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City leaders call for more flexibility in Denver's troubled affordable home-buying program

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Posted at 6:19 PM, Feb 27, 2019
and last updated 2019-02-27 20:31:29-05

DENVER -- Progress sometimes needs a gentle push in the right direction. For the city's troubled affordable home buying program, it took, in part, a Contact7 investigation.

City leaders are calling for more flexibility in how city staff qualify affordable homebuyers. As Contact7 Investigates reported, the city changed the rules on buyers and sellers just hours before closing in some cases.

"It's now sort of kicking people out of being eligible that might have otherwise been eligible," Councilwoman At-large Debbie Ortega said Wednesday. She was in attendance of a committee meeting about a recent city audit which identified several problems in Denver's affordable housing programs.

Ortega questioned if city leaders, who are trying to fix past problems, are instead creating new problems and thus hampering the city's limited affordable housing stock.

"Yeah, affordable housing stock is a precious resource and we take it very seriously to protect and preserve that," Chief Housing Officer Britta Fisher told the committee of recent changes on the whole. "At the same time, we've wanted to work with people who feel they were caught unaware."

Among those people are Gary Gibson, who Contact7 Investigates profiled in the past few weeks.

"Disaster," he said of the process he's enduring. He benefited in buying an affordable townhome in Stapleton in 2016, but is unable to sell it in 2019. Prospective buyers are struggling to meet income requirements and a newly-enforced housing cost debt-to-income ratio. He's had roughly 100 showings since the townhome went on the market in October -- the most affordable townhome of its size in Denver.

Earlier this month, the city upped the housing cost debt-to-income ratio to 35 percent from 30 percent. It accounts for a household's mortgage payments and homeowner association fees combined. Also, Fisher said her office is exploring new tools that would more readily grant exceptions to prospective buyers who may exceed those limits, but who demonstrate an excellent credit score and financial management skills.

Denver Mayor Michael Hancock empathized with the people Contact7 Investigates has profiled. He said the city needs to find a better way to preserve actual affordability but did not offer concrete suggestions or solutions on how to accomplish that.

"So, we got to be creative, we've got to create programs, but we don't want to overburden people as well," he said Monday. "We don't want them to be to a point where they get in and they have no other options other than to pay their mortgage."

"We need to have the flexibility to deal with those realities," Ortega said.

The Contact7 Investigates Team