In 2015, Director of Housing and Neighborhood Development, Rick Padilla proclaimed that his office was, “… working to ensure that all residents can live in housing that provides a platform for economic security and mobility.” As Denver’s housing market continues to outpace the national price average for both rental and for-sale properties, the challenge of finding affordable housing is out of reach for an increasing number of Denverites.
The housing challenge prompted Denver to put in place a Dedicated Housing Fund. Over the next ten years $150 million will be raised to create 6,000 affordable housing units. Low to moderate income families will be eligible for the housing.
Veronica Barela is worried that the fund, “Might be too little too late.” The veteran non-profit affordable housing developer worries that gentrification might have already caused housing to be out of reach of long time Denverites that can no longer afford to live there. Still, she accepted an appointment to the 23-member Affordable Housing Commission, “To help stem the tide of gentrification.” At the first meeting of the Commission last week, Barela asked that the majority of funds raised be directed toward non-profit developers with experience like NEWSED, the organization she directs.
On the same morning of the Commission’s first meeting, Denver Mayor Michael Hancock introduced Erik Soliván, his appointee to lead the newly created Office of Housing and Opportunities for People Everywhere (HOPE). Soliván comes from Philadelphia where he served as Vice President of the city’s housing authority. He assumes office under pressure from advocates critical of Denver’s ‘homeless sweeps’ which made national news when videos of Denver Police taking blankets from homeless on snowy streets went viral. Soliván has been tagged to coordinate various city efforts to increase affordable housing and decrease homelessness.
A critical piece of the plan is to supplement the work of Denver’s Road Home which is working to end homelessness. For Director Bennie Milliner, the new effort dovetails well with other efforts from his office, “The Affordable Housing Fund is a credible initial step for housing in general in the city and critical in providing a path for supportive housing for the 30 percent and below of AMI population. Some may feel it is not enough and that is understood, but $150 million is a legitimate good faith start. It certainly complements current on-going efforts.”
As a critical partner in determining placement of housing for the city, Denver Planning Director, Brad Buchanan puts affordable housing at the top of this priority list, “There is nothing more important that our city can do than work to provide housing options for all of the citizens of Denver.” He continues, “The affordable housing plan is a significant step towards achieving that goal. I look forward to the work of implementing this critically important program for our city.”
Clearly, the success of the program is contingent upon the city’s many housing partners working together. Housing Advisory Committee member and Denver Housing Authority Executive Director, Ismael Guerrero is calling upon developers to work with the city to implement the plan, “The Mayor and City Council have made new funding available to create more affordable housing across the city. Now it’s up to developers and our partners to be creative and leverage those funds to produce even more units than expected, because the need is so great.”
In a September 2016 vote, Denver City Council passed the ordinance 9-4 to start collecting property development fees and assessing higher property tax rates starting in January 2017. To supplement the new housing fund, a one-time supplement will come from the City’s reserves and marijuana taxes.