Denver voters could decide to tax themselves and visitors to raise money for homeless services

The measure would raise an estimated $40 million a year to increase housing options, rental assistance and supportive services like shelters.

Dustin Fitzpatrick leans on his tent as authorities enforce a clean up of this encampment near the intersection of California and 21st Streets. May 27, 2020. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

Dustin Fitzpatrick leans on his tent as authorities enforce a clean up of this encampment near the intersection of California and 21st Streets. May 27, 2020. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

staff photos

At-large City Councilwoman Robin Kniech will ask her fellow legislators to refer a ballot measure to voters this November that would raise Denver’s sales tax to pay for homelessness services.

The proposal, which would have to clear the council’s governance committee and a vote of the full council before making the ballot, would raise the city’s sales tax by .25 percent, or 2.5 cents on a $10 purchase, according to a press release from Mayor Michael Hancock.

The tax would raise an estimated $40 million a year to “increase housing options, rental assistance and supportive services,” Hancock, who supports the tax proposal, said in a statement Wednesday. The money would also increase shelter capacity and quality, including 24-hour services and counseling for people experiencing homelessness — if it makes the ballot and if voters OK the increase.

The announcement of Kniech’s tax proposal came Wednesday alongside an endorsement from Hancock of sanctioned, open-air camps for people experiencing homelessness — a practice he had rejected for years.

“The people of Denver have been passionate about improving our city’s response to homelessness, and I’m grateful for the community-council-mayoral partnership that will help us deliver on that shared goal,” Kniech said in a statement. “Safe Outdoor Space will help us reduce harm and risk to folks falling through the cracks today, and, with the support of voters in November, a sales tax measure will expand pathways into housing, shelter services and innovative interventions in 2021 and beyond.”

Kniech did not immediately respond to our request for comment.

Council members are expected to hear the tax proposal at the governance committee August 4.

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