The Millennial Metric Q&A: Albus Brooks (Denver, Colorado)
Albus Brooks is a former two-term Denver City Council member for District 9 and former City Council President. Today, he is Vice President of Strategy and Business Development for Milender White, a Development and Construction company operating in Colorado and Southern California. This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
On top of your “day job,” you mentioned you’re now working dozens of hours a week on projects concerning the challenges of the pandemic, economic recovery, and racial equity.
This pandemic, this confluence of issues — we’ve never seen anything like this in our lifetime, so me being a former city leader, the mayor asked that I kind of co-chair the recovery effort. But I don’t really want the city back to normal, I want new opportunities for all our communities. So we put together an inclusive recovery effort with equity at the center point.
We have 10 objectives and 90 tactics, and each of them make sure vulnerable areas are taken care of: testing sites, economic effort, and ensuring that a majority of our dollars go toward communities of color and non-profit and small businesses. It’s a totally new way to rebuild our city. And at my day job at Milender White, I want to make sure we are doing projects that match our values. So we’re working on projects that actually can transform the city and be much more inclusive for our community.
And then there’s this: I’m a Black man who, two years ago — when I was the president of city council — had a police officer pull a gun on me. So, this moment has me in deep reflection; we should’ve learned our lesson in the Sixties. We should’ve learned our lesson in the Watts riots, or with Rodney King. And since then, hundreds of unarmed Black individuals have died at the hands of officers.
So I’m also speaking a lot to different groups and being on a lot of panels and trying to really harness this time to experience the transformation.
NewCities: Not long ago, the challenge for Denver was too much growth, but what’s the tenor now? How is Denver grappling with the pandemic recovery efforts?
Albus Brooks: I believe Denver’s going to grow big-time now. I think you’re seeing an exodus from the coastal cities to places like Denver — 300 days of sunshine, incredible culture, and obviously an attraction to the outdoors. I have just seen a number of individuals say that they’re moving here, we’ve had HQ2s for Starbucks beginning to move here, just two in the last week, evaluated at four to six billion dollars.
But when you talk about affordable housing, there was already a crisis; there’s now an apocalypse. I think it is very concerning to me. The one bright spot is that our CHFA tax credits for affordable housing are staying stable, and there’s a belief that the federal government is going to expand the federal tax credit so that we can build more housing.
Our economic engine, Denver International Airport, went from full occupancy at 70 million passengers a year to 2% travel. But in July we were at 22% and now______, so it’s a slow recovery, and resurgence is scary to think about.
But we’ve added four million jobs so far, so slowly, things are coming back. Denver was mentioned in Forbes and the Wall Street Journal this spring noting where we were when the spigot was turned off means that we may be the fastest to grow back. And that’s testament to the diversity and the economy, the livability of this city. So it’s exciting.
Well, speaking of the affordability issues for a second, this notion that with a lot of rentals in the core of the city, a lot of people are pushed to the periphery, partly because of the housing surge there. Are you worried, given particularly the conventional wisdom that people are going to want big, suburban homes in case lockdowns are needed in the future, that this will lead to an exodus from Denver City proper out to the various communities on the edge or out towards Aurora, et cetera?
I think the migration is going to be interesting. Early on, the school of thought was dense cities, and this is a recall in urbanism.
But we’ve also seen rural states and locations get these spikes in COVID cases; no one is immune to it. I actually believe that, post-COVID, we’re going to live different, but it’s going to draw us more together. Folks have a desire to be together. Right now, folks are working from home — they’re thinking it’s working — and I think it does work for three to maybe five months.
But you can never replace culture, you just can’t. And if you’re running a business or an organization, to get that company to reach the vision, to get the results that you want, you’ve got to have culture. And there’s only one way to get culture, and it ain’t through a Zoom, right? So this is actually reigniting my belief in urbanism and people’s desire to be a part of culture, to be a part of something bigger than themselves.
On our last call you mentioned your neighborhood, District 9, is among the city’s most diverse — roughly a third African American, a third Latino, and a third Anglo, and is home to billionaires as well as people struggling with homelessness. It also has a markedly high millennial population; how are those constituents are weathering this moment?
Economically, millennials have been obliterated, I also see a lot of millennials quarantining and alone and really struggling. I heard a representative of the city talking, she’s a millennial, and she said:”I’m dying inside. I live alone, it used to be fun, it used to be exciting, I used to have all these things to do, but I’m dying and there’s no more protests.” I mean, she was literally saying all of the things that we’re talking about here, so I think on one hand, it’s beautiful; on the other hand I am concerned what kind of effect this will have on millennials.
But I also know they are incredibly resilient. During the protests, for the first time in a long time, I was seeing Black and white millennials championing each other’s causes. Really, white millennials championing Black Lives Matter, and it’s a beautiful sight. I started to think, “wow, they really came together.”