Denver’s affordable housing plans draw fire as council approves $2 billion budget

Concerns and criticisms about the early execution of Denver’s major new affordable housing effort led to several votes against Mayor Hancock’s proposed budget.

(Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

staff photo

Denver’s city council approved Mayor Michael Hancock’s proposed $2 billion budget in a 10-3 vote on Monday, setting the spending plan for the year ahead.

However, several council members expressed concerns and criticisms about the early execution of Denver’s major new affordable housing effort.

Here’s why some members voted no.

Councilwoman Robin Kniech said that she voted against the budget because Mayor Michael Hancock’s administration wasn’t responsive enough to her questions about the city’s affordable housing spending.

“My trust in the process was misplaced,” she said. She did not receive the details she requested about money that has been set aside for housing-related programs, she said. She also was unhappy that the city had not set aside money to pay for lawyers for people facing evictions.

“A strong government response to the housing crisis can’t just be about the quantity of resources or the number of new programs that can be announced to the media. Because these are taxpayer dollars, it also has to be based on transparency and accountability to the public,” she said.

Councilman Rafael Espinoza also voted against the budget, saying he felt that the administration didn’t listen enough to council input. Councilman Kevin Flynn joined the “no” votes because he doubts the legality of spending public money on a legal defense fund for immigrants, he said.

Councilwoman Debbie Ortega voted for the budget, but said that the affordable housing fund needs to be more accountable to its advisory committee.

“It can’t be just one person making a decision and charging forward like a bull in a china closet,” she said.

Mayor Michael Hancock’s office responded in a written statement after the meeting.

“We’re obviously disappointed in the Councilwoman’s vote against a budget that unquestionably addresses the community’s most pressing priorities,” wrote spokesperson Jenna Espinoza, referring to Kniech, who had made the most critical comments.

“The Administration and Council have made great progress together over the past few years when it comes to affordable housing, and we very much hope to continue doing so moving forward, particularly as we face growing challenges from the federal government.”

Still, the budget passed easily.

Council members said they were happy with the overall thrust of the plan, and sometimes with the specific programs that they championed. Ortega said she was satisfied that the administration would work to minimize traffic impacts from new construction in Northeast Denver, as she requested.

Councilman Paul López liked the final product, too.

“There’s a lot of things that can be done a little differently in the budget but overall I believe it’s a good budget,” said López, who recently convinced the administration and the council to double the funding for the immigrant legal defense fund.

Councilman Paul Kashmann, meanwhile, had reservations but was happy to see spending to fix sidewalks, he said.

Council President Albus Brooks said that he shared concerns about the city’s affordability plans, but he still came out in favor of the budget.

“We have to have incredible execution when it comes to our plans, and that’s called into question tonight. I join (Kniech) in that concern. I’m incredibly concerned. Every time I go out into the community — they’re looking at me, as to why you’re not executing on these plans,” he said.

“But still, this budget is doing as it was intended to do.”