3 Things To Know About Denver’s First Affordable Housing Fund

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David Zalubowski/AP
A for sale sign in front of a home in Colorado.

The Denver City Council on Monday night gave final approval on a 9-4 vote to a proposal that would create the city’s first dedicated affordable housing fund. It would create or preserve 6,000 affordable housing units over 10 years. Here’s three key things to know about the fund.

1: There was broad agreement on the problem the city faces.

Denver has become an expensive place to live – and some are just priced out of the market entirely. It used to be that affordable housing meant helping out the very poor – now the city is trying to also help people with moderate-level incomes maintain housing.

During the public hearings throughout the legislative process, you would hear time and time again from long-term residents that they can’t afford to live in Denver any more. Here’s one example: David Lopez is a Denver native who lives in the city’s Sun Valley neighborhood. His family was once homeless. But now that they have a home, they struggle to afford living there.

“My family wished we had affordable housing when we were homeless, and we still do. We struggle everyday for rent. I’m a college student. I’m an intern. That’s not going to help in any way for my mom to help her with the rent,” he said.

2: The city has a plan to pay for the program.

About 51 percent of the funding will come from a small property tax increase. And a reminder: the city doesn’t have to go to voters to ask permission for a property tax hike because voters gave them that OK in 2012. And this will be a small tax increase, which will cost the average homeowner an extra dollar of taxes a month.

Now, the other side of the funding is what led to the most dissension. It’s the establishment of a new development fee. These are one-time fees on housing construction. But a lot of folks in the development community say the fee hike would have adverse impacts. They say the fees wouldn’t provide reliable funding in down markets. And they argue those costs would be passed along to the very folks the city is trying to help – renters.

Gene Meyers is the CEO of Thrive Homebuilders. He once sat on Gov. John Hickenlooper’s affordable housing task force.

“We run the risk that if we continue to increase the cost of housing, we’ll price more people out,” he said.

Some housing economists agreed with Meyers. But others who supported the measure said, yes the fees could be passed through to renters. B but the magnitude of those costs would be very small.

3: Alternative legislation was also offered but failed.

That was an effort by Councilman Christopher Herndon who said the city needed more time to study different kinds of funding options. In the meantime, he proposed taking a lot of money out of this year’s general fund budget to provide more immediate funding for affordable housing while the council thinks we think things through.

Those who opposed that measure said the issue has been studied enough. Councilwoman Robin Kniech, who sponsored the legislation that that passed, took issue with council members who say her effort doesn’t do enough.

“It’s worth it to the hundreds of seniors a year who can age in place on Social Security. And it’s worth it to the hundreds of children who won’t be moving from classroom to classroom when their parents have to find cheaper housing,” she said.

Kniech also said it’s worth it to folks who are homeless who want to find safe housing. And it’s worth it to restaurant workers and in other service industries, some of whom leave Denver because it’s too expensive here.

There were some key amendments tacked on through the process that made Kniech’s proposal more attractive for some council members. One of them provides more accountability because it creates a plan that details how the city spends money on housing.