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GES Coalition’s Public Comment on “Housing an Inclusive Denver”

February 5, 2018

A 300 plus apartment-condo unit, a true monstrosity in the neighborhood, being built at the corner of Lowell and 38 Ave in NW Denver, here in the early stages of development. The structure is now completed, with people moving in. Typical of the nearly un-controlled growth taking place all over Denver.

Denver – actually pretty much all of the Front Range (of the Rockies) in Colorado – is experiencing a housing crisis. People are moving to Denver from all over the country at an alarming rate – with the metropolitan area (Denver-Aurora-Lakewood) now at close to 3 million. Denver’s population alone is now nearing 700,000 after decades of hovering around half a million. There are more than 1000 people a month coming here with no slowdown in sight. The demand for housing combined with are some of the most poorly regulated housing codes in the country has triggered dramatic demographic shifts as well. Rental rates have soared as have housing prices, resulting in, over the past decade, an epidemic of displacement of middle-income, working class and poor people. People of color especially, Blacks, Browns, Reds, are among the most adversely affected. No surprise as part of the mix that homelessness is also a serious problem with homeless folk numbers consistently above the 10,000 mark.

Keep in mind, what is happening in Denver – it’s been at epidemic proportions now for a good decade – has already happened in San Francisco, New York, Chicago. It is a part of a national – if not international – process. Thirty years ago I saw exactly the same thing happening in Paris, France, where middle-income, working class and poor people were being priced out of living in Paris and forced into the surrounding suburbs in what came to be known as “the Red Belt” (because so many of them were socialists and communists). So Denver is far from unique in this respect. London is long gone in this respect as have most European cities of note.

Despite public campaigns by past and present Denver mayors to eliminate homelessness, the city has implemented a series of repressive measures targeting homeless people and life for them even more miserable than it has been. Recently the city has initiated what amounts to little more than a public relations campaign, more about changing the image than the realities. It has embarked on a campaign of “housing inclusiveness” although this does not include low-income housing, sheltering the  homeless or addressing the crisis in any concrete manner. Thus, we can expect that the housing crisis will continue and given the current state of things (rent control is illegal in Colorado by state law, building codes give a legal framework to the destruction and gentrification of whole neighborhoods) – we can expect the crisis to continue to deepen.

GES = Globeville, Elyria-Swansea – a working class, largely Chicano neighborhood in the northern parts of the city. These neighborhoods have joined in a common effort to protect what is left of their living space in a coalition for “Health and Housing Justice.” They can be reached at facebook.com/GEScoalition.

Here is a recent statement they put out on Denver’s housing crisis. Good statement on a program around housing for Denver. It is lengthy but well thought out and with much community input.

Victim of Gentrification – the home of my old deceased friend – Scott Keating, after the house on 3040 Mead St. Denver, was scraped. Scott’s old place was replaced with two condos on this space, both of which sold for something in the neighborhood of $700,000 if I remember correctly. I believe he got less than $250,000 for the property..so the contractors, whomever they were, made a cool $1 million or more.

GES Coalition’s Public Comment on “Housing an Inclusive Denver

The Globeville Elyria-Swansea Coalition Organizing for Health and Housing Justice (GES Coalition) is a group of resident leaders, community organizers, community organizations, allies and advocates working to align community health and the well-being of our neighbors by organizing around preventing the displacement of our neighbors, preserving affordability in housing, protecting historically marginalized neighborhoods, activating resident-driven leadership, and promoting a culture that welcomes neighbors who value our longstanding culture, interconnectedness, and commitment to equity. GES Coalition organizing is community-driven and based on a shared commitment to economic, racial, and environmental justice. Our vision is collectively organized and facilitated neighbor-to-neighbor. GES Coalition has organized with neighbors and partners since 2016 to build capacity around community-driven, grassroots solutions to Denver’s housing crisis, not only for the benefit of neighbors in GES, but for the benefit of all communities in
Denver vulnerable to displacement.

The purpose of this attachment is to give feedback on “Housing an Inclusive Denver,” as part of public comment to the City of Denver, and these comments were submitted on November 13th, 2017. These comments accompanied a letter from GES Coalition to Mayor Hancock, and were signed in support by more than 50 community members, and both letter and attachment were also sent to members of Denver’s City Council, and members of Denver’s Housing Advisory Committee.

The letter to the Mayor stated:

“GES Coalition agrees with the idea of the Mayor’s housing plan, and there are many inspirational statements and goals made in this plan. We can appreciate that the plan framework is focused on serving people instead of only building housing units. However, we are distressed to report that the Housing Plan, without critical vision and leadership in times of crisis, will critically fail to meet the need of a majority of families across the neighborhoods, those who are most vulnerable to involuntary displacement. The power imbalance that exists in Denver’s neighborhoods most vulnerable to involuntary displacement needs to be acknowledged; a critical change in vision can bring solutions that transform projects in which affected community members themselves are involved in the solutions that determine their own communities future and well-being.”

In the following fourteen comments, GES Coalition urges the City of Denver to carefully consider the vision of how “Housing an Inclusive Denver” will be implemented with the highest call for rapid action to prevent displacement, and with the with highest priority for community inclusion when possible. GES Coalition public comments on “Housing an Inclusive Denver” are described as follows:

1. Investments by the City of Denver and their partners should proportionately mitigate displacement in relationship to the amount of public-private spending for large-scale economic development that is driving the threat of displacement. Mitigation should highlight solutions that see the community as part of the solution, like community-driven land trusts, when community partnership is possible.
2. The City of Denver should support and promote programs that help families access affordable housing with displacement or stability vouchers that would look at a longer term solution to prevent displacement in Denver’s most vulnerable communities. The City of Denver should build relationships with landlords in vulnerable neighborhoods who want to keep their current tenants in their home by supporting incentives for landlords to opt-in to creating longer-term affordability, or through supporting  navigation to reach perpetual affordability through community-driven land trusts. All strategies should have clear stabilization outcomes that need to be part of a counseling and advocacy support. Programs like the Temporary Rental and Utility Assistance should be modeled after nation-wide research to show where successful examples of this type of program have been successful. These programs should be able to show that temporary rental assistance does not become an incentive for landlords to raise the rent, which can ultimately drive up higher rental costs, and increase a neighborhood’s loss of affordability.
3. The City of Denver should develop a preference policy to help families stay or return to neighborhoods, following the lead of the National Case Study of Portland, Oregon, highlighted in “Housing and Inclusive Denver.” For this to be able to function, trusted community groups should be supported to track displacement and threat of displacement among most vulnerable families in each neighborhood, and this information can be utilized to implement the preference policy as new affordable units are preserved, rehabilitated, acquired by land trusts, or developed.
4. The City of Denver’s support of preventing displacement and community-driven solutions should be dramatically increased in order to match the severity of the housing crisis, yet large-scale investments are not always better– The City of Denver should adopt a strategy that should prioritize making more ongoing series of smaller investments. This strategy should include a shared inclusiveness to grassroots and community-based partnerships and solutions.
5. Housing solutions should not rely on mid to large-scale and profit driven investments that do not have agility to meet changing community need, and often preclude (and intentionally exclude) existing community partnerships and organizations.
6. Transit Oriented Development (TOD) funds should be promoted and made accessible to a diverse group of candidates, including community groups with the required capacity between partnerships. The City of Denver should bridge and leverage available TOD funds to support community-driven development.
7. When TOD (and infrastructure) investments are made, full consideration of their impact to neighbors needs to be balanced by strategies and mitigation that help people stay in place.
8.. Tax Increment Financing (TIF) should be utilized to stabilize neighborhoods through land acquisition for future community-driven land trusts, when possible.
9. Tax relief should be expanded as quickly as possible to include disabled, fixed-income, retired, and low-income families who are living in areas most vulnerable to displacement.
10. To promote availability of small-scale affordable rentals, transparency and access to city resources for small-scale property owners to receive subsidies for renting or selling affordably should be prioritized. The City of Denver should expand to include rehab/repair programs that allow third-party organizations that are doing permanent affordability to access rehabilitation resources and loans before the home is occupied or in exchange for affordability contracts.
11. The City of Denver should be very cautious to pursue a rental registry. A rental registry needs to be fully thought through for impact on vulnerable renters and worsening displacement. If renters have no other affordable options they will be displaced from the properties that need repair. Include “explore impact on vulnerable renters and displacement.”
12. Housing people in Denver should be visioned through a service and community lens along with development. The City should support community-driven solutions to flourish by acting as a trusted partner that could temporarily lank bank vulnerable properties in order to stabilize the threat of displacement. These properties can be leveraged for success by community-driven land trusts, with the City of Denver acting as a partner to help leverage the success of community land trusts with a focus on preventing displacement, if possible in each vulnerable neighborhood, or sold to not for profit
affordable housing developers if no community organization has the capacity to leverage the partnerships. The City of Denver should not see itself as a competitor to “community-driven” solutions;
instead the City of Denver should adopt a role of partner and collaborator with community groups with required capacity to develop community land trusts, and the City should address and build relationships to meet unique neighborhood need, neighborhood by neighborhood, and base policy on building relationships with diverse community partnerships.
13. To develop the land trust model, the City of Denver and partners should prioritize investments with the following criteria:
a. Community participation in the ongoing stewardship should be a core component of the City and its partners exploration of a land trust model in Denver.” –this is the only mention of community in this section which dramatically leaves out the community ownership component.
b. The City of Denver should differentiate between different types of land trusts, and explore how a land trust is a very flexible model that looks different in every community.
c. Along with the differences, national research of these different types of models impacts or successes needs to be fully examined.
d. Rental units should be prioritized during housing crisis. Rentals should be prioritized equally between emergency units, like motel or hotel units for people who have just been displaced; rentals for people in need of temporary housing (non-emergency); and rentals for people who want a long-term rental, who don’t want to buy a home (or are not able to).
d. Different communities in Denver may have need or desire for different types of Land Trusts, but one model should not be imposed on communities– proposals for regional models of land trusts should be met with caution, and reviewed with existing regional land trust models in order to best understand known risks.
e. The City of Denver should partner with one or more “community land trust” that is run by a tripartite board.
f. City partners should cooperate to develop Community Land Trust (CLT) that include:
community ownership, community participation and vision, and maintenance of ongoing relevance to community needs by working with those most impacted in the community.
g. A Community Land Trust should build a strategy that not only addresses housing but
community health, support among neighbors, and generation of economy within a neighborhood.
h. A Community Land Trust should address displacement in vulnerable areas by providing stability, including creating additional ways for people to become homeowners, ways for renters and homeowners to stay in the neighborhood that are at risk, ability to create an alternative to prospectors and predatory industries, provides stewardship to families, land and subsidies to maintain affordability, and provides a true partnership with the neighborhood to grow productively and together.
i. A Community Land Trust should be a flexible tool that can be a provider of emergency
services, either through referral or through property acquisition that could provide for long or short-term needs depending on need in the community and facility capacity.
j. There is a clear difference between a Community Land Trust, which has a balance of
community board participation, and a shared equity program, which acts like a CLT with leasing of land but has no connection to the board and not accountable to the community. National experts of Community Land Trust like Grounded Solutions Network have partnered with GES Coalition and more than 40 community members to build community capacity of CLTs since May
2017. Grounded Solutions Network, and other national experts of CLTs define a community land trust as a non-profit that has a tripartite board of directors, a structure that offers some types of accountability back to the community they serve. The City of Denver should embrace community partnership, and look to national research illustrating diverse CLTs, and distinguish them from shared equity programs that are named “CLT” but do not really fit the definition.
14. Notes of language found (or missing) in “Housing an Inclusive Denver”
a. When the City of Denver say “Our partners”. who is being included? Community members are not included as part of solutions.
b. Noticeably missing is “Equity”– the distribution and balance of diversity of investment and openness to collaborate with community organizations and grassroots, neighborhood-based groups.
c. There was no acknowledgement of the City of Denver’s public investment contributing to displacement.
d. No language is used to describe diverse, distinct types of investments that should be
strategically utilized, and are needed to stabilize families in vulnerable neighborhoods.
e. “Explore”– How do we determine the interest, progress, transparency of what the City of Denver is exploring, and how things are being explored? How will all of the things being explored be prioritized to meet community organization and need?

2 Comments leave one →
  1. rainy washington permalink
    February 7, 2018 9:16 pm

    No one can “steal” your home form you. If you default, it belongs to the bank. If you have been renting all your life, then you should have used the great recession’s deep price dive in Denver to purchase a home. If your home has been paid off for decades, and you cannot afford $800 a YEAR for property taxes, then you likely don’t earn enough to take care of your home, which is when an area becomes depressed and people with means swoop in to buy that which you can no longer care for, before your roof caves in. I live in a primarily spanish neighborhood, and I know of what I speak.

    • February 8, 2018 6:01 am

      I’m posting this with the following note. The email for “rainy washington” comes from Trans America, an Insurance, Investment and Retirement Company. How touching that they/he/she? would find the time to respond to an obscure blog entry in Denver.

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