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Annual forum searches for solutions to the affordable housing shortage in Denver

Posted at 11:38 AM, Apr 21, 2019
and last updated 2019-04-21 19:46:34-04

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DENVER -- For the fifth year in a row, Denver leaders hosted a forum to talk about housing affordability in the city. The forum comes at a time that housing prices across Colorado are continually growing, making the city less affordable for middle and low-income families.

During the forum, Mayor Michael Hancock proposed the creation of the new Department of Housing and Homelessness, which will combine the already existing Denver Economic Department, the Housing and Opportunities for People Everywhere division and the Denver’s Road Home program.

“Housing and homelessness services need the structure within city government to bring all of our resources to bear to tackle these complex issues with compassion, dignity and care for all residents,” Mayor Hancock said in a news release.

Along with the creation of a new department, the mayor also announced a $15.7 million initiative to expand voucher programs and day shelters.

Around $5 million of that will go to support the 400 Bridge Housing Vouchers over the next few years to provide temporary housing for people waiting for a permanent residence.

The other $10.7 million will go toward expanding day shelters in the city. However, the city is only providing $11.2 million of that money and is looking for donors to provide the rest. The Anschutz Foundation is filling part of the hole, offering $1 million for the initiative.

All of this is aimed at helping more Denver families who are struggling to find a place to stay.

Lolita Barron and her two daughters just moved into a new apartment about two weeks ago thanks to a Denver voucher program.

“It’s hard, especially as a single mom to live and pay this rent by myself on top of what other utilities and expenses I have. I wouldn’t be able to do it by myself if I didn’t get housing,” Barron said.

Barron is a single mother who works at an assisted living facility up to 80 hours a week along with trying to go to school. For a while, she was homeless and relied on friends for a place to stay.

“I started out at the family motel on West Colfax and then I got into the Good Samaritan House and then from there I was just applying everywhere I could. I was trying to get housed before I had my daughter,” Barron said.

Barron said she spent years applying to housing programs all over the Denver metro area without having much luck.

“I’ve applied for literally every housing lottery and everything in Denver, at Lakewood, Brighton — really, all the way up and down the metro area I’ve applied,” Barron said. “I was on a waiting list for these apartments in Thornton for five years.”

Housing became such a problem that Barron moved to Nebraska and South Dakota for a while before returning to Colorado. However, she shares custody of her 10-year-old daughter, so leaving Denver meant she was not able to see her daughter for months on end.

This apartment has given Barron the chance to finally settle down with her two daughters.

“I want to give them a good life and being here could do that,” she said.

She’s now looking forward to doing things some families take for granted, like decorating her daughter’s room. Barron’s 10-year-old loves the color pink and anything with a unicorn on it.

“She hasn’t had her own room in a long time and so that’s what I kept telling her is, 'you’re going to get your own room' and she was so excited,” she said.

The public housing program doesn’t allow the family to paint the walls, but Barron says she’s looking for posters and wall stickers, anything to make her daughter’s room feel more like a space of her own.

Barron’s nextdoor neighbor, Margaret Greene-Aguilar, has been living in public housing for about six years and says she’s seen the sigh of relief families feel when they settle in. She, too, is a single mother who worked full time and struggled to find housing.

“I’ve spent so much of my money on rent before I moved here. And now that I live here, I at least can buy groceries where in the past I couldn’t even hardly buy any food,” Greene-Aguilar said.

But both women know they are lucky because there is a big shortage of affordable housing in Denver.

“There is a very big, big, huge need for housing,” Greene-Aguilar said. “It’s just really sad.”

As Denver leaders search for solutions to the affordable housing problem, Barron and Green-Aguilar say they’re just happy to have a place to call home.