Denver’s five-year housing plan for $15 million-a-year fund is now official; disagreements persist on details

The Denver City Council approved a long-debated affordable housing strategy plan Tuesday, but lingering disagreements over its details will influence budget debates in coming years.

Setting its sights on the next five years, the plan — called “Housing an Inclusive Denver” — expands on existing approaches and lays out potential new strategies to spend a new $150 million local housing fund that will be raised over the course of a decade via property taxes and development impact fees. That money is on top of longstanding, but dwindling, streams from federal programs and other sources that, combined with the fund, will provide a total of $31.3 million this year.

But key decisions will be made through annual housing action plans, which the council doesn’t approve but can influence, and the city budget, which faces final council approval. Those will give council members outlets to apply pressure if they disagree with Mayor Michael Hancock’s administration on the proper programs to fund.

The council adopted the plan 11-1, with Kevin Flynn, the sole vote against it, citing concerns it would not provide much help to his southwest Denver district.

“I first want to say a great big thank-you to the people who helped put this plan together,” Councilwoman Debbie Ortega said, referring to administration officials and the city’s Housing Advisory Committee. “I think it’s vitally important that we move forward (and) adopt this plan, but I’m anxiously awaiting the chance to see the details in the one-year action plan.”

The uncertainty over year-to-year program spending comes amid a shakeup in the administration on housing policy, with the mayor’s chief housing policy coordinator departing after a year in the job.

Aside from program funding preferences, the largest lingering question remains whether Hancock and the council will find ways to expand the size of the local fund significantly, as housing activists and some council members have called for.

Hancock’s administration recently added a pledge to examine various options, including borrowing or new fees, to the final version of the plan.

The five-year housing plan outlines assistance and stabilization programs for low-income renters, homeowners and the homeless. It calls for experimental initiatives to encourage a greater supply of apartments and other housing that’s affordable to people of low and moderate incomes. And it calls for more subsidies for private developers’ projects when they include income-qualified units.

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By 2023, the plan says, city programs can help 30,000 households either obtain or stay in housing they can afford.

But whether such an impact will be enough in fast-growing Denver is a matter of dispute. Critics, meanwhile, have contended that subsidizing affordable housing is likely to accelerate rising costs for market-rate units.

On Tuesday night, though, the bulk of speakers during a public hearing, including several who work for organizations that support affordable housing, favored an expansion of the city’s efforts. Some also urged city officials to place longer-term affordability restrictions on properties that receive subsidies than the city does now.

“I will tell you, you have made a huge step forward as a community,” said Aaron Miripol, president and CEO of the Urban Land Conservancy. “(But) despite the work we’ve done … the affordable issue has only gotten worse.”

Here is Denver’s approved five-year housing plan:

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