April 12, 2024


Unlimited Technology

Mi Casa helps Denver’s most vulnerable residents launch careers and small businesses

Denver residents Claudia Hernandez and Ignacio Rosas face rising costs as their four children reach their teens and look ahead to attending college, which looks financially impossible.

But they have a plan for moving their family ahead.

They’ve decided to start their own businesses. After moving from Mexico a couple decades ago, Rosas settled into a job, earning $20 an hour, repairing heating, ventilation, and air conditioning systems — and now reckons he could run his own company. Hernandez envisions a cleaning business, initially working solo and then hiring others.

They turned to Denver’s Mi Casa Resource Center for guidance. On a recent morning in Mi Casa’s headquarters, at 345 S. Grove St. in southwest Denver, Hernandez and Rosas were seated at a table presenting their plan to a business adviser.

Mi Casa serves roughly 1,800 low-income residents each year, providing training and expertise for launching careers and small businesses. Typical clients earn less than $20,000 a year before they seek help and include mostly Latinas, though Mi Casa also serves others including migrants from Africa. For 45 years, Mi Casa has helped metro Denver’s most vulnerable residents find “pathways” to success. It is one of the programs that receives support through the Denver Post Community Foundation’s Season to Share program.

“We don’t want to just place people into minimum wage jobs,” chief executive Angeles Ortega said. “We want to place people into careers where they can build intergenerational wealth.”

The idea is to enable home ownership and create stability so that children can embark on pathways of their own. It’s an uphill battle, Ortega said, pointing to demographic data showing widening U.S. wealth gaps.

Large companies and highly-funded tech startups seem easily to attract funding. Yet locally-owned small business, typically run by women who manage expenses on their personal credit cards, play key roles in neighborhoods, Ortega said. “And they usually don’t get venture capital investment at all.”

Beyond career and business training, Mi Casa’s headquarters, built in 2017, also contains a 42-unit housing complex called Terraza Del Sol with rents as low as $506 a month – depending on family income and family size. The place has a patio, fitness equipment and kitchen.

Mi Casa caseworkers provide more than one-time consultations. They also respond to calls from clients as they embark on their pathways. For example, bilingual business adviser Javier Martinez recently was providing crisis support for an 82-year-old woman who had run a hair styling shop since 1964 and needed quick guidance. She’d been closed since the COVID-19 pandemic began last year and now was behind on rent. She was facing demands, and her only income is monthly Social Security payments of $534. Her husband had died and she wanted to sell the company and avoid declaring bankruptcy.

Distress like this has became common during the pandemic, Martinez said. “It does seem like a lot of people are frantic, facing stressful situations.”

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