Mayor Michael Hancock has only two years left as the city’s official leader, but during the State of the City speech on Monday, he suggested he will keep trying to address homelessness, a problem that’s intensified in Denver since he first took office 10 years ago.
Hancock delivered the prepared remarks virtually. On the live feed, a large construction crane towered behind him, a common sight in the city. He committed to making sure those cranes continue filling the city’s skies by announcing he wants to commit $28 million in federal money from the American Rescue Plan to the city’s Affordable Housing Fund.
The city’s getting $308 million total from the American Rescue Plan announced in May. The amount Hancock committed nearly matches what the city’s affordable fund makes annually, which is about $30 million. That money comes from a fee on new construction and helps pay for affordable units. The city regularly uses federal funds to build such units.
“We think housing creation and preservation is an important part to our recovery,” said Department of Housing Stability Executive Director Britta Fisher. She estimated that the additional money could help fund about 800 affordable housing units in the city.
Hancock said the city will create a specialized team to prioritize affordable housing projects so that they can be built sooner, which Fisher said will help overall planning for these kinds of projects.
“You have my word, we are going to continue to deploy every tool available, with a goal of lifting thousands of people out of homelessness over the next two years, including those who are living on our streets in the most unsafe and unhealthy of condition,” Hancock said during his speech.
During his speech, Hancock mentioned the rise of homeless encampments across the city. He’s faced criticism from advocates and people experiencing homelessness over how the city uses sweeps to clear areas with tents in the name of public safety. Advocates say these sweeps do more harm than good, and a recent report by a local organization supporting people experiencing homelessness suggests the sweeps simply cause people to move down a block to a new area. He urged the federal government to provide more help with addressing homelessness.
Hancock called the city resilient but warned residents that the pandemic is not over.
Hancock also alluded to last year’s demonstrations against police violence and racism. He offered people, especially young people calling for more accountability, some ways to create direct change, including running for office or applying locally to be a police officer, sheriff’s deputy, firefighter or paramedic.
He also announced plans to build a new arena at the National Western Center. The arena would have a capacity of roughly 10,000 people and be used for concerts and other events, according to his spokesperson Mike Strott. The arena would be paid for by a proposed bonding package of more than $400 million currently being considered by the Denver City Council.
Hancock also used the speech to address Denver’s rise in violent crime, spoke about climate change in the city and said he will support local businesses by establishing a revolving loan fund paid by the city’s marijuana sales tax revenue.