July whether to pass a ban of their own, to deter homeless people from crossing the Denver border into Aurora.
Erixon said Denver’s homeless camping ban underscores the need for an affordable housing development to help people in both Denver and Aurora get off the streets.
The Bluff Lake Apartments will help those cities by freeing up space for people in traditional housing shelters, she said, like the Denver Rescue Mission and other housing programs like Aurora Warms the Night.
The amount of people on the wait list for the Bluff Lake Apartments is a testament to the need for housing for the homeless.
About 700 people are currently on the wait list, said Property Manager Monica Cleveland, and about 300 people applied to live in the apartments when Mercy Housing officials began accepting applications on Jan. 17.
Although it’s difficult to estimate how many homeless people there are, a Point in Time Study released this month showed there were 12,605 homeless people in the Denver metro area on Jan. 23.
Aurora City Councilwoman Molly Markert said she knows at least 10 people in Ward IV that need housing.
“There’s a world of hurt out there,” she said.
Reach reporter Sara Castellanos at 720-449-9036 or [email protected]