Exploring the Link Between Brownfields and Affordable Housing

Affordable housing is a critical need in communities throughout Colorado. A variety of influences make affordable housing projects challenging to realize, such as construction and labor costs, an increase in second home and investment purchases, lack of housing supply, and, of course, land values. While addressing affordable housing is no easy task, Community Builders works with communities to expand housing choices and affordability through DIY tools, leadership training, and on-the-ground assistance. We help develop better plans and policies, and shape lasting results by building the resources, capacity, and public and political support to act.

There are several ways Community Builders is working to address the ongoing housing crisis—by way of economic, sustainability, social equity, environmental, and community impacts—including the redevelopment of brownfields.

Across the country, there are contaminated and underutilized properties that can be cleaned up and repurposed in order to benefit communities who are looking to address the housing crisis head-on. These properties are called brownfields. Community Builders works in partnership with the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) as the Colorado Brownfields Partnership (CBP) to offer support and guidance to spur brownfield revitalizations.

Brownfields can offer an opportunity for local governments or nonprofits to acquire lower cost land, while also accessing no-cost clean up resources to restore the land to a standard that is safe for residential development. With historic levels of funding for brownfields revitalization and a variety of funding and technical assistance opportunities available for affordable housing, this is a great time to explore the potential for accessing and combining these resources.

Brownfields present a unique opportunity to address affordable housing challenges. Diverse market challenges, including high land costs, make the delivery of affordable housing difficult.  Brownfields, which contain known or suspected environmental contaminants, can provide lower cost land. Of course, contaminants must be remediated to a high standard for any residential development at any price point.

Municipalities and non-profit housing organizations are ideally positioned to leverage brownfields for affordable housing because they are eligible for free resources to get a site cleaned up and ready for new housing. Through the state brownfield program, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) offers resources to assess environmental contamination and clean up the property. To learn about Phase I and II brownfields assessments, watch this short informational video on the Colorado Brownfields Partnership website.

For-profit affordable housing developers can also benefit from financing and tools available for brownfields clean up through the Voluntary Cleanup and Redevelopment Program (VCUP). VCUP enables access to a Revolving Loan Fund (RLF) and Tax Credits that offset cleanup costs. More information on VCUP can be viewed in this brief informational video on the Colorado Brownfields Partnership website.

In some cases, private property owners may partner with municipalities or non-profit organizations on brownfields projects, harnessing resources available to each party. Affordable housing, which demonstrates a clear community benefit, is an ideal fit for brownfields funding as it creates a win-win-win scenario, where the municipality, property owner, and community all benefit.

Once a brownfield is cleaned to the high standard required for residential reuse, it may be developed as affordable housing. Layering both brownfields and affordable housing resources can allow housing projects to get off the ground, and keep the units affordable. Recognizing a critical statewide need for more housing, Colorado state programs have expanded to support implementation and financing of affordable housing projects. To learn more about implementing affordable housing, check out the DOH Affordable Housing Toolkit.

Some of the new Department of Housing (DOH) funding requires that municipalities must submit and finalize a baseline commitment with DOH by November 1, 2023. To prepare a baseline commitment, communities will need to identify their existing affordable housing stock. To learn more and submit your baseline commitment, visit:

Affordable housing is just one redevelopment scenario for a brownfield site. Yet with current levels of expanded brownfields and housing resources, paired with a critical need for housing across Colorado, there is great opportunity to turn your brownfield site into an affordable housing asset.

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