October 6, 2023
8:30 AM-10:00 AMMT

CU Denver School of Public Affairs would like to cordially invite you to our panel series: First Fridays.

Affordable housing and local development are critical issues across Colorado communities. We see the impact in many areas including employment, community cultures, economic development, local budgets, health and social equity. In this panel we’ll hear from both state and local officials on the benefits, possibilities and challenges of creating solutions through state-local partnership. This panel is a collaboration between CU Denver School of Public Affairs and the Colorado Department of Local Affairs.

In person

Terrace Room (2nd floor), Lawrence Street Center
1380 Lawrence St, Denver, CO 80204




8:30 – 8:50 a.m.
Check-in and breakfast buffet for in-person attendees

8:50 a.m. – 10 a.m.
Programming for in-person and virtual attendees

Register here


Chris Adams, President of Balancing Act by Polco

Chris is national leader in citizen engagement, public policy and facilitation, and President of Balancing Act by Polco. Founded in 2015, Balancing Act is an award-winning provider of simulation-based public engagement tools for citizens and government leaders to tackle complex challenges through productive public input. Previously, Chris founded public engagement strategy firm Engaged Public, and was Director and Associate Director of The Center for Ethics and Social Policy in Berkeley, California. He has published more than 100 essays in publications including The Los Angeles Times, New York Newsday, Governing, The Christian Science Monitor, The San Francisco Chronicle and many others. He is a past speaker at the distinguished Conference on World Affairs at the University of Colorado, delivering five presentations on the theme “Values and Ethics in a Fragile World.” Adams is the former president of the board of Denver Urban Gardens, a network of more than 100 community gardens. He is a graduate of Yale University and the University of Colorado. Chris teaches Public Participation, Political Equity and Government for the CU Denver School of Public Affairs.


MJ Adams, AICP, Affordable Housing Manager, Town of Erie, Colorado

MJ Adams is the Affordable Housing Manager of the Town of Erie. MJ brings over 30 years of experience in affordable housing, economic and community development at the local, regional, and state level in Massachusetts in the public, non-profit, and private sectors. MJ believes that both stable housing and a sense of belonging in community are critically important cornerstones of human wellbeing. Her community development work in small cities in Massachusetts and serving as the Executive Director for Habitat for Humanity for several years has led to her approach of collaborative partnerships with all sectors to create meaningful positive community impact. MJ is a very recent transplant to Colorado from Massachusetts (western Massachusetts -not Boston). Still learning her way around the region, she has already invested in an electric bike and enjoys riding the Coal Creek Trail to work when the weather is favorable. MJ is very interested in climate change, social justice and international sustainable development. She is the proud mother of four amazing daughters – one who works locally as a public health nurse. She holds a B.A. in Economics from the University of Massachusetts-Amherst and a Masters in Regional Planning from the same fine institution. 


Brandon Howes, AICP, Housing Planner, Summit County

Brandon is originally from Florida but moved to the Front Range in 2010 and then Summit County 2018. He has a Masters in urban planning from the University of Florida and is also a licensed attorney. Currently he works as a Housing Planner for the Summit County Housing Department working to provide workforce housing to local employees. Brandon has and continues to work on a variety of projects in the Housing Department including: A Housing Code Audit that looked for ways to streamline our development code to make building workforce housing easier, Creating ADU Stock Plans to make it cheaper and faster to build an ADU, Administering the County’s Housing Helps program which provides money to place a deed restriction on existing housing, and administering our Lease to Locals program which provides an incentive to convert a short term rental to a long term rental for local workers. Brandon has also worked on grant applications and grant administration for the Housing Department. In his free time he takes advantage of all of the amazing outdoor activities available in the Colorado Rockies. Brandon is married and has two young children.  

Santhosh Ramdoss, President & CEO, Gary Community Ventures

Santhosh Ramdoss is president & CEO of Gary Community Ventures. He also serves as the organization’s Chief Investment Officer. Previously, he served as Gary’s VP of Impact Investing, overseeing the organization’s endowment and helping deploy a larger pool of financial assets in service of its mission. Santhosh helped Gary established partnerships with leading impact fund managers and companies while incubating capital vehicles like The Dearfield Fund for Black Wealth, which offers downpayment assistance to Black homebuyers in Metro Denver. Before Gary, Santhosh was part of the investment teams at the Skoll and Michael & Susan Dell foundations. He has also served as a community organizer, start-up entrepreneur and community banker. Santhosh was raised by a single mother in a small Indian village, learned to speak English by watching television, and was 25 before he boarded an airplane. He takes pride in his identity as an immigrant and leverages these experiences to inform his commitment towards equity.


Rick M. Garcia Executive Director Colorado Department of Local Affairs

Over the past five years, Rick M. Garcia has been at the helm of the Department of Local Affairs as the Executive Director, demonstrating dynamic leadership. With over 25 years of versatile experience across government, nonprofit, and the private sector, Rick has played pivotal roles in shaping policies and driving impactful initiatives. Notably, he served as HUD Regional Administrator during President Barack Obama's administration, overseeing programs in Colorado, Utah, Wyoming, North Dakota, South Dakota, and Montana. His prior roles include a Denver City Council member known for championing economic revitalization and transit projects, earning accolades as Government/Community Advocate of the Year. Rick's influence extended to the RTD Board, where he played a vital role in passing the FasTracks initiative. He also held the State Director of Small Business Development position and contributed to business development in San Diego, CA. Additionally, Rick's service included roles at the Pueblo Economic Development Corporation, CHFA, NEWSED Community Development Corporation, and as a founding Community Advisor to the University of Colorado's Latino/a Research and Policy Center. He played a significant role in the Denver Regional Council of Governments (DRCOG) and co-chaired a Foreclosure Task Force. With a Master's in Public Administration from Harvard University's Kennedy School of Government and a Bachelor's in Business Administration from Columbia College, Rick M. Garcia stands as a distinguished leader in public service, leaving a lasting impact across diverse sectors.