Jamie Giellis: Why You Should Elect Me Mayor of Denver

Jamie Giellis
Jamie Giellis jamiefordenver.com
This May, Denver will choose a mayor to lead the city for the next four years. But where do candidates stand on the issues? And how do they plan to earn your vote?

As part of our mayor's race coverage, we asked each of them. Below, find out what one of the hopefuls, former RiNo Art District president Jamie Giellis, had to say.

Although election day, May 7, is still months away, an important deadline is looming. Candidates have until March 13 to submit a verified petition comprised of at least 300 signatures from registered voters to qualify for the ballot.

At this writing, ten people have filed paperwork with the Denver Elections Division to run for mayor: Lisa Calderón, Stephan Evans (also known as Chairman Seku), Marcus Giavanni, Giellis, Hancock, Kalyn Heffernan, Danny Lopez, Leatha Scott, Ken Simpson and Penfield Tate. We invited all of them to share their take on important matters facing Denver. The questions were the same for every candidate, and we set no word limit on answers.

Evans, Scott and Lopez have not responded to our outreach thus far, although the latter spoke to us for a previous mayoral run in 2011. In addition, Giavanni declined to participate by way of a memorable reply. The other six took part.

Continue to learn more about Giellis and her positions on the subjects that are front and center in Denver right now.

Westword: How would you describe yourself and the reasons you decided to run for mayor?

Jamie Giellis: I have always been a person who is extremely curious and interested in how to find creative solutions to problems. I graduated college with a degree in journalism because I wanted to hear and report on people, their stories and what was happening in their lives. I left journalism out of a desire to dig in and help community, not just report on it. I became involved in working with cities and the neighborhoods within them to find solutions to issues impacting their communities. It was my job to bring all sides together and work to find common ground and solutions that worked for everybody. I have been doing that work across the country and around the world for the past sixteen years and in Denver since 2006.

I decided to run for mayor after extensive work with neighborhoods across the city who were struggling with our vast growth and seeing its consequences to their quality of life and opportunity here. Growth without a game plan, I have called it. Growth that has benefited a few and delivered extraordinary challenges for many. I have worked with communities in this city who have felt ambushed by the impacts of unplanned development in their neighborhood and frustrated by the city’s lack of response to their concerns and lack of action to make things better. Denver is growing, but we can do it in a way that doesn’t throw buildings up with bad construction and bad design in areas where no transit or green space is part of the plan. But to grow thoughtfully, we must grow smart. I am the only candidate that has a master's in public administration from the University of Colorado at Denver (having studied to be a city manager) and the only candidate who has spent a career advising communities and governments of all sizes on how to smartly manage urban growth. I understand how cities work and the complex problems they face. I have worked in almost every quadrant of this city and with every city agency. I have seen the problems and have a vision and a strategy for what Denver can be moving forward.

How would you tackle Denver's affordable-housing issues?

In January, I announced my Neighborhood Express Bus Tour and committed to meeting with neighbors in every neighborhood across the city. As of February 24, I have been to 28 of Denver’s 78 neighborhoods, and the top issues I hear from neighbors are centered on over-development and attainable and affordable housing. The lack of attainable housing has become a crisis, and the City of Denver has done little to actually solve the problem. If we are to be a city for every generation, it’s critical that we elevate attainable housing oversight and action to the highest level within the City of Denver and hold our leadership accountable to turn allocated funding into actual housing. I am committed to:

1. Ending the attainable-housing crisis in a generation, investing $1 billion in attainable housing over the next ten years

In 2016, the Denver City Council approved an affordable-housing fund from property-tax revenue and a onetime development fee to raise $150 million over ten years to create or preserve 6,000 affordable homes. The 2019 city budget accelerated that by including more than $50 million over the next five years, thanks to an infusion of cannabis tax money. This is not enough, and the city has not prioritized how money will be turned into housing units. Adequate resources must be committed to end the housing crisis. We must prioritize getting housing built in the core, while also creating healthy neighborhoods that are well connected through a variety of thoughtful transportation corridors.

2. Elevate the City’s oversight of attainable housing to a cabinet-level position

The failure to prioritize both retention and growth of affordable housing has been profound. To remedy this, I will move housing oversight out of the Office of Economic Development and establish the Office of Attainable Housing, a stand-alone agency and cabinet position reporting directly to the mayor. Why? Because housing has become an afterthought in OED, where the agency also oversees workforce development, business incentives and small-business support. I will make it one of my top priorities. Housing targeted to different income levels requires different financial solutions and support and should be treated as such. The current administration’s strategy of trying to handle each of these disparate types of housing has created a muddled one-size-fits-all approach that has been ill-suited to solve the housing crisis.

3. Stop affordable foreclosures and buy back existing affordable units

This is the first step to stop the loss of existing affordable housing. Once an affordable deed-restricted home goes into foreclosure, the deed is lifted and becomes market rate. We have lost more than 200 affordable homes to this problem over the last decade. The Right of First Refusal Ordinance, passed in 2016 by Denver City Council, gives the City of Denver the first right of refusal to buy back affordable units. The city has not exercised this once — failing to enact our only policy specifically crafted to preserve affordable housing. No longer on my watch.

4. Create streamlined city processes to expedite the delivery of attainable housing

The City will become a navigator and coordinator for attainable housing development, helping to make the process clearer for those wanting to move thoughtful projects forward. I will:

• Streamline policies and procedures to expedite release of the affordable-housing funds, which have proven difficult to obtain under the current rules;
• Set clear city priorities for use of Low-Income Housing Tax Credits in partnership with the Colorado Housing Finance Authority to maximize impact;
• Serve as a liaison to support attainable housing developers in obtaining support with other key partners including, but not limited to, the Denver Housing Authority, who can help with maximizing federal resources; CHFA, who can help with tax credits; and the Denver Urban Renewal Authority, who can help with tax increment financing;
• Identify how we can weave prioritization of attainable housing throughout other City of Denver departments and policies — in particular, Community Planning and Development.

5. Open up City of Denver-owned assets and land for attainable housing

I will commit to creating an inventory of every piece of underutilized city-owned land where we can locate new affordable-housing units. I will also work with other civic partners (CDOT, RTD, Denver Public Schools) to identify creative partnership opportunities for housing projects on their land.

6. Build the coalition

We can’t solve the attainable-housing crisis alone. I will be a leader in building a coalition to help us solve this critical challenge for our city. I will commit to:

• Working with our private-sector companies and investors to support attainable-housing development, exploring opportunities for them to invest in this critical need for the city;
• Establishing regional partnerships with our surrounding municipalities. The attainable-housing crisis is impacting all of us, and it’ll be critical for us to work together to be aggressive on the issue and to leverage resources.
• Work with our congressional delegation to advocate for expansion of federal tools that do work to advance attainable housing, notably Low-Income Housing Tax Credits.

Would you be in favor of using city land for affordable housing?

Yes. As I said above, I will commit to creating an inventory of every piece of underutilized city-owned land where we can locate new affordable-housing units. I will also work with other civic partners (CDOT, RTD, Denver Public Schools) to identify creative partnership opportunities for housing projects on their land. We have to stop using our public resources to sell off for private development. Our public land gives us the best immediate opportunity to expand attainable-housing development.

Would you require affordable housing in every housing development? If so, why? If not, why not?

Yes. I think it’s imperative that we require developers to create a healthy mix of housing prices all over the city. The previous affordable-housing initiative was called the Inclusionary Housing Ordinance, which required affordable [housing] to be built on site only if development was 29 units or more, thus creating circumstances where developers limited their development size or split lots. Recently, Denver switched to a linkage fee, but the unfortunate reality is that the fee is placed on all housing, thus actually making the cost of housing more, and the fee sits at the city without prioritization of how it comes out. We need a better solution to get housing built all over the city — not just where the land is cheapest.

Do you support rent control in Denver?

No. An analysis of rent control in the U.S. has shown that its unintended consequences can outweigh its benefits. That said, I do believe we need more in the way of supporting renters’ rights and am interested in exploring other creative concepts being deployed by cities, such as a citywide system of government social insurance for renters. For example, households that see their rent go up could be eligible for tax credits to offset rent hikes and vouchers to help the cost of moving. The money for the system could come from taxes on landlords, which would effectively spread the cost among all renters and landowners. I think there are many ideas to be pursued to help address rising rents, but I do not believe rent control is a silver bullet.

Would you expand the tiny homes concept? If so, how? If not, why not?

Absolutely. The two critical pieces of addressing homelessness are housing first and coordinated supportive services. Tiny homes offer a temporary solution to getting our unhoused neighbors off the street and into a place where they can then be helped on to the next phase of their life. I have personally seen the change in the individuals who live at the Beloved Community Village, the city’s first and only tiny home village for the homeless, and the pride they take in having a place to call home. I believe that the expansion of tiny homes can be a true, creative public-private partnership in which the city provides land and partners with the private sector to build the homes. The city can help clear the way legislatively to make tiny homes more feasible in Denver and can also be a leader in engaging with neighborhoods across the city to welcome tiny home villages to their community.

How would you address homelessness in Denver?

I would address homelessness in the first 100 days of my administration. Working with other homeless advocates, I will develop a plan to develop a housing-first policy that gets our unhoused neighbors off the streets and into a safe place. Denver has spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on “homeless sweeps,” and yet the numbers of people living on our streets is rising. As mayor, I will:

• Work with communities to find innovative solutions for temporary (e.g. tiny homes, sanctioned camping sites, convertible housing) and permanent housing options, and ensure the housing comes with wrap-around support services;
• Coordinate service providers and delivery of services to the homeless community, including mental health support, addiction support and pathways to employment;
• Develop a mobile social worker network that solicits the homeless daily to understand their needs and works with them to access the appropriate agencies, including health care, benefits, identification, job training and applying for housing;
• Discourage community groups from feeding the homeless in public spaces such as Civic Center Park, instead partnering with them to help transport people to centers for food where they then have access to other services;
• Expand Denver’s day work program for the homeless;
• Increase trash receptacles and traveling bathrooms, showers and laundry facilities. The increase in human waste and trash on our sidewalks is unacceptable, and the indignity of having to use the streets as a bathroom is not acceptable in 2019;
• Be a leader in building a regional coalition with surrounding cities to find solutions that are long-term.

What's your position on the Right to Rest bill?

I believe that people who are homeless deserve our respect and compassion. I don’t believe the Right to Survive [initiative] is the right solution to the problem, and I will not be supporting it.

Is development in Denver being done responsibly?

There is some development in Denver that is being done responsibly, but certainly not the majority. Quick construction, bad design and maximization of the lot, however, are to a large extent the outcome of a zoning code that needs improving. And when the city makes moves to undo voter-passed legislation such as green roofs, we give developers the louder voice in how development is done. These things, and a stronger process for community engagement, need to be our immediate focus in a new administration.

What improvements do you believe should be made to Denver's public-transportation system?

Denver and the surrounding region have a strong spine in FasTracks, but we do not have a strong intra-city transit system that moves people where they want to go. As mayor, I will:

1. Return Denver to a streetcar network that worked for the people of this city

Until 1950, Denver had one of the largest streetcar networks in the country (before that, cable cars ruled the road here!), and it’s time to reconnect Denver’s neighborhoods using the streetcar model and network of the past with modern technology to propel us forward for 21st-century needs. So many other cities — from Portland and Oklahoma City to El Paso and Las Vegas — are making this forward-thinking investment. We will find a way to build intra-city transit that provides a real option to getting cars off roads, leveraging FasTracks. All great cities have two tiers of transit — regional and local. We have built out much of the regional framework. Now, Denver must invest in getting people where they need to go within the city. We can fund transit improvements with innovative tools, including exploring ideas such as adding a small fee on every rideshare ride and tools that capture and invest a portion of the increased value along new transit corridors. Additionally, we will commit to integrating technology and signage to make use of both local and regional transit networks easy for all.

2. Thoughtfully integrate transit into land-use planning

Good urban planning around Smart Growth policies tie together land-use planning and added density to transit, green space and the need for neighborhood supporting businesses, among other things. I will commit to this approach, planning appropriate density in development along transit corridors and not haphazardly throughout historic neighborhoods, and I will commit to providing wide sidewalks and bike lanes with plenty of green space so that people enjoy their walk or bike ride to a streetcar or bus line.

3. Give access to transit to all

Great cities provide basic opportunities and services to their residents — ALL their residents. My commitment is to build a transit network that works, that ALL can afford to use. I will build on and improve RTD’s subsidy program to ensure we can deliver reduced or free transit fares for our youth, our workers and those who most need affordable mobility options.

Would you support RTD fare increases? If so, why? If not, why not?

No. Already I am hearing that RTD has become too expensive for many to ride. There is not enough connectivity, and service is reduced or limited in certain areas of the city. I do support students under eighteen riding for free. Denver Public Schools has eliminated school bus rides for high school students, and many depend on the bus for their transportation to and from school. The cost of getting to and from school on the RTD should not be another obstacle in ensuring our students — or anyone — get to where they need to be every day. A benefit is RTD will be creating future riders and transit users.

Would you work to expand Denver's bicycle network? If so, how?

Yes. As mayor, I will be committed to creating a bike-lane network that connects people, neighborhoods and places. It is a key piece of an overall mobility plan that moves people through the city. Safe bike lanes and supporting a bike culture are important for a city like Denver. My belief is that the best approach is to first ensure that the entire, inter-connected network of bike lanes across the city is implemented at a base level, then work to invest in the bike-lane infrastructure and technologies over time.

What should be done to deal with Denver's opioid crisis?

This is an issue all over the country and has gotten worse in the last decade. Ideally, the federal government should be taking the lead in a centralized approach to treat those who are addicted and to keep a new generation from becoming addicted. As mayor, I will work with law enforcement, the state, other cities in the region, Denver Public Schools and the private sector to increase treatment centers for those who are addicted and to provide education around prescription medication and the use of illicit drugs. I believe the city’s lawsuit against pharmaceutical companies is a good move, and I also applaud other cities who are using technology and data to drive delivery of services to overcome deaths related to overdose.

What's your position on supervised use sites?

I do not support supervised use sites.

Where do you stand on social consumption venues?

Voters support social consumption venues, and I agree. It is now up to the city to create a reasonable set of rules and regulations that allow these small businesses to operate. As mayor, I will support permanently allowing social cannabis use at certain businesses and will work with the industry and the community to make sure they are safe and a good fit for the area. I believe this is an important move to also help address community-wide concerns about marijuana consumption in public.

What can and should be done to improve law enforcement in Denver?

World-class cities have strong police forces that are highly trained, compassionate and supported by the city. It is critical that we use innovative technology to ensure their safety and the safety of our citizens, but as critical is continued education on mental health symptoms and tools, cultural acceptance and understanding, racial profiling and positive community engagement. As mayor, I will:

• Support increased officers on the street;
• Support more community policing;
• Support use of body cams during all interactions with people;
• Increase officer engagement on police department policy;
• Create an open dialogue between the city, the police union and DPD personnel to ensure the needs of the department are heard.

Do you believe reforms in the Denver Sheriff Department and the Denver Police Department have gone far enough, or are there additional measures you would institute? If so, what are they?

No, the reforms have not gone far enough. Problems still exist in the jail, and we need new leadership in place who will hold our police chief and sheriff responsible.

Do you believe the Office of the Independent Monitor should have greater investigatory powers over law enforcement leadership?

Yes. We need independent eyes on our problems so that we can reach solutions that work for all people. It’s an important check and balance to ensure that the OIM can address abuses by anybody within our law enforcement system.

Should the City of Denver create a mechanism that would hold the mayor more accountable?

The first and most important mechanism is the election this May. Denver is ready for a new generation of leadership, and we have a chance to elect leaders who are ready to make a significant change. As mayor, I will commit to transparent, community-driven processes to set the budget and appoint our city’s department leaders. I will work closely and openly with my team and with city council. I will advance community budgeting processes that give community a voice in where we prioritize our investment each year. And I’ll facilitate conversations about changes to our systems in Denver that support stronger checks and balances.

Do you plan to live in Cableland as mayor, and if not, what should the city do with the property?

No, I love my neighborhood and will continue to live there as mayor. Cableland was donated to the city by Bill Daniels and should be used in a way that reflects his generosity while benefiting the people of Denver. I would support its use for nonprofit fundraising and retreats or programs that benefit Denver Public Schools students, as well as other activities.

Are there other major issues we haven’t mentioned that are important to you, and if so, what are they?

Yes. Many. They include:

• Truly helping every neighborhood succeed and thrive, by meeting them where they are and addressing their concerns with thoughtful approaches
• Ending pay-to-play practices around the awarding of contracts for large construction projects
• Protection of parks and green space. Denver has cut down hundreds of trees and continues to water with untreated water, which is causing long-term damage to our beautiful shade canopies. I will bring back former Governor John Hickenlooper’s “Mile High Million” commitment to plant a million trees.
• Supporting small businesses and clearing a path for them to succeed
• Ensuring we are creating a city that truly accommodates every generation
• Ensuring safely designed streets to accommodate pedestrians, cyclists, transit and traffic
• Supporting our schools and families to ensure every neighborhood has access to a good school
• Supporting a thriving arts and culture community
• Denver is moving ahead at a fast pace to build Aerotropolis, a city by DIA that will include businesses and homes. We don’t know if this is a good idea or not because it has not been vetted with the residents of Denver. How it will be designed, what will the impacts be on current businesses in the city and on our convention center downtown? How will people get back and forth from Aerotropolis to downtown? Who will pay for it? Before we build legacy projects, voters should be given an opportunity to have a voice in the process.
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Michael Roberts has written for Westword since October 1990, serving stints as music editor and media columnist. He currently covers everything from breaking news and politics to sports and stories that defy categorization.
Contact: Michael Roberts