Affordable Housing and Homelessness are Key Areas of Concern for City Council Candidates
There are 65 candidates running for city offices in Denver’s May 2019 Municipal election. The national trend of women running for public office continues here in Denver. There are a total of 27 women running for office; 41 percent of the total candidates and a three percent increase from 2015. City elections seem less important than national elections – a smaller percentage of voters participate. However, city elections are the most important because local decisions affect the people the most.
Denver is going through growing pains. Growth has added 100,000 more people in a little over a decade. Real estate development, homelessness, and transportation are significant challenges. While the area’s population is growing, there is a shortage of available housing, and as a result, prices are rising dramatically. Supply is not keeping pace with the needs of a growing community. The number of available housing is in short supply, pushing prices up. The average two-bedroom apartment is $1500, which is a price many working people cannot afford.
Low-income people, young families, and single-parent homes are finding it difficult to make ends meet. This affects businesses as well. Employers are having difficulty hiring people because workers cannot find affordable housing in the areas that are doing the hiring. Companies are having second thoughts about relocating if retaining a workforce would be difficult if their target employees cannot be hired because of transportation problems from where they live, to where they need to work.
When a family pays more than 30 percent of their monthly income for housing, they are considered rent-burdened. Denver has a large number of rent-burdened households; 87 percent of Denver renters earn less than $35,000 annually.
In District 1, located in the northwest a Denver, many people running for the city council seat profess to have solutions to the problem. Rafael Espinoza pulled out of his reelection run, opening the door for nine other candidates to state their case.
Scott Durrah, a marine veteran, chef, and marijuana dispensary owner, thinks that a rent-to-own solution is viable. Durrah’s idea is to have a fixed rate, long term lease that evolves into a down payment, and the rental price then becomes the mortgage. Durrah plans on working with developers to put his plan into action. Durrah is also the first African American licensed dispensary owner.
David Sabados, also running for Denver City Council District 1, believes the expansion of accessory dwelling units is the answer. His Web site says, “…work with developers before they start projects to ensure more affordable units and improve tenant/landlord…,” blah, blah, blah. You get the message. It seems that someone threw some canned responses on his Web site. There is no substance there that would give hope to those that are struggling with the high cost of living.
Engaging developers at an early stage seems to be the theme of most candidates. Mike Somma, says we need to get Residential Neighborhood Organizations involved in the development process and make sure developing affordable housing are in their plans. Amanda Sandoval supports deposit limits and increasing notice of rent increases from 21 days to up to 60 days. She also recommends working with the Registered Neighborhood Organizations, just as Mike Somma. Victoria Aguilar has made affordable housing a top priority of her campaign. She points to rising property taxes as the cause of many displaced Denver residents and promises to create incentives that would ease tax burdens.
Most of these ideas can help alleviate the problem – if they are actually executed. But there are too many moving parts to the city government to make an accurate prediction on what will work. There are other problems that are not a distant relative to the high cost of living in Denver.
It is easy to see why homelessness is not directly related to the housing affordability crisis. However, the cost of living is proliferating, and there are not even enough units even for people with the monetary means to pay rent. Lack of affordable housing is making the homelessness problem worse. Denver spends more than $40 million on homeless programs, and it is hard to imagine how much more desperate the homeless problem would be without the money.
Mike Somma wants to increase the number of shelter beds, and he looks at best practices, especially those practices in Sam Antonio that practically eliminated homelessness. In San Antonio, the city dedicated an area of 22 acres to provide services and housing for the homeless. However, finding a place to put Denver’s homeless population does very little to solve the root cause of homelessness. And at this writing, I have heard minimal substantive ideas about easing homelessness from any of the new candidates for city council. Placing people in dedicated areas, out of the eyesight of people that are appalled by the presence of homeless people, does not address the root causes to homelessness. The out of sight out of mind idea is not the answer.
Electing a person for the city council is like going to a new dentist for the first time; you don’t know how good they are until they actually start working on you. Most of the ideas from these candidates are cookie-cutter; something safe that can hold back critics until they actually have to execute the promises they made. The standard solutions they give to solve problems of affordable housing and homelessness are far from new or innovative. Only Scott Durrah seems to have a unique solution to the problem with his rent-to-own idea. It may not be an idea that works, and it may even be a bad idea. But at least an effort was made to try and solve a problem with a little creativity.
Stacey Gilmore was elected to her council seat in a run-off election in June 2015 and is now seeking re-election in District 11, which includes Montbello, Green Valley Ranch and DIA. Much work has been done during Gilmore’s last four years to address affordable housing in the district. More than 7.5 million dollars was attained for affordable housing and resource programs, and a new affordable family development will be located in Green Valley Ranch with 252 units ranging between 40 to 60 percent of the average median income. Gilmore also supported an eviction defense fund to support renters in keeping their housing, which was Denver’s first ever fund of this type. She is currently working to help businesses that are impacted by rising lease rates. This initiative is in partnership with the Office of Economic Development. Gilmore gained national attention when she was presented with the Champion of Change Award at the White House from President.
Incumbent Gilmore has challengers new to public office who wants to take her seat.
Shayla R. Richard, a product analyst at Zayo Group, aims to give “an additional voice and view,” to a district she believes has been treated as a “stepchild” of the city for many years.
And Christine Alonzo left her position as director of the Service Employees International Union to run against Gilmore. Alonzo is a long-time resident of Montbello, and working to improve the affordable housing situation in her community is one of her primary focus points.
Incumbent Albus Brooks of District 9 includes some of Denver’s oldest Neighborhoods such as Globeville, Elyria-Swansea, Five Points, Cole, Clayton, Whittier, Curtis Park, and City Park. Brooks co-sponsored (along with city council) an Affordable Housing Fund; a set of fees and taxes that is predicted to raise $150 million in 10 years. This represents the most significant housing fund in Colorado. Brooks is trying to balance growth and preserving culture in a district that is the most diverse. He campaigned under the motto, “Connecting Diverse Communities.” His mandate is popular; in 2011 he defeated 38 opponents in a write-in campaign and won 68 percent of the vote in the 2015 election.
Candi CdeBaca, the founder of the Cross Community Coalition, is running against incumbent Brooks. CdeBaca’s attitude towards gentrification and the affordable housing crisis can besummed-up best by her statement, “We try to teach them (students): you don’t have to do well so you can get out of the hood. Do well so you can take over the hood. This is your in-heritage, this is rightfully yours.” If she wins the seat, CdeBaca will make history by being the first LGBTQ Latina to represent Denver on the council.
Incumbent Chris Herndon has represented District 8 for seven years as council president and council president pro-tempore. His efforts in his leadership role included advocating for housing support at all income levels. Affordable housing across the district has been added in the last few years to include locations such as Park Hill, Montbello, and future sites on East Colfax. Some of Herndon’s accomplishments include increasing the number of police officers in the Denver Police Department, making traffic engineering improvements across the district, and developing leadership initiative for teens through Northeast Denver Leadership Week.
“Growing up in Montbello, you always wonder: Why is my community at a disadvantage? Why do we always get the short end of the stick?” These are the words of Miguel Adrian Ceballos-Ruiz, one of the five candidates running against Herndon, a former officer in the Colorado Democratic Party who resigned from his position to run for the District 8 seat. However, like many challengers, Ceballos-Ruiz is far behind, and it will be a tremendous uphill climb to overtake Herndon.
Mayor Michael Hancock has achieved the position and status that many of the city council hopefuls and incumbents wish to obtain. City council is the traditional stepping stone for mayoral hopefuls. Hancock was elected to the city council in 2003, was re-elected in 2007. Hancock won the mayoral race in 2011 and was overwhelmingly re-elected in 2015 with more than 80 percent of the vote.
As far as fundraising, Hancock has raised $1,502.127.41 as of March 5.
His nearest opponent, Jaimie Giellis has raised close to $400,000 as of March 5. Hancock can point to many accomplishments during his times as mayor, including a thriving economy, improvement in transportation, modernizing city services and eliminating a $100 million budget deficit in the process.
Voters will have to listen very carefully. They will need to investigate, probe and research to make an informed decision. Local elections are where the rubber meets the road. The significant changes that need to happen start in our neighborhoods and spreads out to the national level, not the other way around. Voting participation has increased due to a fired-up politicized population. There is a certain level of dread and desperation that is permeating the nation.
However, if substantial changes are going to be made for the national political climate, it has to start with our municipal elections.