Denver Mayor Michael Hancock at the CPR studios Thursday, April 21, 2016.

(Hart Van Denburg/CPR News)

Denver's economy is booming. But not all residents benefit. During his "State of the City" address last summer, Mayor Michael B. Hancock said he hopes to change that. "Opportunity is the right of everyone," Hancock said. "Progress does not have to leave anyone behind, it should bring everyone along. And this I commit to you, we will take action to make this vision a reality."

In that speech, Hancock called for new initiatives around affordable housing and homelessness. And last week, the mayor unveiled how his administration will address those issues. Hancock spoke with Colorado Matters host Ryan Warner about affordable housing and  immigration enforcement in the city, and how the Trump administration's proposed 2018 budget could affect Denver's ability to provide services.

Interview Highlights

On why he wants eviction and foreclosure assistance:

It's very important that we preserve those opportunities for folks to live in affordable housing, as important as building or creating new affordable housing. The reality is that today we are seeing many people who receive very urgent notices from their landlords or major jumps in their rent. I've heard stories, people going from as low as $5-600 a month to $1,400 to $2,000 a month within a matter of 30 days in terms of their rent increasing, or being told to get out because they are going to convert the affordable units to more market rate units. We have to have a market that demonstrates a little more compassion and a little understanding to the plight of individuals in our city. ... 

What we are seeing is that 30 percent of the people who are coming in and out of our shelters today are people who are working every day but yet cannot afford basic housing expenses in our city. That's not okay. We are also beginning to see more active, older adults moving into our shelters, particularly senior women who are now homeless as a result of things that I just talked about, a dramatic, quick increases in rent. So these efforts to help provide eviction assistance, help begin to really advocate for changes in the laws in the State of Colorado, as well as provide mortgage assistance is going to be very critical for us to help give people that sense of security and predictability with regards to their housing in our city. 

On immigration agents in courthouses and other sensitive areas: 

 I don't think they're rogue agents but I'll tell you this Ryan, what leadership has not provided are boundaries and guardrails for ICE. And when you don't do that and you tell them simply, "Here's what we want. Go do it, and you can do it by any means necessary," that's what they're doing. When they don't receive, when they receive a letter from the mayor and all members of city council and members of our judicial branch, asking them to honor, listen, we have already, we can document nine ... let me finish. ... We can document today, nine witnesses, victims of domestic violence who backed out because of their fear walking into courthouses. That makes you and me more unsafe, everyone who calls this city home. And I gotta ask you, what good does that do when people refuse to, who have now don't trust law enforcement and our courts and will not do what's necessary to keep themselves safe, and now we have perpetrators of these crimes who will not be held accountable.

Transcript:

Ryan Warner: This is Colorado Matters. From CPR News, I'm Ryan Warner. Denver's economy is booming, but not all residents benefit. Mayor Michael Hancock hopes to change that.

Mayor Michael Hancock: Opportunity is the right of everyone. Progress doesn't have to leave anyone behind. It should bring everyone along. And this I commit to you, we will take action to make this vision a reality.

RW: That is from Hancock's last "State of the City" address in which he called for new initiatives around affordable housing and homelessness. He has just unveiled how his administration will address some of those issues. Mayor Hancock joins me from his office in downtown Denver. We're also going to talk about immigration enforcement in the city, questions of public safety at the Central Library, and how the next federal budget could affect Denver's ability to provide services. Mayor, welcome back to the show. 

MH: Ryan, thank you. Good to be with you. 

RW: Denver's housing authority says there need to be at least 21,000 additional affordable units to meet demand, and I'll say that last September the city created its first affordable housing fund. It's expected to bring $150 million over the next decade to fund about 6,000 new affordable units, so a fraction of the need spelled out there. You've said yourself that Denver can't build its way out of this challenge. So what are some specific ways, creative ways besides building that Denver is trying to keep low- and middle-income people in the city? 

MH: Well Ryan, first of all, thanks for talking about this issue. It's a very important issue for us to be addressing and a very timely one. Let me just set the stage. First, we see this as a regional challenge, that the challenges of homelessness to housing or across that spectrum is one that is best addressed across the region. Secondly, we, in 2013 I challenged really my administration, the city, and our stakeholder partners around affordable housing to build 3,000 new units within five years. We will actually meet that goal this year, one year early, because it did exactly what we expected it would do. And this is the same type of objective or at least the attitude we're going to bring toward the $150 million effort, the housing fund. And that is that it really incentivized and it really kind of jump-started and energized the market to try to respond to this challenge of affordable housing. Though we would only target 6,000 affordable housing under this fund, we expect that we are going to be able to do much more because of the kind of energy and excitement that's been ignited as a result of our commitment and the fact that we will leverage those dollars to help leverage other people's investments around affordable housing. 

RW: Okay, so that it's not just public dollars paying for this. So you think that you can break the 6,000 number. But you have said that it's not just a question of building new housing, and as part of a 30-point plan, actually, that was released just last week, you have some other ideas that could ease the housing crunch that don't involve building. For instance, eviction assistance and foreclosure assistance. Say more about those. 

MH: It's very important that we preserve those opportunities for folks to live in affordable housing, as important as building or creating new affordable housing. The reality is that today we are seeing many people who receive very urgent notices from their landlords or major jumps in their rent. I've heard stories, people going from as low as $5-600 a month to $1,400 to $2,000 a month within a matter of 30 days in terms of their rent increasing, or being told to get out because they are going to convert the affordable units to more market rate units. We have to have a market that demonstrates a little more compassion and a little understanding to the plight of individuals in our city. 

What we are seeing is that 30 percent of the people who are coming in and out of our shelters today are people who are working every day but yet cannot afford basic housing expenses in our city. That's not okay. We are also beginning to see more active, older adults moving into our shelters, particularly senior women who are now homeless as a result of things that I just talked about, a dramatic, quick increases in rent. So these efforts to help provide eviction assistance, help begin to really advocate for changes in the laws in the State of Colorado, as well as provide mortgage assistance is going to be very critical for us to help give people that sense of security and predictability with regards to their housing in our city. 

RW: Talk to me about the eviction assistance. So you would provide money from this affordable housing fund to help people meet the difference, or what?

MH: That's potentially one of the options that we look at is if, how we, if there is a major or dramatic jump, how do we provide that type of assistance until we are able to get them into certain programs that are certainly much more flush and available to them, whether it's federal dollars or state dollars. We also must look at state laws to give people more of a notice and also require landlords to play a greater role when they want to convert without dramatically putting people on the streets. That burden is something that we as a society must share, and people, if they are trying to adjust to the market, I certainly appreciate that as property owners, but we must address this with some compassion. So I think the reality, Ryan, is that the table has to be set with all different types of options for us to play, but the $150 million dollar fund is certainly a tool that we might deploy as a way to support and to provide some assistance to those individuals.

RW: You said that Colorado law might need to change as well. Is the subtext of what I hear you saying, Mayor Hancock, that you'd like rent control of some sort?

MH: Absolutely not. I didn't say that. I think the reality is that the state controls the really the kind of landlord-renter relationship in terms of the laws. So when I talk about that, what kind of notice do people deserve before you put them on the street or dramatically increase their rents? I think we need to be able to set that table to say, "You know what? These are individuals, and if you are going to dramatically shift on them, I think there are some rights they should have in terms of the type of notice they receive."

RW: Okay. Earlier this week I spoke with Diana Elliott of the Urban Institute. It's a D.C. based think tank. They have a new report on workforce housing in Denver, and with that new affordable housing fund, Elliott calls Denver a national leader on this issue. But she is still concerned about the housing gap, and one recommendation she had are accessory dwelling units. 

Diana Elliott: These are sometimes called mother-in-law additions, or they are known as being sort of a separate outbuilding, perhaps on someone's property. This has the potential to be a really important avenue for exploration. But there is a risk also, that if you create these units, it could perhaps amplify gentrification. 

RW: Now I know, Mayor, that the city in some parts is exploring accessory dwelling units, that is, making housing out of what is not currently housing. What potential do you see there?

MH: Well I think in a broader context, Ryan, if we want to think about how zoning lends itself to the challenge of access to affordable housing, that's where we start. What laws do we have in the City of Denver that will allow for families to think differently about how they take care of one another and maybe provide opportunity and sources of maybe revenue or additional income for themselves with regards to the property that they own? So in that context, if you look at accessory dwelling units, that is an opportunity to provide additional housing for maybe your children who may be just out of college, starting their careers for the first time. Or, if you have a great lot of land or a garage that could be converted, our zoning laws can lend themselves to allowing you to convert that to a safe dwelling unit so that you could create income but also provide affordable housing. 

I think it's a huge opportunity. I'll tell you it's one of the things I worked on when I was on City Counsel. I had neighborhoods that actually had zoning eligibility for accessory dwelling units. I made sure that we were able to complete that. People turn it into their offices, they turn it into housing for their mothers, aging parents and so on and so forth. So, I think it's a huge opportunity. 

RW: Are you generally trying to prevent displacement, the idea that Denver loses, I don't know, its teachers and its retail workers, to the suburbs? 

MH: You know what? Listen. I want to say again that I think it's a regional approach. I think it's if people choose to live in our surrounding communities; Aurora, Lakewood, Littleton, Boulder, Longmont, Northglenn, wherever, and still work in Denver, I think that's fine. And certainly mobility and that's the right and freedom that people should have. However, if a teacher or police officer wants to live in the city that they serve, I have the audacity to believe that we should make sure there's ability to accommodate that. And in recognizing that those incomes may be limited based on what the market demands, we gotta find a way to keep those great public servants in our city if they want to live here. I think it lends itself to our issues of mobility. I think it lends itself to our issues of health as well as the environment and sustainability. So I think it's a combination and quite frankly just a good policy.

RW: Affordable housing no doubt connects to homelessness and on that topic, I'd like to talk about the cities libraries, the central location in particular, which has become in some ways a day shelter for the homeless. After the death of a person who was homeless, the library started carrying a drug to treat overdoses. And there are reports of fights and assaults on the rise. You have said elsewhere that you wouldn't take your kids to the library if they were still little today. What should be done?

MH: Let me just clarify that Ryan. When you deal with television, of course, just as you can if we were recording this, you can clip what I say. I was responding very honestly and candidly with the reporter who asked the question, "What would you say to family members or individuals who say I would be fearful to take my children to the library?". And, I'm an honest guy. I don't any other way to be other than to say, "You know what? If I was a parent of small children, I would probably be fearful as well." 

The reality is this, our library has done a phenomenal job trying to respond to every demographic that walks through the door. Libraries are a very unique space. They are open and accessible to everyone who wants to be there and they have noticed, of course, we've had some of our homeless come through the doors and not only did they respond by saying you're welcome, they also responded by making sure there were services available to them. They've been hiring, they're requesting from their budget social workers. I have funded those social workers and peer navigators to be there to provide those services.

They've helped to try to provide job training, or not job training but access to jobs through the internet and to computers for the homeless to do searches. I've walked through the library where I've seen individuals who were homeless sitting there looking through, looking for jobs on the internet as well as watching television during inclement weather. So the library has done a tremendous job trying to step up and be a service provider to whoever walked through the door.

And so what we need to do is to work with the library to make sure that one, they have the resources to provide patrols inside the library as well as outside the library and make sure that everyone who goes through the doors understand the expectations of their behavior and what will be tolerated and not tolerated. And so we have to draw those lines very clearly that drugs will not be tolerated and certain actions or activity in the library and in the restrooms will not be tolerated. We're going to help them with that and our police department has already moved in to do just that. 

RW: I'll say that the library has asked for $50 million for renovations. This is before lots of the reports of the drug use and violence surfaced. They'd like $50 million for renovations and part of that would go to making it a safer place. Like lowering the height of the bookshelves because there are a lot of places that aren't very visible in the library. 

This is part of a $900 million bond package that may go before voters this fall. So a piece of a much larger pie. And it's your job to winnow down what projects would benefit. There's a long list; libraries might benefit, parks, roads, upgrades at the zoo, Botanic Gardens. What do you want to see the money pay for most, if voters agree that the city should take on that debt? 

MH: Well listen, the reality is this city is growing exponentially. We are seeing a thousand new people move to Denver per month. It's been about that pace for about five years now. And so the reality is that we are a new Denver in terms of our population and the desire of people to call Denver home, as well as to work in the city. The other thing is the city grows by 23% per day, net, in terms of people who come in and do business in our city, who work here, and then of course we see them leave during the day, leave during the evening. 

 So the reality is that this is a very vibrant city and so we've seen the pressures on not only our housing, but also on our roads and our other infrastructure, our mobility infrastructure in the city. I can bet you that a majority or at least half of these resources will go toward how do we fix our roads, how do we make them more multi-modal, under the value of moving people and not just cars, so that we can try to ease some of the congestion in our city and people don't have as great an impact on the quality of life that we've seen. 

But outside of that, we have a very robust community engagement process that has been going on since November of last year where we've asked and we've received thousands of recommendations, over 3,000, from citizens of Denver. They help us think through what are priorities. We know that mobility and transportation infrastructure's leading that engagement or at least in terms of recommendations. And the rest include things like libraries and cultural and art facilities and health and hospitals and our parks. And so we'll do the very difficult task of winnowing them down and identifying what would make sense to the people of Denver for us to make investments.

RW: Okay, but roads and mobility sound like they're at the top of the list. Let's take a break and we'll continue with Denver's Mayor Michael Hancock in just a bit. This is Colorado Matters from CPR News.

You're back with Colorado Matters from CPR News. I'm Ryan Warner and I'm joined by Denver's Mayor Michael Hancock. He's at his offices downtown. Mayor, I want to talk about immigration enforcement in the city under this new administration in Washington. As for ICE enforcement, there's a list of what's known as sensitive locations. So these are places like churches and schools where agents say they try to avoid going into to arrest immigrants in the country illegally. Court houses are not on that list and so you asked ICE to consider adding them. Shortly after though, ICE agents arrested two men at the Denver County Court. Did that feel like a direct rebuke of your request?

MH: Yeah. What we've seen, first of all I think it's important to give an overall foundational thought here. I think the administration, since day one, has missed numerous opportunities. But on immigration, this is clearly one of the opportunities they missed. They had an opportunity to lead on this issue and work with the states and cities to say, "Let's develop a sensible immigration strategy for this nation. Our immigration system in this nation is broken and as a result, people are living in fear, uncertainty, and it threatens all of us with our sense of safety and our sense of community all over the nation. As a result of the President's actions, there is a lot of anxiety, we are finding, throughout Denver and around the country. 

With regards to our sensitive locations, on April 6, I sent the letter to ICE, our regional office here in Colorado and said listen, acknowledge and respect the sensitive locations. We've seen arrests occur at schools and yes, they've been outside churches and, of course, in our courthouses, and we have seen that well-documented here in Denver and that makes every one of us unsafe.

One, we never received a response to that letter. What we saw was a doubling-down and the presence and what you saw in the video of them making the arrest at the courthouse. This is unfortunate because it's also directly contradictory to what the Secretary of Homeland Security has shared with our Members of Congress. And I've talked to both of our US Senators and both of them are disappointed, as I am, that ICE has taken this step. So the reality is this, we've got some cowboys in ICE patrolling our streets and are just absolutely provoking fear and throughout our communities, all over this nation, and it's not okay. It simply is not okay.

RW: Are you calling them rogue agents within ICE? You're saying-

MH: I don't think they're rogue agent but I'll tell you this Ryan, what leadership has not provided are boundaries and guardrails for ICE. And when you don't do that and you tell them simply, "Here's what we want. Go do it, and you can do it by any means necessary," that's what they're doing. When they don't receive, when they receive a letter from the mayor and all members of city council and members of our judicial branch, asking them to honor, listen, we have already, we can document nine-

RW: Let me-

MH: Wait, wait. Let me finish. We can document today, nine witnesses, victims of domestic violence who backed out because of their fear walking into courthouses. That makes you and me more unsafe, everyone who calls this city home. And I gotta ask you, what good does that do when people refuse to, who have now don't trust law enforcement and our courts and will not do what's necessary to keep themselves safe, and now we have perpetrators of these crimes who will not be held accountable.

RW: You've suggested that there could be some remote testimony. That is, if there are people who then see the courthouse as a dangerous place for them but must be a part of the judicial process, that perhaps they could testify remotely but let me push back here. Of the two men arrested recently, one had received final orders of deportation from an immigration judge in 2012, according to ICE. The other had 2 DUI convictions. Why shouldn't those individuals be made to get off the streets no matter where they are, courthouse or not?

MH: None of these policies, Ryan, are meant to shield violent criminals. We must have a legal reason, and ICE knows this, to hold individuals. In other words, they must have warrants for us to detain someone beyond the time in which they have been adjudicated or at least have settled the issue with the County of Denver. And so they must issue to us, not just a detainer order, they must actually issue a warrant. Federal courts have held that and said to us we cannot hold them past those times just on detainers. And so we have an effective communication system with ICE. The reality is, is that they know the rules. They have to give us a warrant, otherwise we'll be in violation of federal laws.

Not only, let me just go back to your point about virtual testimony and being able to come before the courts. We are looking at that. Our City Attorney's Office is looking at that as well as with our courts, and there are some things they've gotta work through on that. But we did announce this week, or earlier this month I believe, we wrote out the plea by mail, which, if you're charged with a misdemeanor, if you have a traffic violation, you can actually, primarily traffic violations, you can deal with that through mail very easily. That's gonna help keep people from having to come downtown. Not only does that help our undocumenteds, but it helps any resident of Denver because now you can just save time by doing the plea by mail. And then of course, the sentencing reform that city council passed recently is very important because people who are subject to a year automatically become exposed to potential deportation. These laws change and allow for folks to kinda, well, really allow for the penalties to be proportionate with the crime.

RW: Yeah. So let me say just a little bit more about that to ground the listener in what happened. Some sentencing reform on low-level misdemeanors, public urination, panhandling, so that they don't trigger an ICE notification. You have made those a year or under, in terms of the sentences.

MH: Right.

RW: And that's true for immigrants who are in the country legally or illegally and of course-

MH: Right.

RW: -for any other type of citizen. There has been some pushback though. Urinating in public or violating curfew is one thing, but this change means that in first and second cases of domestic abuse, if there isn't bodily harm, the sentence might be a year in jail or under, again, so as not to trigger ICE notification. Is that a good idea?

MH: You know what? The reality is you won't find anyone who will defend and pursue domestic violent offenders more than I will. As you may know the story around, I lost my sister to it so there's not much bend. The reality is, this has been the practice of the City of Denver, our county, for a while. What we've done is codified, and we also changed it so that if there is evidence of physical injury, it changes and it goes into the bucket where it automatically is to the 365-day potential of a sentencing. So it's not much changing with regards to that, that's the way we practice. First offense, we have a certain way of addressing, second, same. But when we get to the third and/or bodily injury, then it's a different story.

RW: Well, "Sanctuary City", I think you know, has become a rather politicized term. There's no real definition for it but the general idea is that local authorities detain people here if they're charged with something, not for their immigration status, only if they're charged with something. Mayor, you've been asked many times whether Denver is a sanctuary city and you've been both reluctant to embrace the term but also defiant when it comes to the Trump Administration on this issue. So rather than ask about sanctuary city, I wanna ask about a specific policy. The White House has proposed requiring local police to detain suspects for up to 48 hours, giving ICE time to look into their immigration status. If that changes, would you comply? Would Denver comply?

MH: Listen, we'll work with ICE and with the federal law. The reality is that today, the federal government has said, "When someone has settled their case with you, you must release them unless there is a warrant." And so I think the key to this is effective communication and being directed by what the federal law allows us to do or requires us to do.

RW: All right. So if there were a change in federal law, it's something that you'd abide by?

MH: Absolutely. Today is, this is not about the City of Denver breaking the law. We comply with the law and our communication with that, I mean with ICE, is very important. The other thing that I wanna be very clear about is that we're not here to shield or protect violent criminals. What we've seen ICE do recently is move in on people who may have violated a law that means no harm to any individual, whether it's a traffic violation or, again, something that doesn't make us, any of us unsafe but just simply, we got them because they're undocumented. But when we know that someone who has caused bodily harm or means everyone and it means that we might be unsafe because of their freedom in the city. We're going to hold them accountable. We will not shield violent criminals.

RW: Mayor Hancock, Mayor of Denver, in about the last minute, I'd like to ask about the proposed federal budget as the President sees it. It obviously has to be dealt with by Congress, but when you look at housing, when you look at community development block grants, when you look at the kind of federal money that comes to the city, what concerns do you have about Denver's own budget in connection to the federal one?

MH: Well Ryan, you can go back to the early part of our conversation and we're looking at the issues of mobility. Both housing and mobility are equalizers. We're really concerned about the President's budget. The draconian cuts in the President's proposed budget are nothing short of senseless, irresponsible, and incomprehensible at a time when we must find ways to reach our most vulnerable, people who are, quite frankly, feeling left behind.

The President was elected by many of these people, quite frankly, who are blue collar people who are struggling along the margins, who simply are saying, "In all the conversation about this nation and the progress we're making, no one's talking about us. What about us?" And now he is turning his backs on those very people, saying, "We're going to cut the very programs that you are needing to have a sustainable life." 

For example, he wants to cut SNAP benefits. This is food benefits for families that are struggling. You're talking about children whose parents may be working 40 hours a week, but yet are not able to both keep a roof over the head and provide healthy meals for their children. And now they want to cut that.

RW: The White House budget director, Mick Mulvaney, has said that if you are on food stamps, and you are able-bodied, we need you to go to work. If you are on disability insurance and not supposed to be, if you are not truly disabled, we need you to go back to work. Do you have concerns about growing a system that people could take advantage of?

MH: Let me say, Ryan, let me be very clear. We are seeing an increase in people who are seeking SNAP benefits and we are seeing that a large percentage of those individuals are actually working every day. They're able-bodied and they're working. They're just not making the wages necessary that allow them to cover all of their costs, and so one of the things that I think that this administration has done is they put these blinders on in thinking that all of the people who are on SNAP benefits or on public assistance are lazy people who don't want to work, who are playing they're disabled and that's not the reality. Maybe if they came out to some of the, if they visited some of the urban cores of this nation, and even some of the rural areas, they'll find people who are working hard every day.

RW: We'll have to leave it there.

MH: But yet are struggling.

RW: Mayor Hancock, I appreciate your time. Thank you so much.

MH: You bet, man. Thank you for the time.

RW: Michael Hancock is Denver's mayor.

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