Policy makers, housing experts, nonprofits brainstorm on affordable options at housing summit

Participants trying to prevent 'displacement'

DENVER – Policy makers, housing professionals, financial experts and nonprofit groups gathered in Denver Thursday to brainstorm on solutions to the affordable housing crisis.

It’s a crisis affecting many big cities.

“We’ve seen tremendous growth,” said Laura Brudzynski, director of Housing Policy and Programs – HOPE Initiative. “Upward of 1,000 people a month were moving here at one point.”

Brudzynski said that growth has strengthened Denver’s economy, but has also brought challenges.

“With the population growth,” she said, “we’ve also seen a rise in housing costs that has threatened to push out some residents who have lived here for generations.”

How high are the costs?

According to Denver’s Office of Economic Development, 107,000 households in the Mile High City are “housing cost burdened.” Thirty percent of the income goes to housing and utility costs.

The OEC estimates that 51,000 households are severely cost burdened. Half of the household’s income goes to housing and utility costs.

National Attention

The housing summit garnered national attention.

HUD Deputy Secretary Pamela Hughes Patenaude; Make Room, Inc. CEO Ali Solis; Dr. Frank Nothaft, chief economist for CoreLogic; and Denver Mayor Michael Hancock were keynote speakers.

“Cities across the country continue to see an intensified need for more affordable housing, and Denver is tackling the problem head-on,” Hancock said.

Hancock has been a driving force behind the annual summit and the focus on affordable housing. He helped create the first housing fund in Denver that dedicates $150 million over the next 10 years for affordable housing.

The head of Brothers Redevelopment, a nonprofit that provides safe, affordable, accessible housing and housing services for low-income, elderly and disabled Coloradans, said “it’s tough to find affordable rentals.”

Jeff Martinez said Brothers has been trying to purchase housing stock in the Globeville, Elyria and Swansea neighborhoods, to place in a land trust to maintain affordability and to halt displacement.

He said the nonprofit is facing challenges which include “rising costs, rising valuations and having property owners who really aren’t willing to negotiate to sell at a more affordable rate.”

New Orleans experience

Cashauna Hill, the executive director of the Greater New Orleans Fair Housing Action Center, said cities like Denver should learn from New Orleans and make sure “that affordable units are part of all new developments.”

Hill said many low-income residents in New Orleans are being evicted from affordable homes that were built after Hurricane Katrina, because the affordability timelines, agreed to by developers, are expiring.

She said the lesson for Denver is that “affordability timelines should be much longer.”

When asked what happens to a community when a large segment of the population is pushed out, Hill replied, “People come to New Orleans for the culture. They come to experience the musicians and Mardi Gras. The people who drive that culture are oftentimes lower-income and working class. If cities are going to remain great, then they need to be open to the people who made them that way.”

More Work to Do

The Deputy Director of PolicyLink, a national research and action institute advancing racial and economic equity, told summit participants that displacement is hitting people across the board and that it is affecting communities of color more “because they have fewer options.”

Mary Lee said, “When you hear cities or developers say, ‘we can’t have rent control, we can’t have just cause eviction, because it discourages development and is too expensive,’ we need to dig below that argument and not just accept it on face value.”

Ms. Lee said she was using “rent control” metaphorically because is was an example that people can relate to.

“There are many strategies like that,” she said, “that we’re going to have to have in our arsenal, if we’re going to address this extraordinarily large problem of displacement. And I will tell you again, it didn’t just happen. We are dealing with the aftermath of failing to address longstanding housing needs.”

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