Election

Denver’s 2020 ballot measures: The one about a sales tax increase to address homelessness

It’s 2B, the Homelessness Resolution Sales Tax.

A dining area at Sinton's Sanctuary, the shelter for senior women at the Volunteers of America building on Santa Fe Drive in Denver's Lincoln Park neighborhood. Aug. 14, 2020.

A dining area at Sinton's Sanctuary, the shelter for senior women at the Volunteers of America building on Santa Fe Drive in Denver's Lincoln Park neighborhood. Aug. 14, 2020.

Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite
Donna Bryson. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

Remember when Denver set out to end homelessness by 2015?

Since that year, according to the Point in Time snapshot of homelessness, the problem has grown. And as city officials and nonprofit service providers are seeing even more people on the streets because of the pandemic’s impact on the economy, Denver voters are being asked this November to raise the sales tax to do more to address homelessness.

City Councilwoman-at-large Robin Kniech sponsored the City Council initiative that put ballot measure 2B before voters. In an appeal for funds for a campaign to explain the initiative, Kniech said voter approval would “help our city leverage hundreds of millions of dollars over time to grow the pipeline of supportive housing to 1,800 homes over 10 years” and would help help maintain improvements to shelter services that have been made possible in recent months by federal emergency COVID-19 relief funds.

What the ballot question says: Should city and county of Denver sales and use taxes be increased by $40 million annually, commencing Jan. 1, 2021, and by whatever additional amounts are raised annually thereafter from a twenty-five one-hundredths of one percent (0.25%) sales tax (2.5 cents on a ten-dollar purchase), that will not be collected on food for home consumption, water, fuel, medical supplies or feminine hygiene products, to be used to fund housing, shelter or services for people experiencing homelessness …?

What that means: For starters, that $40 million was an estimate made before COVID-19 slowed the economy. Less may be generated in the first year if voters approve this sales tax increase, which would increase total sales taxes from 8.31 percent to 8.56 percent. Voters will see some examples on their ballots of how the extra money might be used, such as building housing and improving shelters by expanding their hours and ensuring that more substance abuse counseling and other support is provided. Kniech also has spoken of the need to try new ideas, such a providing safe parking for people living in their cars.

Who supports it: In addition to Kniech and other City Council members, Mayor Michael Hancock and service providers such as the Colorado Coalition for the Homeless and the Delores Project back the measure. As does the Downtown Denver Partnership. The political committee Denver Makes a Difference registered with the Denver Elections Division to push 2B.

Who’s against it: No group has emerged to formally oppose the initiative. Questions have been raised about the impact on low-income Denverites of raising the sales tax and about whether the extra money will be used prudently and effectively.

Check out our comprehensive voting guide here. Happy voting!

Want some more? Explore other Election stories.

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