How local organizations are addressing housing instability

Affordability, history of racist housing policies contribute to long-term housing challenges
[Photo: Love Thy Neighbor]

Heather Lafferty, CEO of Habitat for Humanity of Metro Denver, and Joseph and Jessica Dominguez, co-founders of Love Thy Neighbor, knew that achieving the stability, well-being and generational wealth that homeownership can provide requires options that are affordable and meaningfully accessible to their clients. Helping more lower-income and families of color experience the joy of becoming homeowners is a life calling for Lafferty and the Dominguezes alike.

“Habitat for Humanity’s origins really come from a social justice foundation as well as from a place of putting Christian principles into action,” Lafferty said. “With that concept in mind, Habitat for Humanity was started with the idea of really serving.”

According to Lafferty, the international organization put roots down in Denver in the 1970s when the area had high-paying jobs in the energy and telecom industries while blue-collar jobs, once at the city’s economic core, were waning. Those diminishing opportunities and low housing inventory created an affordability problem for many working families.

More recently, in 2016, real estate agents Joseph and Jessica Dominguez were motivated by the lack of affordable options to start Love Thy Neighbor, a community-serving real estate company that helps Denverites access the resources they need to become homeowners.

As Joseph Dominguez saw patterns of disparities in homeownership among neighborhoods, he started studying the history of redlining, discriminatory housing policies from the 1930s that denied mortgages in certain areas of town to potential buyers of color. The legacy of redlining and other racist policies continues to negatively impact Black, Indigenous and people of color (BIPOC) communities.

[Related: How ADUs can help address affordable housing crisis]

For instance, Lafferty notes residents in formerly redlined neighborhoods have been vulnerable to involuntary displacement because of rising housing costs. As an educator, Jessica saw the impact of housing instability on students for families forced into the shelter system. “They don’t get to report to a shelter till 7:00 or 8:00 at night,” she said. “How do you do your homework and come to school the next day prepared?”

Through community outreach, financial counseling, accessing governmental programs, and partnering with mission-oriented organizations and lenders, these organizations make homeownership more equitably accessible to so many.

Partnerships with community development and housing organizations is particularly key. Love Thy Neighbor works with Elevation CLT, Habitat, and The City and County of Denver’s affordable housing programs to help buyers achieve their homeownership dreams. Habitat Denver works with the West Denver Renaissance Collaborative to create accessory dwelling units and with Colorado Community Land Trust to offer homeownership through a nontraditional model.

The results are life changing. Lafferty highlights the experience of a former Habitat board member who, as a child, moved with her mother into a Habitat home after having lived in a car to escape an abusive marriage. She went on to become a first-generation college and law school graduate, with her oldest son following in her footsteps. And Joseph Dominguez tells the story of a recent client who moved from public housing: “She just got into her own Habitat home,” he said. “She thought this never was possible.”

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Jennie Rodgers

Jennie Rodgers is vice president and Denver market leader at Enterprise Community Partners Inc. She can be reached at [email protected].

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