Denver City Council votes tonight on permanent funding stream for affordable housing

Denver City Council will vote tonight for the final time on a proposed dedicated fund for affordable housing.

The fund, which is part of a larger strategy to preserve and create affordable housing, would draw revenues from a fee on new development and a hike in property taxes. Mayor Michael Hancock’s administration has been working to refine the concept with council members Robin Kniech and Albus Brooks for the past year.

The trust fund would generate an average of about $15 million a year to preserve and/or build an estimated 6,000 affordable housing units. Kniech says 6,000 is a conservative estimate and pointed out that, in approving a dedicated funding stream, the city is taking an unprecedented step to protect and create affordable housing in the city — no matter the economic climate.

“What I want people to understand is that this [fund] is permanent.  It goes for housing and only housing,” she said. “It has no sunset. When we are not the hot city and the population wanes, people will still be struggling to find housing and this fund will still exist.”

Council members have critiqued both the size and source of revenue for the trust fund. Citing concerns that the proposed fund would not do enough, Councilman Christopher Herndon proposed an alternative plan that would use $20 million from the council’s currently flush general fund to support affordable housing in 2017. That would buy the city time, he says, to seek more substantial funding that does not rely upon further taxing residents. Other members are concerned about placing more fees on developers.

A coalition of groups calling itself the Globeville Elyria-Swansea Anti-Displacement Coalition says the city must do much more. It plans to rally on the front steps of City Hall before tonight’s meeting to call attention to the consequences the lack of affordable housing has upon residents of the three neighborhoods just north of I-70. The city has contributed to the problem, the coalition says, with its National Western Center redevelopment and transit-oriented development projects.

“Faced with tough choices like: to pay rent or health care, and be evicted or go hungry for a night, the implications of this crisis continue to deepen and tear families and communities apart,” the group’s statement read.

A survey of 500 residents conducted on behalf of the coalition found that 89 percent said they cannot afford the average rent in Denver.  Further, nearly 90 percent of surveyed residents said they did not want to leave the neighborhood, but nearly two-thirds of renters in the neighborhood have no lease or a month-to-month lease, making their housing situations unstable. About half of GES residents earn less than $25,000 per year and a majority are Hispanic.

Among those residents is Raymunda Correon, a Swansea resident for the last 9 years. Correon told The Colorado Independent that she gets no respite from the threat of eviction and prohibitive rent.

In May, the home she was renting was purchased, but she says she was not notified. Correon only found out when a man she didn’t know affixed a “For Sale” sign on her house.

As it turned out, her home had been bought by a corporation that had been registered the day before the house closed. The company then elected to increase her rent by 40 percent.

Correon lives with her husband, her son and three grandchildren. She says she has searched for a house in the area, but as prices have skyrocketed, she hasn’t been able to find anything she can afford.  She has a month-to-month lease, so the company that owns her home can ask her to leave with only 10 days’ notice should it decide to do so.

A micro-entrepreneur who sells food, Correon says her income would drop if she had to move. Unable to drive, she says her livelihood and lifestyle are interwoven with her community.

But, she says, she will have to face that reality. “I’m a fighter, I’ll make it work,” Correon said.

Denver’s City Council meets tonight at 5:30 p.m. in room 450 of the City & County Building.

Photo credit: Jeffrey Beall, Creative Commons, Flickr