DENVER – Mayor Michael Hancock on Monday provided a glimmer of hope for Denver residents by laying out his plan for the future during this State of the City address, in which he touted his administration’s accomplishments on homelessness while setting up a roadmap for economic recovery and the need to address the threat of climate change.
“We’re turning the challenges of the past year – and there were many – into opportunities,” said Hancock in a virtual address to the city overlooking downtown Denver. “Opportunities to transform our city into a model of equity and inclusion that is sustainable for years and even decades to come.”
Hancock asked Denverites to lift their head and look around, as he listed some of the many ways in which the city is returning to a semblance of normality more than 16 months after the first two cases of the novel coronavirus were confirmed in Denver.
He pointed to increased foot activity in downtown Denver during the All-Star Game earlier this month, people returning to work and construction restarting throughout the city as signs that economic recovery is well underway after hundreds of businesses were forced to shut down and pivot to survive during the height of pandemic.
But he also reminded Denverites that the pandemic is still with us and will remain so “for a while longer.”
“As much as we might like to think that COVID is over, it’s not,” Hancock said. To continue battling the threat of the pandemic, Hancock vowed to allocate another half-million dollars to continue bringing vaccines into neighborhoods and communities with low vaccination rates.
As of July 21, only 36% of the city’s Hispanic or Latino population and only 44.6% of the city's Black population were fully vaccinated against COVID-19, according to the latest Denver Health data
Despite calls from homeless advocates to stop the sweeps of homeless encampments, specifically in the wake of sweeps that happened prior to the All-Star Game, Hancock lauded the city’s accomplishments over the past decade, which has seen over 11,000 people transition out of homelessness and into housing, and outlined his accomplishments for the near future to help solve this crisis.
Still, Hancock acknowledged there was still much work to do on this front.
“You have my word – we are going to continue to deploy every tool available, with a goal of lifting thousands of people out of homelessness over the next two years, including those who are living on our streets in the most unsafe and unhealthy of conditions,” Hancock said.
Reiterating what he said at the end of June, Hancock said the city will plan to acquire “hundreds more” hotel and motel rooms, expand safe outdoor spaces and create more tiny home villages, as well as create more safe parking spaces, provide more housing vouchers and wrap-around services to help the unhoused transition into permanent housing.
Among some of his initiatives outlined during Monday’s address to the city, Hancock said he wants to create more programs to help keep people from becoming homeless to begin with, with things like rental and utility assistance, eviction-protection programs, and creating new and preserving existing affordable homes.
Hancock said he is also proposing bringing in $28 million from the American Rescue Plan into Denver’s Affordable Housing Fund and is creating a specialized team to prioritize these projects for permit review and approval to get this housing built quickly.
The mayor also touted the Social Impact Bond program which he said has kept hundreds of people housed, and said the city recently opened a new state-of-the-art shelters to serve hundreds of men and women.
Those seeking help for behavioral health crises can do so at Denver’s new Solution Center, Hancock said, adding he is calling on the federal government to join the city’s efforts in calling for national solutions to the homeless crisis.
“There is a moral, economic and social imperative to correct these most extreme cases of poverty in our country,” Hancock said.
On violent crime
Touching on the subject of increased crime throughout the city, Hancock argued the spike has been compounded by the release of violent criminals too quickly from custody and said there must be balance between reform and resident’s safety.
The mayor did not address the 112 recommendations submitted to him by the Task Force to Reimagine Policing and Public Safety, which, among other things, calls for decriminalizing quality of life offenses and other petty infractions, decriminalizing traffic offenses, prohibiting police from conducting searches during traffic violations, removing police traffic stops and crash reports, taking officers out of schools, ending cash bail and permitting safe injection sites.
Instead, Hancock said the city is prioritizing their new Youth Violence Prevention Initiative and touted the city’s Transformation and Policy Division, which was created to address violent crime in five hotspots, making up more than a quarter of homicides and aggravated assaults over the past year in just 1.56% of Denver’s landmass in which he hoped to address “the underlying factors that can give root to crime.”
Hancock said the city is looking to hire and train new police officers to better meet the needs of the community, and called for young people to stay involved to be the change they want to see in their community by running for office or applying to be a Denver police officer, sheriff’s deputy, firefighter or a paramedic.
The mayor also touted Denver’s STAR program, which diverts 911 calls away from police officers to a mental health team instead. Since its introduction in July of last year, the program has responded to more than 1,300 calls for people in crisis, he said.
“Not once – not one time – did those responding need to call in a uniformed officer for back-up,” Hancock said, adding, “We know that alternative response works.”
He said that as a result, the city would invest $1 million to continue expanding the STAR program, as well as create a new civilian Street Enforcement Team that will address lower-level infractions. The city is also working on a new Assessment Intake Diversion Center, which will create an additional alternative response to the criminal justice system, Hancock said.
On the economy and infrastructure
During his State of the City address, Hancock also acknowledged that the pandemic made it “very clear” that the economy doesn’t work for everyone equally and that more needs to be done to address the lack of opportunity for people of color as well as for women.
“There is a fundamental lack of equity for far too many,” Hancock said, adding the city must prioritize those hit hardest by the pandemic, including women, youth, low-income earners and people of color.
The mayor hailed the Great Hall renovation at Denver International Airport as a job bringer that will create new opportunities for workers, businesses, and tourists “well into the future."
Among one of his most ambitious proposals during Monday’s address was his $450 million infrastructure bond package to build a new state-of-the-art arena, which he said he would submit to city council this week.
The bond package, he said, “would create 7,500 god-paying jobs, $483 million in worker wages and benefits, and $1 billion in economic benefit. And that’s just for construction,” he added.
The new, mid-size arena would be built at the National Western Center, a spokesperson told our partners at The Denver Post.
Other bond-funded transportation projects will create new jobs and improve mobility. Money. would also go to projects meant to improve Denver’s cultural institutions, such as libraries and parks-and-rec facilities.
Additionally, Hancock also proposed using $21 million from the American Rescue Plan to help neighborhoods, businesses and workers emerge stronger and more resilient after the pandemic by helping entrepreneurs in communities of color, families with childcare, food and bridging the digital divide.
Hancock also addressed the economic disparity in the marijuana industry, saying many investors in the industry are white and male. He said he will be directing the city’s economic development and finance teams to realign a portion of the city’s marijuana sales tax revenue to establish “a new revolving loan fund” to support black-owned and women-owned marijuana businesses, with the goal of eventually creating a $50 million fund to help these enterprises start, grow and thrive.
Further, Hancock said he plans to focus the city’s workforce development efforts on “those who were hurt the most by the pandemic” by leveraging local, state and federal funds with the goal to serve more than 20,000 Denver residents with job-seeker support, skills training, micro credentialing, pre-apprenticeships, digital literacy and job placement.
On climate change
Overlooking a hazy downtown Denver skyline due to wildfires currently burning in the West Coast, Hancock said the city sees a new opportunity to create a new generation of clean-energy jobs.
“We’re going to make renewable electricity more accessible to our residents and businesses, especially for low-income residents.”
Hancock touted Denver’s Net Zero Implementation Plan, which calls for all new buildings and homes built in the city of Denver to achieve net zero carbon emissions by 2030, as well as Denver’s Renewable Heating and Cooling Plan, which states that 30% of homes in Denver that currently lack air conditioning will have it with technology that doesn’t make climate change worse.
Lastly, Hancock said the city is working to provide fully subsidized solar power subscriptions to 300 low-income households thanks to the city’s Climate Protection Fund, approved by voters last November.
“It’s time, Denver, to lift our heads and see a better tomorrow. To build a better tomorrow. This is a phoenix moment, where we get to rise from the ashes of hardship transformed, redefining what it means to be a 21st century city. That’s the opportunity before us,” he said in closing remarks.
He continued, “The resiliency that defines us, the Denver spirit that welcomes challenges and creates opportunities, is back and stronger than ever before – that is our path forward. Our conviction is unyielding, and it’s built upon equity. It’s a future we can aspire to, and that every one of us can believe in. This is no time to think small. It’s time to go big. It’s time to lift our heads up, and move forward."