By Jamie Leary
DENVER (CBS4)– Yavonne Itrurralde is proud of her home. It was her first purchase and she says probably her last. From her porch, she points to the boarded up homes across the street.
“That’s all that’s left,” said Yavonne.
“Does that make you nervous?” asked CBS4’s Jamie Leary.
“No. No. I’m just like, ‘Oh, another house is down,’” Yavonne said nonchalantly.
Over the last year, she has many buildings and homes demolished or boarded up in preparation for the Central 70 Project, the Interstate 70 expansion project.
Yavonne has lived in the home with her grandchildren since 2008. With her neighbors homes disappearing, she was skeptical when the City of Denver made an offer to make upgrades to her home.
“I’m like, ‘Do I have to pay for it?’ and they said ‘No, everything’s free,’” Yavonne said, “I was kind of skeptical.”
Yavonne wasn’t the only one skeptical. Energy Outreach Colorado (EOC) was hired by the city to reach out to nearly every homeowner in Denver’s Elyria-Swansea neighborhood.
“I think people are inherently skeptical of an outside organization moving into their space,” said Luke Ilderton, the Chief Program Officer for EOC.
The non-profit is used to helping people on an individual basis but accepted the unique opportunity to make improvements to an entire community. It was a large undertaking and required a lot of trust.
“It’s important to really go out and really deal with many of the early adopters and impress upon the neighborhood that the only catch is, that you’re going to be more secure and more comfortable and ready for the disruption that will happen when the highway construction begins,” said Ilderton.
EOC says the goal is to help make the homes more secure so the dust and the noise will be less harmful. It worked with the city and the Colorado Department of Transportation to increase the budget to $3.8 million for additional and much-needed home improvements. The idea being that no problem was too big to fix.
“It varies by home. You don’t know what you’re going to need to do until you go into the home. You do the safety checks, you look around and see… are the windows new or original? I talked to a homeowner yesterday whose windows were from 1929. We’re going to replace those,” aaid Ralph Yatsko, a program manager for EOC.
In Yavonne’s home, Yatsko said they found some emergency needs that were addressed immediately. She received a new furnace, water heater, windows, a carbon monoxide and smoke detector. Yatsko said improvements in some cases have run over $20,000.
Of the 282 homes, 32 homeowners have declined to participate in the project. Some due to anger or skepticism over the project. Some for other reasons.
EOC says 65 percent of the work has been completed and the major work, like windows and insulation, will be completed before CDOT breaks ground in July.
Jamie Leary joined the CBS4 team in 2015 and currently works as a reporter for CBS4 News at 5 p.m. and 6 p.m. She couldn’t imagine a better place to live and work and will stop at nothing to find the next great story. Jamie loves learning about and hearing from her fellow community members, so connect with her on Facebook or Twitter @JamieALeary.