Denver’s ready to update rules that govern nontraditional living situations for vulnerable populations, artists and others

Here’s what to expect if you want to get involved in how the city decides to handle group-living situations.
5 min. read
Golden Manor Assisted Living, West Colfax Avenue, Sept. 14, 2017. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

Large-scale city planning is well underway in Denver with the Denveright plan, establishing what Denver could look like for many years to come. Along with that, city officials are revisiting codes that govern group living situations, like live-in work spaces for artists, and other arrangements for people who are unable to live independently for a host of reasons.

The group living conversation is often a precarious one, as these types of housing solutions frequently involve vulnerable populations, and that can lead to challenging discussions about what people want, and more importantly what people don’t want, in their neighborhoods. There are also the underlying concerns regarding the history of care facilities typically being concentrated in low-income minority neighborhoods.

This week, officials and the public discussed those issues at an open house event hosted by the city's Community Planning and Development department. Councilwoman At-large Debbie Ortega said in a presentation that the neighborhood issues were not neglected as they discussed how to go about creating these new rules.

"What does this mean to low-income minority neighborhoods that may be saturated? That was part of the conversation at many of these group discussions," she said. "We're not continuing to look at the same neighborhoods to be expected to bear the brunt, if you will, of some of these same types of facilities but to look at the need across the city and see how we try to address the group home need among our different providers in the community."

What qualifies as a group living situation?

“If it’s a door that you lock and open and it's your permanent home, that's not going to be a primary focus of our conversation. If something is different because of the number of people who live there, because of the way that it's designed, or because the use of the building is different than traditional housing, then it's likely to be a part of the conversation," City Councilwoman At-large Robin Kniech said at the meeting.  "We need a whole continuum to be inclusive. Not everyone is able to live independently for some reasons, and sometimes that's temporary, we call that shelter, sometimes it's permanent, maybe you're at the end of your life, and you're in a hospice care situation."

These group-living housing options are not limited just to vulnerable populations, and as housing prices continue to surge in the city, many other groups of people who can't make rent payments as individuals have turned to alternative solutions to house themselves. For example DIY arts spaces and other type of cooperative living situations were for a long time not addressed in the city's zoning regulations.

The proposed amendments will be crafted through five phases and last week's meeting brought the process to the end of phase 2.

  • Phase 1: Project Setup
  • Phase 2: Problem Identification - you are here
  • Phase 3: Amendment Development
  • Phase 4: Review and Adoption
  • Phase 5: Implementation
A girls dorm at the Urban Peak youth homeless shelter in Overland, Nov. 2, 2017. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

If you want to be involved in the discussion, here's what you can expect.

There is only one more public meeting currently scheduled with a date that's yet to be determined.

In attendance at last week's meeting: There were about a hundred people, making it one of the larger public meetings in the city. According to Valerie Herrera, from the city’s planning services, the attendees typically range between 34 and 69 years of age. She says she said the city is actively working to recruit more younger participants, but it’s been an uphill battle.

Length of the meeting: This one was two and a half hours. So grab some food beforehand or, like me, spend the evening imagining the takeout you're going to get once said meeting is adjourned.

Format of the meeting: This meeting began with an open house, where various members of the sub-committees allowed attendees to engage with subtopics of the overall changes in greater depth.

Participants had the opportunity to huddle around boards with information dedicated to group living for DIY artists for instance, or to congregate at the section dedicated to elders if they were more interested in how group living codes affect residents 55 years old and up.

Then there was a presentation from city leaders, including city planners and city council members, followed by another open house-style session when people could address their particular concerns in greater depth. The meeting concluded with a portion for question and answers as well as limited comments.

An example of feedback organizers say has made a difference is: According to Andrew Webb, a senior city planner, one of the most consistent themes he's heard from concerned residents reaffirms the information that was collected in the subcommittee process. Many commenters have said they believe the city should take a more active role in solving the housing crisis, and "facilitate the creation of housing for Denver’s most vulnerable residents that helps them get back on their feet, while ensuring that such facilities and their surrounding communities are good neighbors to one another."

You can find out more about this subject: By visiting the city’s page dedicated to this process, and by reaching out to the city’s senior city planner, Andrew Webb and associate city planner, Eugene Howard, as their emails are listed there as well. They will also update the site when they have the date and location for the second, and final, public meeting.

Other meetings or subjects you might be interested in: It's a 45-minute bus ride away, but the city of Boulder is currently working on how it handles co-op living and if you’re into group living policy that might be right up your alley.

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