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With less than a year left in office, a look at Denver Mayor Michael Hancock's legacy

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Posted at 6:39 PM, Jul 18, 2022
and last updated 2022-07-18 20:40:07-04

DENVER — Denver Mayor Michael Hancock delivered his final state of the city address Monday morning in Montbello. The event was attended by local and state elected officials.

Hancock has served as Denver’s mayor for 11 years. He has roughly 363 days left in office before a new face takes over.

In his speech, the mayor focused on everything from education to the economy, laying out specific goals for his last year in office.

With his tenure coming to an end, Denver7 is taking a look at Hancock’s legacy.

The economy

Hancock took over as the city’s leader as Denver was trying to recover from the Great Recession. He ran on goals of balancing the budget, creating jobs, making the city a more business-friendly environment, and bringing more international travel in.

Since 2011, Denver International Airport has added 19 more direct international flights.

Like everywhere else, Denver struggled in the wake of the pandemic and economic shutdown. In 2020, city employees were required to take eight unpaid furlough days to help Denver make up a $226 million budget deficit.

The 2021 budget faced a $190 million budget deficit, forcing the city to leave hundreds of open positions vacant for a time as a hiring freeze was put in place. City employees were also required to take furlough days once again.

This year though, the city passed a nearly $1.5 billion budget that included more money for affordable housing, addressing climate issues, homelessness and more.

Still, with high inflation, financial experts warn another recession could be on the horizon. Hancock insists that the city is in a better position to handle a possible recession than it was in the past.

“I think we have more economic tools available to us than we did last recession. I think the reality is we have a government that is certainly in tune with the fact that we put tools in place to help our residents get through some of these difficult times. But it won't be without sacrifice,” he said. “We're going to have work that we are going to have to do to really raise up the possibilities and get people through that challenge.”

Affordability

Another major focus for the mayor throughout his career was affordability. A report in April by the real estate company OJO determined that Denver was the fifth least affordable metropolitan area in the country.

The Colorado Association for Realtors also concluded in April that home values in Denver swelled by more than 31% over the past two years and that housing affordability reached a record low.

In 2011, Hancock says the issue of affordability was brought on but the mortgage crisis and people qualifying for properties they didn’t have the wherewithal to deal with.

These days, he says the problem is more about the desirability to live in Denver causing prices to rapidly increase. Because of the last recession, the city had slowed down on building new houses and apartment units.

Hancock says he has been working with the private sector and other organizations to jumpstart production as well as working with city council to cut back some of the red tape that hampers construction.

“You saw a master plan come out for Denver 2040, that really tries to take advantage and leverage our transportation corridors for affordability and density going up. And so, I think we put in place, the policies and the wherewithal to try to address it going forward. But this is going to be something that's going to take a long time to address, Denver will never build its way out of this,” he said.

Instead, he believes this has to be a metro-wide solution.

Homelessness

In his state of the city address, Hancock said Denver has managed to rehouse 13,000 people experiencing homelessness since 2011. They have also created or preserved nearly 9,000 affordable homes.

The city has expanded its shelter system to operate year-round and has introduced programs like tiny home developments and safe outdoor spaces.

The city has faced considerable scrutiny, however, for its treatment of homeless populations with camping bans and the clearing of encampments. It also faced several lawsuits in recent years over its camping ban.

Nevertheless, a report by the Metro Denver Homeless Initiative found people experiencing first-time homelessness nearly doubled in 2021 compared to the previous year.

The survey counted 32,233 people who had accessed services and housing support between summer 2020 and 2021.

The mayor blames the COVID pandemic for contributing to the issue of homelessness but also says the challenges people face vary from economic hardships to mental health or addiction issues and more.

“We’ve got a myriad of issues that impact every individual on the street, and we got to take the solutions one person at a time because a blanket response is not going to be effective,” Hancock said.

Crime

Denver has also experienced a spike in violent crime over the past year, something the mayor acknowledged in his state of the city address. The mayor admitted that the increase has damaged the city’s sense of safety and promised to hire more police officers to keep neighborhoods safe.

He outlined one of his top concerns as the prevalence of guns, saying police have taken more than 1,200 guns off the streets this year alone. He also spoke about the prevalence and abundance of fentanyl in the community.

Denver’s crime rate has been steadily rising for years, but it increased sharply since the pandemic.

The city is the worst in the nation for car thefts in 2021.

Denver7 Investigates dug into the data provided by CMATT and found car thefts are up 173% in the past three years and there are definite hot spots where cars are much more likely to be stolen. Three of the five hotspots for the most stolen cars were in Denver.

Hancock says like the issue of homelessness, crime is a multi-faceted issue that requires a multi-faceted approach.

“I think it's important not to focus on just one single issue that causes crime because it's a very broad issue. It's one that is very complex. We got an unchecked mental illness situation in our nation in our city. We've got drugs and opiates,” he said. “It's one person at a time. But one thing we have to be clear is that we won't tolerate crime in our city and we want to do everything we can to bring every tool to bear to make sure people understand the consequences.”

Vision Zero

Something the mayor did not discuss in his final state of the city address was his Vision Zero plan. Its goal is to bring traffic deaths down to zero by the year 2030.

However, last year Denver broke a 20-year record for the most traffic deaths with 84 people killed on city roads. There was also a spike in crashes that resulted in serious bodily injuries.

This year, the city could break its all-time record, which was 100 fatalities in a single year set in 1969.

As of July 18, there have been 45 deaths on Denver roads. The main factors that contribute to fatal accidents according to the Denver Police Department are speed, impaired driving, aggressive driving, distracted driving and not wearing a seatbelt.

The city has taken steps to make Denver more pedestrian and bicycle friendly in the years since Hancock took office, adding more than 75 miles of bike lanes since 2019. The goal is to have 125 miles of new bike lanes by the end of 2023.

Denver also recently started offering a limited number of rebates for people to buy e-bikes to commute on. Last week, the city opened its second round of rebates and so many people logged on that the system crashed.

The city has also lowered speed limits on certain streets to try to address safety concerns.

Hancock acknowledges that traffic deaths in the city keep going up but he insists he’s not giving up on his goal.

“The reality is we're going to keep trying, we're going to keep trying through design, we're going to keep trying through partnerships,” he said.

Legacy

After more than a decade in office, Hancock’s time as Denver’s mayor is coming to its end. He says he’ll let the people and historians write what his legacy was.

For now, he’s focused on pushing through the last several months to try to leave the city better off than he got it.

“We have 363 days until we're until we're done. We're going to focus hard on all those issues and those metrics and do everything we can to hand over a vibrant city to the next administration,” he said.

He wouldn’t indicate what might be next for him. He also didn’t want to weigh in on who he would like to see take over as the city’s next mayor.