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In final State of the City address, Mayor Hancock touts Denver as a ‘city in motion’

Mayor vows to leave "this city better than we found it" despite current challenges
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Posted at 4:20 PM, Jul 18, 2022
and last updated 2022-07-18 18:22:02-04

DENVER – Touting the progress he’s made over the past 11 years to make Denver a better place to live, Mayor Michael Hancock, in his last State of the City address, vowed to leave the city better than he found it – despite a rise in crime, the growing homelessness problem exacerbated by a lack of affordable housing, and questions surrounding how the Denver Police Department responds to the challenges of an ever-changing Denver.

“These last years have tested us. A pandemic, economic crisis, historic unrest on our streets and even a failed insurrection in our nation’s capital,” the term-limited mayor said in opening remarks in his first in-person address since the coronavirus pandemic began more than two years ago. But we’ve made it, and with a renewed sense of purpose about who we want to be as a city, we are rebuilding yet again.”

Drawing on the theme of justice throughout his speech, Hancock, speaking to dozens of people gathered inside the Montbello Recreation Center, touched on injustices when it comes to housing, job security, quality education, climate change, the economy, homelessness and more.

“Justice in all its forms has been delayed for far too long for far too many people,” Hancock said, as he called on Denverites to dispel any hateful rhetoric that seeks to divide the city, and on Denver to remain “a city of justice and opportunity for all.”

“We will not be satisfied until everyone is housed”

Touting several programs he’s implemented since being in office, Hancock spoke of the more than 13,000 people his administration has rehoused through transition programs such as tiny homes and safe outdoor spaces, as well as the creation of nearly 9,000 affordable homes throughout the city and the recent passing of the city’s proposal to expand housing affordability, which now requires builders to include more affordable units with any new construction or pay to offset construction of affordable units elsewhere.

When it comes to homeless encampments and the way he’s handled them over the years, Hancock said his administration continues to pursue “every strategy we can to address the injustice of people living on the streets.”

“The solutions are not simple, and anyone who says they are fails to grasp the reality of the challenge,” Hancock said. “My vision – and I know you share this vision – is for a city where far fewer people live on our streets.”

Over the next year, Hancock said, his administration’s outreach efforts will become more intensive, with more of a focus on rehousing people now living on the streets and will remain a top priority during what remains of his tenure “because what we are seeing on our streets is an unjust humanitarian crisis,” he said.

Already, the city is seeing “huge numbers of families” being approved for forgivable loans to help them build wealth through homeownership thanks to a down payment assistance program launched in May for people who lived in neighborhoods targeted by racist practices like redlining – the practice of denying a creditworthy applicant a loan for housing even though they’re eligible for it, Hancock said.

The mayor said he’ll also present a proposal to city council this year which will invest $2 million in ARPA funds into the city’s Basic Income Project, which will provide more than 140 women and families currently in shelters with $1,000 a month for a year in direct cash assistance. The goal being to help these families move into stable housing and provide support so they can stay housed.

Hancock said he’ll also be directing city agencies to work together to bridge the gap so that race no longer places a part in predicting’s someone’s housing outcome.

In total, Hancock said, his administration is pumping more than $240 million every year to fight the homelessness epidemic in the city.

“A dramatic spike in violent crime has damaged our city’s sense of safety”

Addressing the increase in crime across Denver over the past several years, Hancock right off the bat said public safety “shouldn’t be a debate over more or less policing. That’s a false choice,” he said. “It’s about better policing.”

Hancock said the city needs to be looking at better responses to different circumstances – such as expanding the city’s STAR program, which has made a “dramatic difference” in reducing low-level crime and costs, according to Axios.

Denver also needs to be looking at better community support to address the root causes of crime, Hancock explained.

“The expectations of policing and public safety have fundamentally changed over the past decade, and rightfully so,” he said. “As a strong and consistent advocate for reform, I also understand and support effective, appropriately resourced law enforcement as necessary and desired.”

Hancock made it clear during his speech reform will not mean fewer police on the streets.

“We’re going to continue to hire more police officers to keep our neighborhoods safe,” Hancock said, claiming increased patrols in crime hotspots over the past year have reduced violent crime in four of the five areas where it had been occurring most often. That model will be expanded to other hotspots, he said.

When it comes to police reform, both the Denver Police Department and the Denver Sheriff’s Department have adopted enhanced peer intervention practices, and DPD has contracted with a nationally recognized civilian expert to review and elevate training courses, Hancock explained.

Next, Hancock said, his administration will open an Assessment, Intake and Diversion Center the coming months, which will provide an alternative to jail for issues better addressed by treatment and behavioral health resources.

Additionally, the Denver Institute of Racial Equity, Innovation and Reconciliation has been established, Hancock said. The goal of this institute will be to promote research around racism, bias, inclusion, and practices of reconciliation, as well as the development of programs and trainings for law enforcement and the public, private and education sectors.

“The solution to gun violence isn’t more guns,” Hancock said, as he touted his administration’s ban on concealed carry in Denver parks and city buildings, as well as the city’s ban on ghost guns.

To further address crime, the mayor said he’ll soon ask city council to fund a new partnership with the U.S. Attorney to prosecute violent felons found with guns in violation of federal law.

Lastly, he urged Congress to reinstate the assault weapons bans “post haste.”

“There’s no reason why weapons of war should be available for sale in this country,” he said.

Briefly touching on the rise of fentanyl in the community, Hancock said deaths attributed to the drug have quadrupled since 2019 in the City of Denver.

To combat this "poison" in our communities, Denver will receive its first $8 million from the national opioid settlement, which the mayor is committed to directing toward support service providers and improving capacity at treatment programs.

“We’re working to ensure a full continuum of care for people experiencing addiction, including covering costs of services when personal finances and insurance fall short, and expanding our mobile response teams to meet people where they are,” he said.

The city’s sheriff’s department has also begun a new Medicated Assisted Treatment Unit that will provide addiction services for people housed at the Denver Jail, Hancock said, adding when someone is released, they won’t be released without support and will instead be given Narcan, test strips and treatment contacts.

Denver must remain “forward thinking and visionary” when it comes to the economy

To help the city recover from the lingering impacts the coronavirus pandemic had on small businesses, Hancock said his administration is working to partner with community organizations, banks and local businesses to help administer the city’s first Equity-focused Business Investment Fund, which he hopes will grow to $50 million in the next five years.

The fund, created this year, levels the playing field for small businesses owned by people of color and women, Hancock said.

The city will also be opening an innovation center in the northeast Park Hill neighborhood that will focus on supporting entrepreneurs of color – another tool for economic justice and community wealth building that will help Denverites in the area start and grow their own businesses as they learn from one another, the mayor said.

During his remarks, Hancock said he’s also directed every department to identify more ways in which the city can lower costs and provide relief for those hurting the most. The mayor also vowed to do more to promote existing assistance programs, like rent and utility assistance, eviction assistance and property tax rebates.

“Our city has a secret sauce: We build on the accomplishments of past leaders, and we have a propensity to skate to where the puck is going, not where it is,” Hancock said, as he called on Denver to market and strengthen its connections to the global economy. “We must remain forward thinking and visionary.”

“This is a race to save our future. It’s a race we cannot afford to lose”

During his hour-long address, Hancock also touched – albeit somewhat briefly – on climate change and climate justice.

Touting the voter-approved Climate Protection Fund – which puts money toward reducing greenhouse gas emissions and air pollution, supporting climate adaptation, and creating new jobs – Hancock said the program has already shown its value through low-cost, community solar energy for schools and low-income families, the addition of 2,000 new trees in climate vulnerable neighborhoods, incentives to install electric heating systems, and the implementation of a micro-shuttle in the Montbello neighborhood, as well as the tremendously popular e-bike rebate program, which crashed the city’s website last week.

The city is now looking at making a $200 million local commitment over the next five years to tackle climate change, with half of that investment going to communities more at risk from its effects.

Another investment Denver is taking on is the restoration of the South Platte River, and the preservation of new park land in underserved neighborhoods that that children and families can have more green spaces in which to create while at the same time help in reduce the city’s carbon footprint, Hancock said.

“It’s not an exaggeration to say this is a race to save our future. It’s a race we cannot afford to lose,” he said as he addressed the crowd.

“We must never stop investing in our children”

Quoting former Denver District Attorney Norm Early, Hancock stressed the importance of building a future for Denver’s children.

To this end, Hancock said that by 2024, Denver will not have a total of four Youth Empowerment Centers, where kids and teens can access support services like workforce employment, vocational and entrepreneurial training, education, mental health, recreational activities, youth violence prevention and more.

“Everyone who calls our great city home deserves a fair shot and a fair opportunity at success and an affordable home. To enjoy clean air and clean water. To have a career that supports them and their family. To express themselves to the fullest,” Hancock said.

In closing remarks, Hancock envisioned a bright future ahead for the City of Denver and said he remains committed to “leaving this city better than we found it.”

“While this may be my final year as mayor, I pledge to you that I will bring the same energy, creativity and intention as if it were my first,” Hancock said. “I remain steadfast in that commitment. Our work is not done.”