Denver has a 2020 affordable housing plan and it wants you to weigh in

The plan spells out concrete goals as well as looming challenges.

Britta Fisher, chief housing officer at Denver's Office of Economic Development (left to right) and City Councilwomen Robin Kniech and Jamie Torres attend a ribbon-cutting ceremony for the Arroyo Village apartments in Denver's West Colfax neighborhood, July 18, 2019. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

Britta Fisher, chief housing officer at Denver's Office of Economic Development (left to right) and City Councilwomen Robin Kniech and Jamie Torres attend a ribbon-cutting ceremony for the Arroyo Village apartments in Denver's West Colfax neighborhood, July 18, 2019. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

Donna Bryson. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

Denver aims to create or preserve 1,130 homes within reach of households earning 80 percent or less of area median income next year. That threshold equates to about $67,000 and under for a three-person home.

That goal is set in a housing plan on which the public was invited to comment starting Wednesday. After the comment period ends Oct. 10, the plan will be finalized and steps to implement it will start in January.

The Denver Economic Development & Opportunity plan also spelled out the challenges: more people needing roofs over their heads combined with more expensive roofs. The annual Point in Time survey indicates homelessness is on the rise. The median rent at the end of the first quarter of 2018 was $1,406, the highest ever and 74 percent more than a decade ago. The median price of a single family home was $470,000 in 2018, up nearly 12 percent over the previous year.

In addition, 106,000 Denver families were paying more than 30 percent of their income on housing in 2017, the most recent year for which figures were available, according to the housing plan. That made them housing cost-burdened, undermining their ability to afford transportation, food and other essentials.

The plan says that providing funding to nonprofits and other developers to help subsidize housing is the main tool for creating affordable homes and maintaining the ones Denver already has. The plan also cited city programs aimed at keeping struggling families housed by helping them with home repairs, down payments and rent.

Much of the money for the city’s efforts comes from a dedicated housing fund filled by fees paid by developers in lieu of building affordable housing, property taxes and recreational marijuana revenues. The housing fund will have some $22 million available next year.

Of that total, almost half is earmarked for the most vulnerable, people who are experiencing homelessness or in households earning 30 percent or less of the area median income (about $25,000 for a household of three). Of the remaining, 37 percent  will support households earning between 31 and 80 percent of area median income and the rest for home ownership programs.

It’s not all about money.

According to the plan, next year housing officials will find a partner to help them verify the incomes of prospective home buyers that are part of a city affordable program and develop a list of preferred lenders.

The program has about 1,400 homes that should be sold only to people earning below the area median income and who meet other requirements. The economic development department announced last year that 306 homes were possibly out of compliance because covenant restrictions may not have been adhered to when the original buyers sold them. It later raised the number to 355. The department responded with a resolution process and has been able to close many of the cases after finding that owners did have incomes that qualified them for affordable housing or having the owners complete missing documentation or correct problems with their paperwork.

The plan also calls for exploring the lowering and waiving of permit fees for affordable housing developers, and creating a stop-gap financing tool to keep properties from being converted to market-rate until long-term financing is available.

Rent control could be on the table. Or not. The plan set the goal of collaborating “with city council and state initiatives to continue to explore legislative and regulatory opportunities to enhance protections and assistance for renters, especially those vulnerable to displacement.”

“This language isn’t necessarily in reference to rent control,” Derek Woodbury, communications director for the economic development department, said in an email.

The plan referred to rental registries, which have been used elsewhere in the country to connect people to databases of available housing.

A rent control measure introduced in the state legislature this past session stalled amid vigorous opposition by landlords. The measure, which was backed by several Denver City Council members, did not set limits on rents, but would have allowed local authorities to decide for themselves whether to enact caps on how much rents could rise or to require developers to include rent-controlled units in new projects.

Denver’s housing plan envisions implementation being carried out by a new housing department carved out of Denver Economic Development and other city departments. The mayor is expected to create the department with an executive order.

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