The Denver Post – By THE DENVER POST EDITORIAL BOARD
No doubt, it’s good to live in a thriving, growing city. There is prestige in being one of the hot go-to places. It’s a rush to learn, seemingly every other day, some surprising piece of news about newcomers flocking to Denver, or how our homes are increasing in value.
It’s far better than living in the wake of a housing bust, as longtime Denverites know all too well.
But a growing city with Denver’s values ought to also acknowledge those who helped carry the baton to this point. A truly great city shouldn’t be simply for those with ample means.
Denver’s elected officials and planners have tried and are trying innovative approaches to embrace this goal. One of the most visible policy shifts occurred a year ago, when Mayor Michael Hancock worked with City Council members to raise $150 million over 10 years to create affordable housing units. A mix of developer fees and tweaked property taxes fund the program meant to build or acquire 6,000 rental and for-sale properties for those with restricted incomes.
Yet it’s not enough — by far.
In too many of our neighborhoods, rising rents and escalating home values are significantly transforming the character and makeup of the community. Longtime original occupants are cashing in, only to find they can’t afford to live elsewhere in the city. Some families and businesses do so willingly. But others are lured away by high-pressure tactics. More worrisome, city policies and business practices meant to rejuvenate neighborhoods and business districts also play an adverse role in determining who gets to remain.
As our own Megan Schrader points out elsewhere in these pages, there is bad history at work and a most uncertain future ahead. For decades, segregation and racist lending practices kept minorities in blighted areas. Now that developers see profit to be made from the thousands arriving every few months, they’re winning the war of property acquisition and pushing out residents who fought to make a go of it before the hipsters arrived.
Other cities — including Portland, San Francisco and Seattle — have dealt with gentrification more aggressively. A reality of those efforts is that prices rise across the board. The more the city increases fees and taxes to create affordable housing stock, the more housing costs for everyone else.
That said, Denver’s affordable housing goals are too modest. Six thousand units over 10 years won’t even dent the thickening wall of exclusivity. And while other local and federal housing programs provide units, the sad fact is that it is impossible for those of even moderate means to find a decent place to live.
It comes down to establishing priorities. We should support those civic leaders who champion reasonable affordable housing. We should support low-income residents and the next generation as it rents its first apartment, or struggles to build up a down payment on a starter home.
A year ago, we supported accelerating Denver’s affordable housing push, but with reservations. We urged a modest and cautious approach. Such a position fits with our values, but clashes with the realities the city faces.
It’s as clear as our brightest of Mile High skies that this is our chance to get it right. Now is the time to act.