Proposal would require Denver developers to add affordable housing as they build to the sky

DENVER — Construction cranes dot the Denver horizon as crews work day and night building a slew of high rise apartments to an already-busy skyline. In the process, many longtime residents are being pushed out of their homes.

One city leader is trying to strike a balance, forcing developers to pay for affordable housing in exchange for taller buildings. 

Denver City Council President Albus Brooks is proposing a so-called "height incentive” to encourage developers to construct more affordable housing as they build higher. 

But his plan won’t protect everyone.

Many residents will still be forced to move, and for the people left behind, they'll be dealing with increased parking problems in an already-congested area.

The Denver we know and love is changing. As more and more cranes line the skyline, the need for affordable housing is reaching a tipping point. 

“We're in an affordable housing crisis. So, for all the developments that are going on, people want inclusion of affordable units," said Brooks.

Brooks is trying to strike the right balance, and he is using 38th and Blake as his case study for the ambitious idea, telling developers at the RiNo site that if they want to build higher, they’ll have to add affordable housing. 

"It's a good compromise of what we're trying to see in the city of Denver,” said Brooks.

Under Brooks’ proposal, areas zoned for five stories could build up to 12 or even 16 stories, but only if developers add ten percent affordable housing and at their own cost.  

But some developers say the proposal would be ineffective at addressing the affordable housing issue in Denver.

“It's going to take a lot more than these small moves to really address these issues. It's going to take some serious political commitment," said Kyle Zeppelin, President of Zeppelin Development. 

Despite the debate on a possible political solution to the problem, the lack of affordable housing is having a real and immediate impact on residents.  

“A lot of these apartments, even studio apartments, a lot of them are going for $2,500 a month,” said RiNo resident Janine Lesser. “How can you make that? How can you do that?”

Finding affordable housing in the RiNo neighborhood was a real challenge for Lesser. While more is always good in her mind, there is a trade-off.

"Parking could be a real problem,” she said.

Councilman Brooks points to the light rail station right across the street from the 38th and Blake development as the solution to the added density. 
    
A public hearing will be held February 12.

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