A group of 50 community organizers and residents rallied in Westminster Center Park — across 92nd Avenue from City Hall — June 26 to call for some measure of help for Westminster’s poor, homeless and those paying too much for housing.
“We’ve met with the City Council a few and they always say ‘Give us some suggestions and we will help you,’“ said We Organize Westminster member Inez Marquez. “So this is what we are doing now. They’ve not been hearing us, so here it is in writing. They just are not taking us seriously.”
Then, with a bullhorn in hand and clutching signs, the group marched across 92nd Avenue to Westminster City Hall to confront city officials and speak at the June 26 City Council meeting.
“All of you standing here tonight, we are the change makers,” Marquez told the group. “Changes may not come overnight, but they will happen. With all of us joined together, we will win.”
It was a just more than year ago that the group first presented their call to the City Councilors, according to Laurel Hayden, an organizer with United for a New Economy, a Denver-based progressive group that argues for social, racial and economic justice.
Councilors proclaimed a “Coming Home Day” at their June 13, 2016, as a sign that the city is conscious of concerns over affordable housing.
Marquez, who said she is disabled due to an on-the-job injury, currently pays 100 percent of her income to rent a single bedroom apartment. She can’t afford to leave her apartment but can’t find something less expensive.
Her situation is typical she said and why people need help.
“This is my story, but there are many out there — and we’ve gone door-to-door,” Marquez said. “We’ve heard them. I can’t even imagine how senior citizens can survive in this market.”
Her group has meet with councilors before but needs to be reminded that the need has not changed.
“They tell you to your face what you want to hear,” Marquez said “They’ve cried with me when they heard my story. But nothing they say has gotten done.”
Marquez said they came prepared with a list of solutions they want City Councilors to adopt.
“We’re not pushing for a commitment tonight, just presenting our policy suggestions,” she said.
One solution is to create an affordable housing trust fund that can be to repair and build affordable housing units, provide rental assistance to people that need it and provide some financial backing for would-be homeowners.
Marquez said money for that fund could come from several sources.
“It could be a sales tax or it could be from document recording fees,” Marquez said. “There are so many options already in existence, they might just have to reallocate money that’s already there.”
The group also called for a Westminster Renters Bill of Rights. It would include printing leases in Spanish, Hmong or Vietnamese for renters, itemized rental receipts and a legal clinic to advise renters of their rights.
It’s all meant to keep landlords honest while protecting their tenants, organizer Felicia Griffin said.
“All of our laws are in favor of protecting landlords,” Griffin said. “What’s most important is that we protect people that live here now, so they don’t displaced. We need something in place to keep landlords from being shady and taking advantage of tenants.”
The group also called for updating Westminster’s housing inspection program to improve the quality of rental units.