$150 Million Affordable-Housing Measure Approved by Denver City Council

Update: Last night, the Denver City Council approved an affordable-housing plan expected to raise approximately $150 million over the next decade — but not without some tweaks.

As noted in our preview of the meeting, on view below, competing bills attempted to address the affordable-housing shortage in Denver — one caused in large part by rising housing costs. Measure 625, supported by Denver mayor Michael Hancock and councilmembers such as Stacie Gilmore, was challenged by Councilman Chris Herndon-sponsored 626, which shared similar elements but would have delayed implementation of a half-mill property tax until October 2017, reportedly to give backers time to find even more money for a cause whose need was underscored by a pre-meeting rally made up of residents from the Globeville, Elyria and Swansea neighborhoods.

In the end, 625 won the day by a 9-4 vote following the passage of amendments, including one that sunsets the provision after ten years. This tweak means that council will have to review the policy before it can be renewed.

Look below to see video from the meeting; the discussion of 625 begins at about the 28-minute mark. That's followed by our previous coverage.

Original post, 5:38 a.m. September 19: Thanks to sky-high rents and rising housing costs, Denver is suffering from a serious lack of affordable housing.

The issue will be addressed at tonight's Denver City Council meeting by way of two competing bills on view below.

The first, designated by the number 625, calls for a property-tax hike of half a mill on homeowners, with the revenues poured into an affordable-housing fund intended to raise $15 million per year for a decade. The second, number 626, would delay the implementation of the tax and accompanying development-impact fees for a year, thereby giving officials time to figure out how to raise even more money for the project.

Despite this difference, both bills passed at first reading during the city council meeting on September 12 — the first unanimously, the second by a 7-5 margin — thereby setting up a prospective face-off between the proposals during the second reading tonight.

Councilwoman Stacie Gilmore is a vocal supporter of the first proposal, and she continues to stand behind it because "it's been vetted for a long duration of time and engaged stakeholders," she says. "And it's quite frankly middle-of-the-road. It doesn't err on the side of asking too much from taxpayers. It's basically $12 a year for a $300,000 home, and the development-impact fees are at a level that I think makes good sense."

As for 626, which is being pushed by Councilman Chris Herndon, Gilmore says, "my biggest problem with it is that we haven't fully vetted it with all the stakeholders, and there's a very real possibility that the developer-impact fees could be astronomical when there's something else on the table. And at the end of the day, I don't want there to be unintended consequences, like using an additional half mill or raising the property-tax side, especially because of how it might affect my district."

Gilmore represents District 11, which includes Montbello, the subject of a post last week. In our previous report, Angelle Fouther, chairperson of the Montbello Organizing Committee (MOC), attempted to debunk the neighborhood's reputation for gangs and crime even as she previewed an effort to end its status as a food desert by helping to entice a full-service grocery store to locate in the area.

As a resident of Montbello for more than twenty years, Gilmore echoes Fouther's observations. "Unfortunately, over the years, Montbello may have lacked the amenities that other communities have had. But I've pulled together a group of Montbello leaders through my council office, and we're meeting quarterly to talk about the issues in the community and how we're going to define who we are as a community." She adds that her goals include "taking away the stigma and fear of gentrification — coming to it from an empowered place instead of seeing it as something being done to us, and understanding what the gaps in the services are. Affordable housing is one, and obtainable housing is another piece."

Given these circumstances, Gilmore wants to strike a balance between raising money for affordable housing and pricing Montbello homeowners out of their residences — and she's eager to get going right away.

If 625 passes, Gilmore says, "the first year will most likely focus on implementing projects that the city and other partners have had on the books for a while and just haven't had the capacity to implement, but also preserving units and adding an assistance piece for residents who might need help staying in their primary residence. And there's also an emergency-voucher side and services for folks who are experiencing homelessness."

Granted, 626 includes these elements, too. "The bills mirror each other," Gilmore acknowledges. "But 626 wants to wait until October 2017, and 625 is saying, 'No, we've got to start collecting the property tax now.'"

The assorted councilmembers aren't all that far apart, Gilmore feels. "We're all wanting to move forward with something...and I think by going through this process, we're going to get a much stronger, more robust bill."

That's a positive thing from Gilmore's perspective, since the need is so great. "This is about how legislation will affect people's day-to-day existence and how they're able to support their families within the communities where they reside. Housing is a basic human need; we all need shelter. So we have to make our decisions from a value-based place of improving people's lives."

Tonight's meeting gets under way at 5:30 p.m. in Room 450 of the City & County Building, and Gilmore notes that "there is going to be a one-hour courtesy public hearing, so folks will be able to come and weigh in about the bills." Read both 625 and 626 here.

Denver City Council Bill 625

Denver City Council Bill 626