Earlier this month, The Denver Post reported that the metro Denver area is now the eighth least affordable city nationwide. We feel this every day as the cost of daily necessities rises, and it becomes more and more difficult to live and thrive in our city. Policymakers must act swiftly and boldly to meet the needs of our community.
This June, for the first time because of new state legislation, Denver City Council will be voting on mandates for developers to build affordable housing. The city’s Expanding Housing Affordability plan currently only pays lip service to the need for affordability but does not exhibit the sense of urgency needed to meet the scale of our housing crisis and prevent further displacement.
Instead of swift and bold action, the plan only modestly and gradually increases fees paid by developers to support the City’s affordable housing fund — increases that will be erased substantially by projected growth in inflation and building costs over the next few years. Meanwhile, the average rent for a one-bedroom apartment in Denver has increased by over 50% since 2017, the year the original linkage fees were set.
The affordable units built using the fund, or that will be built by developers for whom a (low) requirement applies, will likely be set at prices affordable to people making between 60% to 90% Area Median Income — between $41,000 and $62,000 per year for a single person, or between $63,000 and $94,000 for a family of four. City staff members are touting this plan as a way to provide housing for “our neighbors who are daycare providers and teachers, social workers, restaurant workers, and many other people who make our city the great place we all love.”
According to ZipRecruiter, the average annual salary of a daycare worker in Denver in 2022 is $20,342 per year — tens of thousands of dollars lower than the income levels supported by this plan. A person making minimum wage in the City of Denver ($15.87/hour), working full-time with no days off, makes just over $33,000 — not nearly enough to qualify for these units. And based on current Census data, which largely ignores our houseless neighbors who are not reporting incomes, one of every seven residents in the City of Denver lives below the Federal poverty line ($13,590 per year for a single person, or $27,750 per year for a family of four).
So who is this plan actually helping? And what will happen to our neighbors who earn less than $41,000 a year?
For months, I’ve been working with community organizations to urge changes to this plan that would help the real working people of Denver. I recently convened a meeting between housing justice, homelessness advocates, and representatives from the city’s housing and planning offices to address these concerns. I want to lift up the words of one of the attendees, Ana Cornelius from Denver Homeless Out Loud:
“We became the second-most gentrified city in the US in the last decade, and that was by creating policies that gave more power and privilege to those who ALREADY had power and privilege, at the expense of our most marginalized and vulnerable community members—which is the responsibility of our government to take care of. We have a choice every day of whether we want to continue those policies or whether we want to create change in our community, to live in the world we want to live in.”
I know how exhausting it is to give the city feedback with little hope of seeing it reflected in the policies they implement. I know how frustrating it is to share your concerns and get a response that might be sympathetic in tone, but in the same breath tells you why nothing can actually be done or be changed to actually meet the challenges of the crises we face. I’m sharing her words to remind us all of our collective responsibility to take care of each other — and that includes the responsibility to speak up, own your government, and tell people in power what kind of a world you want to live in and what policies you want implemented to support that vision.
The rollout of this plan will impact you — and if not you directly, it will impact your neighbors, your family members, your friends, coworkers, and community. Its lack of urgency and boldness will impact all of us for years to come.
There’s still an opportunity for you to make your voice heard when the Expanding Housing Affordability plan comes before City Council for a vote in June — Council does not have to pass this bill as it stands; we can send it back to the drawing board. My colleagues have been hearing from plenty of developers about this plan, but they also need to hear from YOU. I encourage you to contact the City Council to let them know you want to see this plan meet the urgency and scope of our affordable housing crisis before it is too late for working people in Denver. A better world is possible, and your representatives need to know you are watching their votes and expecting them to put people over profit.
Candi CdeBaca is the Councilor for the 9th district of the Denver City Council. Visit the Denver City Council website here.