Each year, the Denver Metro Chamber’s Leadership Foundation hosts 150 business and civic leaders on an exchange trip to a U.S. or international city to learn, explore and bring back big ideas for improving Colorado. This year, attendees took to Seattle to learn about how the city is tackling issues like housing, homelessness, economic development and more.
As a first-time participant of the Leadership Exchange, I was grateful for the opportunity to learn from public, private and philanthropic leaders who – much like here in Denver – are addressing some of the most pressing urban issues of our time. I garnered several key takeaways from the trip that we should consider here in Colorado:
Housing for All Requires Buy-in Across Sectors
While many programs are designed to address housing for individuals and families with the deepest affordability needs, we also need to ensure that we’re meeting the needs of middle-income earners. When teachers, nurses, restaurant workers and others who serve critical functions in our neighborhoods are empowered with adequate housing, our cities are better for it.
We heard from leaders from the Chief Seattle Club, Microsoft Philanthropies, Seattle Metro Chamber of Commerce, and the City’s Office of Housing who outlined collaborative strategies for addressing this problem, such as the development of urban villages and the rezoning of neighborhoods to allow for denser housing options like triplexes and fourplexes.
We also learned about Seattle for Everyone, a coalition of private and non-profit developers, affordable housing providers, labor groups, businesses, social justice advocates, environmentalists, urbanists and neighbors that similarly aims to collaborate on practical, market-driven solutions that meet the needs of the entire housing affordability spectrum.
Mitigating Homelessness is About More than Providing a Roof
Like many metro areas across the U.S. -including Denver- Seattle continues to pursue avenues for addressing homelessness. During our visit, we toured several innovative projects that are successfully supporting people experiencing homelessness.
On an excursion led by Sharon Lee, the executive director of the Low Income Housing Institute (LiHi), we learned how the organization is implementing on their belief that affordable housing does not mean low quality housing. We toured a tiny home park that offers temporary housing while permanent housing is identified for the family that is equitable, charming and located within a diverse community that includes higher-end condos and housing. We also toured a nearby urban rest stop that offers showers, laundry and restrooms – ensuring that people in need have access to amenities that support health and dignity.
This multifaceted tour with LiHi reinforced the need to approach homelessness across the entire spectrum and address human needs far beyond shelter.
Cities and States Aren’t Built In Silos
From housing and homelessness to economic development and safety, the program was a strong reminder of the importance of strong collaboration across sectors. Seattle’s leaders in government, business and the nonprofit sector all emphasized the critical nature that collaboration plays in addressing challenges and capturing opportunities. Seattle is making significant efforts to ensure all voices are at the table, with a specific emphasis on ensuring that Native American leaders are engaged.
Ultimately, no city, state or region can be successful by operating in silos. When collaboration across sectors, neighborhoods and perspectives takes place, we are all better for it.
A special thank you to the Denver Metro Chamber and the Denver Leadership Foundation for hosting such a meaningful, inspiring trip. It is my sincere hope that leaders in our communities evaluate and consider the lessons learned from programs like this because the outcomes are tangible and impactful.
By Amy Adridge