Construction starts on Denver’s second tiny-home village, aided by company tied to bid-rigging scandal

The organization launching Denver’s second tiny-home village for the homeless has sped up the project with help from an unexpected partner — a construction firm paying penance for its role in the city’s convention center bid-rigging scandal.

Construction began last week on the Women’s Village at Clara Brown Commons. When completed this fall on East 37th Avenue near York Street, it will have a cluster of 14 standalone tiny homes and a larger common house with bathrooms, a kitchen, meeting space and other services.

Mortenson Construction is working as general contractor, a role approved recently by the Colorado Attorney General’s Office under its April settlement agreement with the company. Mortenson had denied allegations that a project manager treated it favorably during bidding for the $233 million Colorado Convention Center project, but its CEO acknowledged the company “did not meet our own expectations.” It agreed both to pay a $650,000 fine and to donate construction services worth at least that amount to a project of public interest.

At first, the intent was that Mortenson and executives involved in the convention center bid would help with a project geared toward the COVID-19 pandemic, such as a field hospital. But the need for such a project receded as hospitalizations declined.

“Homelessness is a challenging issue in Denver, and the economic fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the urgent need for stable housing,” said Lawrence Pacheco, a spokesman for Attorney General Phil Weiser. On Monday, he confirmed the office’s approval of the project selection.

Cole Chandler, executive director of the Colorado Village Collaborative, said Mortenson’s donated services have sped up the project’s timeline by two to three months. He hopes the first women, potentially including transgender individuals, will move into the 96-square-foot homes by mid-October.

“We would not be starting construction right now if Mortenson was not contributing their services,” Chandler said.

The new village in the Cole neighborhood is modeled on Beloved Community Village, which opened in 2017 near 38th and Blake streets with the intent to serve as a transition to stability for people experiencing homelessness. Chandler’s group moved it last year to East 44th Avenue and Pearl Street in Globeville to make way for an affordable housing development project at the original site, and it now has 19 tiny homes.

The Women’s Village also is likely to have a limited lifespan at its initial site. Mile High Ministries has plans for a full-block affordable housing development on the site called Clara Brown Commons, named for an enterprising and charitable former slave who moved to Colorado in the 1800s after gaining her freedom.

Chandler says Mile High has granted a renewable two-year ground lease to the collaborative.

His group hopes to build several more tiny-home villages across the city, with an eventual goal of 200 units. Its latest project relies heavily on donors, volunteers and partners, including the Cherry Creek Innovation Campus in Centennial, which is building a half-dozen of the units for the Women’s Village.

The collaborative also is involved in the city’s separate plan to launch a sanctioned homeless encampment. At the same time, the city is making plans to close a temporary shelter set up for women and transgender people inside the Denver Coliseum during the pandemic.

“There’s a plan in place to help shuffle people around,” Chandler said, “but we can see a need for more units to meet that need. We’re eager to extend these units towards that population.”

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