Contract for homeless veterans development in Aurora peeves city officials

“The state didn’t do anything forever until we literally had to get the Legislature to push them,” Mayor Steve Hogan said. "It’s a larger frustration than just the fact that the Housing Authority didn’t get the bid — it goes beyond that.”

AURORA | A permanent housing development for homeless veterans is slated to be erected on a piece of land north of the Anschutz Medical Campus in the coming years, but who brings that project to fruition has become a point of contention among Aurora officials.

Last week, the state’s Department of Human Services awarded a long-term lease to the Colorado Coalition for the Homeless, a Denver-based homeless advocacy group and housing developer, for a 15-acre parcel of land near the corner of Peoria Street and Montview Boulevard. That lease award followed a request for proposals process for a homeless veterans facility at the site. Only the Colorado Coalition for the Homeless and the Aurora Housing Authority submitted project proposals to DHS, which became the owner of the land after the military deeded it to the state following closure of the Fitzsimons Army Medical Center in the late 1990s.

As part of that closure, the state became required to construct a housing option for displaced veterans under a provision of the McKinney-Vento Act, according to Craig Maraschky, executive director of the Aurora Housing Authority.

And while a portion of that provision was fulfilled with the construction of the Colorado State Veterans Home on Quentin Street, the permanent housing development for younger veterans was never brought to fruition, according to Maraschky.

“(The state) was supposed to make a nursing home and some form of housing for homeless veterans,” he said. “The nursing home got built and … the housing for homeless veterans was never constructed. So, about nine years ago, we in the city began a quest to essentially fulfill that promise that was made.”

Attempts to convince the state to pursue the project, or allow another developer to step in, were unsuccessful in the ensuing decade, Maraschky said. But that changed during last year’s legislative session when former Aurora state Reps. Su Ryden and JoAnn Windholz helped pass a bill that called for the construction of a housing facility at the north Aurora plot.

That measure catapulted the project forward, but eventually away from Aurora as the contract wound up with the Colorado Coalition for the Homeless. That irked Mayor Steve Hogan, who has worked on the project plans for more than a decade.

“The state didn’t do anything forever until we literally had to get the Legislature to push them,” Hogan said. “It’s a larger frustration than just the fact that the Housing Authority didn’t get the bid — it goes beyond that.”

Maraschky said the Housing Authority is already working on an appeal to DHS’s decision. The appeal must be filed with DHS by March 15, which is seven working days after DHS rendered its original decision. The Department will make a decision on an appeal within seven business days of receiving one, according to DHS spokeswoman Elizabeth Owens.

Owens said DHS had not received a formal appeal as of about midday March 14.

Maraschky said the Housing Authority’s bid called for an $8.6 million project with 30 units.

We’re hopeful we’re still going to be the one (to develop the site),” Maraschky said.

The Colorado Coalition for the Homeless proposed a development with 60 units in its initial bid, according to Cathy Alderman, spokesperson for the Colorado Coalition for the Homeless. Alderman said the organization maintains nearly 20 affordable housing developments with about 1,900 units across the state.

Hogan said he supports Maraschky’s decision to appeal.

“There wouldn’t even have been an RFP to respond to if we hadn’t done all the work so, I’m glad the Housing Authority is appealing and I think they have good technical grounds upon which to appeal,” he said.

City Councilwoman Barb Cleland, who has also worked on the veterans project for several years, echoed Hogan’s ire.

“It’s just very frustrating because (the Colorado Coalition for the Homeless) have not been around working on this like the Housing Authority has been,” she said.

Despite the inimical result from DHS, Hogan said more housing for local veterans, regardless of which entity eventually constructs the facility, serves as a silver lining.

“If there’s any good news in this it’s that there will be something built and it will help to house homeless veterans, and that’s great,” Hogan said. “I just wish it were being done in a different way.”