Denver's vacant apartment subsidy program gets initial OK

Our Colorado: Is new program off the mark?

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DENVER — Denver has a new idea to help deal with the affordable housing crisis, but city subsidies to people for existing vacant apartments is also drawing criticism.

The program is called Lower Income Voucher Equity (LIVE) Denver. The basic concept is taking existing empty apartments, putting them in a pool, renting them out at a discount to lower-income people, and having the city pay the difference in the form of a subsidy.

“It puts a rapid response to our housing situation,” Randy Thelen of the Downtown Denver Partnership told Denver7.

The DDP is partnering with the city, the Apartment Association of Metro Denver, the Denver Housing Authority, and the Piton Foundation on this program.

One of the biggest pushes behind the program is the speed at which it happens. It normally takes years to build new units of affordable housing. This program would move people into units in months.

It is income restricted and is for people making between $23,520 and $47,040 or a family of four earning between $33,560 and $67,120 annually.

“Early in their careers nurses, bank tellers, you think of hotel workers, any number of those kinds of positions,” Thelen said.

The city would be putting up a million dollars from the affordable housing fund to kickstart the two-year pilot program.

But not everyone is on board with the idea of subsidizing empty existing apartments.

“We are perpetuating the problem of high rents in this city when we help to subsidize the occupancy of vacant apartments,” City Council member Kevin Flynn said at Monday’s meeting.

Colorado Coalition for the Homeless President John Parvensky also had concerns during an interview with Denver7 earlier this month.

“If they have vacant units it’s because the rent’s too high. All they need to do is reduce to market level, they will fill up, and there won’t be these empty units,” he said.

There is also concern that the money isn't being spent in the right place. According to the CCH, for those people making $37,000 a year (right in the middle of LIVE Denver's range), there are 90 affordable units available for every 100 people that need them. At a $19,000 income level, that number drops to 26 available, affordable units for every 100 people. 

Thelen of the Downtown Denver Partnership countered by saying LIVE is just one piece of the affordable housing puzzle.

“We have housing challenges up and down the income spectrum. This gets to a different income spectrum in a quick, expedited way,” he said.

Monday night, the Denver City Council voted to give the project initial approval. It will take one more vote to approve that million dollars in funding and make LIVE a reality.

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