09/10/2012 03:17 pm ET Updated Sep 30, 2013

Denver's Achievement in Connecting Jobs, Affordable Housing and Transportation

In 2004 Denver region voters approved an ambitious plan to expand the regional public transit system with new lines opening across the area. Before and since the passage, working families across the Denver region earning between $20,000 and $55,000 have been spending an average of 59 percent of their gross household income on housing and transportation combined.

Like all Americans, transit costs -- both time and money -- are on the rise for residents of the Denver region. And the majority of people living in America are not able to get to most work opportunities within 90 minutes using public transit. The abundance of affordable homeownership opportunities at the perimeter of our region often unexpectedly strains household budgets: for every dollar an American family saves by moving to more affordable housing, 77 cents are spent commuting back to their jobs. If public transit were available and reliable, the average driver in Denver could save $834 a month, or over $10,000 a year, by switching to public transit -- money that could be saved or spent to strengthen our economy and increase quality of life.

With this data in mind, it's easy to imagine why, for many low and moderate income households, the ability to succeed in employment is closely tied to whether or not they can reliably and affordably get to work each day, returning at the end of each day to a home that is safe, stable, close to their children's school or childcare, parks, services and more.

Around the country, cities, transportation agencies, foundations and nonprofits are realizing that job creation, retention and advancement efforts must be coupled with transportation, housing and access to other essentials. Business owners also need these resources to create an environment in which their businesses grow and employees thrive.

Seizing the opportunity to connect housing, transportation and employment, the City of Denver, Enterprise Community Partners, the Urban Land Conservancy and a coalition of partners created the Denver TOD Fund in 2010. This $15 million loan fund has teed up the creation or preservation of more than 400 affordable homes across the city in just two years. Hundreds more will follow as we work toward achieving our goal of 1,000 homes in 10 years. Beyond housing, the fund is a catalyst for community services including a new library currently under construction, childcare facilities, nonprofit and commercial spaces, all within walking distance of existing or planned high-frequency public transportation.

As new rail lines prepare to open in 2013, 2015 and 2016, organizations across the region are rolling up their sleeves to join the successful effort. Foundations and quasi-governmental agencies are identifying capital to expand the work of the Denver TOD Fund to cities across the region.

With the support of the Ford Foundation, local foundations and philanthropic organizations have also joined with nonprofit partners to create Mile High Connects, a cross-sector partnership dedicated to ensuring access to opportunity for all through transit. While still in its infancy, Mile High Connects has a jobs effort underway. It connects regional data, capital for business growth and creation, community organizers who bring the voice of residents struggling to gain or retain employment, small business technical assistance providers and business owners themselves together to create a new future for the region. This future will include financial and technical support for new and growing businesses to operate near transit.

Concerted efforts like Denver's are emerging or have been established in other regions -- from Baltimore to Minnesota's Twin Cities to California's Bay Area. Enterprise Community Partners and our partners in Denver and throughout the country hope that others will join us in taking action in their own communities.