Feb. 8, 2021 Fort Collins Coloradoan

(Editor Eric Larsen granted partial publication of this article that is available only to subscribers)


‘Love your neighbor’: Fort Collins churches offer land to affordable housing efforts

Pat Ferrier

Fort Collins Coloradoan

When Heart of the Rockies Christian Church opened its doors in Fort Collins in 1993, it had big dreams for its 11 acres at the northwest corner of Trilby Road and Lemay Avenue. 

It never wanted to be a large church, said Pastor Melissa St. Clair. It envisioned a small church with a campus that brought nonprofits together to serve area youth. The 2008 recession put a kink in that plan but the vision remained the same: Partner in meaningful ways to serve the community, St. Clair said, “and do something bigger than ourselves.” 

… After reimagining plans for its undeveloped land, Heart of the Rockies partnered with three nonprofits to develop affordable housing, one of the city’s top priorities.

“I don’t know if there is a greater need in the community than affordable/attainable housing,” St. Clair said. 

… Heart of the Rockies is among a handful of Larimer County churches considering housing options for its undeveloped land. It is partnering with CARE Housing, Habitat for Humanity and Friends of L’Arche to build attainable and affordable units for those in need and with development disabilities.

Pastor Melissa St. Clair, right, the senior minister at Heart of the Rockies Christian Church, and Sue Anderson, a longtime church member involved with the project, stand in part of the nine acres that Heart of the Rockies Christian Church is planning to donate for affordable housing development in partnership with three local nonprofits in Fort Collins, Colo. on Monday, Feb. 1, 2021.

(Photo of Pastor Melissa St. Clair and longtime church member Sue Anderson, by Bethany Baker)

Meeting disparate needs 

Heart of the Rockies is partnering with Habitat for Humanity, CARE Housing and L’Arche, an international organization that serves people with intellectual disabilities.

The trio were selected from among nine proposals submitted to the church that met critical community needs, including housing and affordable child care, and whose values aligned with theirs, St. Clair said.  

Plans are still in their infancy, but current thinking includes 72 affordable apartments with CARE Housing, 10 single-family homes with Habitat for Humanity and one to two homes for adults with intellectual disabilities with L’Arche, along with a common community center that provides affordable child care.

Development of any kind is a lengthy process requiring city approval and funding. The church and its partners plan to apply for low-income tax credit financing through the Colorado Housing and Finance Authority.

The congregation hopes everything is in place to break ground on CARE Housing apartments in 2022, though that remains an optimistic goal.

…All partners are in the initial design and due diligence phase to try to figure out how many homes can fit on site, said Kristin Candella, executive director of Habitat for Humanity. 

…”We know that the cost structure to build is not possible alone,” she said. “It never has been but now it really requires a public/private partnership and the whole community going all in if these are the values we have.

“Many faith organizations across the spectrum are really now seeing the crisis of half the community not being able to afford to live here and are saying ‘OK, what resources do we have and how can we bless our neighbors by sharing them?’ “

The Heart of the Rockies partnership is the first in Fort Collins for L’Arche. 

Jennifer Pfiester of Friends of L’Arche Fort Collins said the group hopes to build one to two homes for about six people with and without intellectual disabilities.

“It’s a unique community where adults with and without intellectual disabilities chose to live, work and play together as opposed to a group home where staff punches a clock and goes home” at the end of a shift, Pfiester said. 

There are 17 L’Arche communities throughout the U.S., with the nearest in Kansas City. 

“There’s a huge need,” Pfiester said. “People with developmental disabilities would have a choice of where they want to live and there’s not a lot of choices now. It would be an alternative to the most common opportunity now, which is host families.” 

Pat Ferrier is a senior reporter covering business, health care and growth issues in Northern Colorado. Contact her at patferrier@coloradoan.com