At this point, talking about Denver’s new office of Housing and Opportunities for People Everywhere — the Office of HOPE — involves using a lot of buzzwords, but the idea is that this office will help turn the city’s many plans around housing, homelessness and economic development into coordinated action.
“HOPE is embarking on a first-of-its-kind initiative toward a coordinated and comprehensive approach to the full homeless to housing spectrum,” Mayor Michael Hancock said as he introduced Erik Soliván, the executive director of this new office Monday morning. “In short, to create a unified and forceful effort to help those who need a home to find a home, and that means homes and support for those without them, homes for our workforce who are renting and homes for our families and individuals hoping to achieve homeownership.”
Soliván, 37, grew up in North Philadelphia. His father was a factory worker, his mother a secretary. He’s worked on housing and community development in a variety of roles. Most recently, he was senior vice president for the Philadelphia Housing Authority and oversaw the housing authority’s Office of Policy and Planning. He worked on managing multiyear housing plans, public-private partnerships, social service integration, grant funding and execution of the authority’s U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development Choice Neighborhood Initiatives. (Denver’s Sun Valley is now the site of a Choice Neighborhood project and the recipient of a $30 million grant.)
Hancock announced the creation of the office of HOPE during his state of the city address, where he promised “development without displacement.” The city has budgeted $650,000 for the office in 2017. Soliván’s salary is $135,000 a year.
Soliván acknowledged the urgency around housing issues.
“Today we build consensus for collective action. … Let us begin to share in that prosperity. Let us begin to share in that hope and build paths to housing and opportunity for all families, for all workers and all people everywhere,” he said. “We know the task ahead will be difficult. We know this does not come with any easy fixes. We know there are obstacles. We know there are limited resources and limited patience. Yes, there is certainly some limited patience.”
What will this mean in practical terms for people living on the margins?
“Right now that’s difficult to answer,” Soliván said. “My challenge at the outset of this office is to engage our stakeholder community and to engage our internal as well as external partners, to divide what that strategy looks like and to really focus on the action.”
Soliván said he will spend the next 90 days meeting with community organizations and city departments to get a sense of the challenges and issues and start to develop a “roadmap.”
Soliván said he doesn’t want to create a new plan — Denver already has plenty of plans — but he wants to make sure existing plans are implemented in efficient and effective ways, to “connect the dots and fill in the gaps.”
Malinda Anderson, director of finance for Urban Peak, an organization that works with homeless youth, asked whether the strategy would include funding for supportive services. Housing isn’t enough, she said.
“Most people don’t succeed where they don’t have supportive services,” she said. “That’s one of those gaps. Availability of housing itself is obviously a huge gap, and availability of supportive services is another huge gap.”
Anderson said the new office has important work to do.
“It’s very much needed,” she said. “We’ll see how it plays out.”