Denver mayor considers “surge” of housing money as polls show voter interest

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Construction on the Coloradan behind Union Station, July 26, 2017. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite) union station; residential real estate; development; construction; denver; colorado; denverite; kevinjbeaty;

Mayor Michael Hancock gave another hint on Thursday that he will consider ramping up funding for affordable housing. Meanwhile, new polling shows that affordable housing could be a dominant issue in the local election next year.

Speaking to an advisory group, Hancock said that he asked city staff to look for more money soon after the city revamped its housing policy in 2016. Currently, Denver's set to spend about $15 million per year for a decade to subsidize lower-income housing and support related efforts.

Hancock told his finance team that the city could need more money than that.

"I said, 'You wake up one morning and you've just inherited $150 million ... paid to you over ten years, but in reality, you have needs today that might exceed that commitment, at least on an annual basis. How would you go about addressing that?'" he told the Housing Advisory Committee.

"If we needed $75 million today, $15 million's not going to help us, right? So, how do we do that?" the mayor added.

In response, his Department of Finance and Office of Economic Development have been working on options to raise more money, he said. They're looking at ideas including a proposal put forward by the advocacy group All In Denver, he said.

"How do we do this, to meet today's needs, but also make sure we can sustain our efforts over time?" he said, adding that staff are considering whether the city could mount a "surge."

Options on the table:

 All In Denver wants the city to take on more debt to pay for more housing. One of its options would bring in $150 million without raising taxes, it claims. Another would raise property taxes to allow $300 million in new funding.

Council President Albus Brooks also has said he wants to see more money in the fund. He has suggested that the city could refinance old debt, freeing up more room to take on new debt.

Hancock said that his administration's internal polling has shown that the issue's increasingly important to Denver residents.

"We've seen where the people of Denver have elevated housing," he said. "As few as five years ago, housing and homelessness were not ranked as high as we see it now."

A survey released today by All In Denver also showed demand for action.

The survey of about 400 likely voters, conducted by Strategies 360, found that 80 percent were more likely to support candidates who made "affordable housing solutions" a top priority.

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