Receive Email From GPHC

Islamic Center Turns Focus To ‘Real’ Affordable Housing

Hope Is To Build 50-60 units At Albion and Bruce Randolph

By Sierra Fleenor

Executive Director, GPHC, Inc.

Imam Abdur-Rahim Ali at Masjid Taqwa, the Northeast Denver Islamic Center. Photo by Sierra Fleenor

A lot at the corner of Bruce Randolph Avenue and Albion Street in northeast Park Hill may soon find new life.

The former Park Hill Orthodox Presbyterian Church and its lot are now for sale. Imam Abdur-Rahim Ali and his community at Masjid Taqwa, the Northeast Denver Islamic Center, want to buy it—not to expand their mosque and school, but to develop it into affordable housing.

In early March, Ali welcomed me into the Center, across the street from the old church. We walked together through their building as he mused on the expansion of the universe, the legacy of Martin Luther King, Jr., and his hopes for what the Center might be able to achieve.

“We want it to be real, affordable housing,” said Ali, citing that the average two-bedroom apartment in Denver now costs upwards of $1,500 a month. “That’s just not doable for many families.”

Imam Abdur-Rahim Ali looks toward an old church site and lot across the street from the Islamic Center, where he hopes to build affordable housing. Photo by Sierra Fleenor

This is not a whim for Ali and his community, who have been seeking to create affordable housing in Park Hill for a while.

“Originally, we were looking to put it right where these townhomes are, but they beat us to the punch,” Ali said, gesturing toward a nearby development. “We can’t fault them.”

After that idea didn’t work out, the Center considered building 25-30 affordable units where their current parking lot is. But the community felt it would be too few units for such a grand effort. “We’re hoping to provide more like 50-60 units [across the street],” Ali said.

On a mission

Securing the land is not a given. There is still a chance another developer could buy it before the Center can fundraise the amount needed. If the lot were to be purchased by someone else, Ali and the Center may revisit the idea of building on their parking lot. However, they’re still focused on the lot across the street.

Another uncertainty is the future of the Park Hill Golf Course, the boundary of which is less than a block north of the Center.

Ali isn’t letting the uncertainty of the situation dissuade him, though, because he’s on a mission. The Center’s building “would provide affordable housing [and] the necessary services that will treat people with dignity, honor, and respect,” he said. “We think we can make Park Hill proud.”

Once the Center purchases the land, it will take another 18 months to two years to complete all the city’s requirements and build, but Ali doesn’t plan to wait until the building is completed to start providing support to the community. Colorado Coalition for the Homeless has been in talks with the Center about providing temporary housing for people experiencing homelessness prior to starting construction. This might look like the Tiny Home Villages that are popping up in Denver and around the country.

During construction, Ali also plans to provide work opportunities for the unemployed, including not only regular employment, but also apprenticeship opportunities.

The Center doesn’t consider their job done when the building is built and occupied. That’s only the beginning. They plan to provide wraparound services to residents, such as the ones they currently provide to anyone in need. The offerings include parenting classes, substance abuse classes, HIV-prevention, and skill development and supports for people who have been formerly incarcerated. The Center also hopes to increase the capacity of their food pantry. Of their services, Ali said, “We want to save human lives.”

Colorado Coalition for the Homeless isn’t the only organization getting involved. Other partners include the City and County of Denver and Christian and Jewish organizations in northeast Denver and beyond.

“We can’t do it alone,” Ali said. “It takes a collective effort to get anything done that’s going to be successful for the community. That’s the way we want it.”

The American spirit

Affordable housing is a piece of something bigger to Ali and the Center.

“We’re here to serve the entire community, not just one segment, not just for Muslims, not just for the religious people, for all of humanity,” said Ali. “We are all one.” His desire to provide supports to those in need in our community is deeply rooted in his Islamic faith. “We’re providing a service to the community, and that’s part of serving God.”

When I asked how neighbors can get involved, he had an immediate answer. “They can write letters of support,” he said, then paused and smiled. “And we’re always accepting money.” He was quick to clarify that the Center is not interested in making money on this project, but that “it takes resources to get it done.”

Ali co-founded the Center in 2000. The community originally met in a basement, then upgraded to a 500 square-foot storefront at Bruce Randolph Avenue and Columbine Street, before moving to their current location in 2009.

Not everything has been positive for the Center. They have received threats both on the phone and in person.

“We had one guy [that drove by and] stuck his finger out,” Ali said while miming a gun, “and said, ‘Death to you all’ and drove off.” The silver lining has been the willingness of Christian and Jewish organizations to work together. “I am grateful because I see the coming together of faith communities, more so now than ever.”

“That’s American, isn’t it? That’s the American spirit,” Ali explains, a huge smile breaking across his face. “We’re Muslims and we love our country. We’re committed to this country.”

To learn more about Masjid Taqwa, the Northeast Denver Islamic Center, visit their website at northeastdenverislamiccenter.com


Support GPHC & Our Programs

Every dollar counts! Gifts of any size support our programs serving neighbors in Greater Park Hill. From our food pantry to our sustainability initiatives, we couldn't do it without you.