DENVER — As the cost of housing rises and Denverites struggle with affordability and rising crime rates, Denver Mayor Mike Johnston is outlining the first city budget under his administration, prioritizing making the city more affordable, greener and safer for residents.
The mayor’s proposed $1.7 billion budget for 2024 allocates resources around five priorities including affordable housing, investing in policing and a revitalized downtown.
Johnston is also looking to invest in more environmentally-friendly policies including adding more bike lanes in Denver and EV charging stations in the city.
The budget would also add more police to Denver’s streets.
Mayor Johnston’s top priority of trying to reduce homelessness in Denver would take up a significant portion of the 2024 budget including allocating over $48 million for his House1000 plan.
"What we know right now is last year more than 50 percent of Denverites could not afford to live in the city and county of Denver. That means right now they are paying more than 30 percent of what they make in their income towards rent," the mayor said Thursday during a press conference announcing his budget priorities. "We know if you're paying more than 30 percent of what you make to rent, it means you can't pay the rest of the bills you got sitting on your kitchen counter."
Citing rising housing costs for all Denver citizens, Mayor Johnston is proposing adding 25,000 units of permanently affordable housing over eight years, starting with 3,000 units in 2024, “making sure that those who work in Denver can afford to live here without fear that constant increases in rent will push them out of the city they love and serve,” the mayor’s budget letter noted.
The total cost of providing affordable housing units would come to estimated $100 million with the mayor planning to tap into local, state and federal funding to supplement the plan.
The budget proposal would set aside $39.2 million to help house 1,000 people in 2024 by building on the mayor's strategy of adding hotels and micro-communities.
Johnston's 2024 budget would also provide $12.6 million in rental assistance programs.
The mayor has set his sights on reforming the city’s permitting process in hopes of more quickly creating additional housing units.
In the 2024 budget, Mayor Johnston is proposing adding 167 new police recruits as the city struggles with rising crime rates across the board. The added police strength would come at an estimated cost of $8.2 million.
"2022 represented a historic high in crime across the city with some of the highest crime rates we've seen in almost 20 years, both from violent crime, from property crime to homicide and we plan to turn that around," the mayor said. "We will begin by rebuilding Denver's police force. We know this has been a major crisis, we don't have enough officers to do the work to respond to the calls residents have."
Johnston said the city would commit to three cadet academies in 2024 which would add 167 new officers to DPD. Johnston added the investment would translate to the largest number of new officers in 20 years.
With 911 call centers struggling with worker shortages and wait times, the mayor hopes to further invest in the Support Team Assisted Response (STAR) program which provides EMTs and behavior health clinicians to respond to certain 911 calls for help centered around low-level issues.
The STAR team responds to trespass calls, welfare checks and people who are in mental health distress, among other lower priority
Johnston is hoping to invest $7.2 million into the STAR program.
The 2024 budget also includes around $7 million for an expansion of treatment alternatives to traditional incarceration including the addition of 90 beds at corrections facilities and more investment in behavioral health resources.
As downtown Denver continues to rebound from the COVID-19 pandemic, Johnston, citing some of the highest commercial vacancy rates of any downtown corridor in the U.S., is proposing investments to attract new businesses, envisioning a downtown in which more residents live and work.
"We want to convert downtown Denver from being a centralized business district to being a centralized neighborhood district," the mayor said. "We will start our first effort to convert commercial office space into residential units this year and work on a path to accelerate additional conversion of commercial spaces in the time to come."
Johnston's 2024 budget proposal would target $58 million for revitalization in downtown Denver including funds to complete the 16th street mall project.
The 16th street mall project would include an expanded tree canopy and added spaces for pedestrian traffic, the mayor's plan noted.
Targeting a greener Denver, the mayor is proposing a citywide electric vehicle charging infastructure for citizen and official city use as the mayor hopes to continue to convert Denver's government vehicle fleet to electric, according to the budget. "The budget allocates over $7 million for electric transportation options, including $2 million for EV replacements of city vehicles that are at the end of their useful life; and $1.5 million for EV charging infrastructure that will expand public access to charging at city facilities that serve under-resourced neighborhoods and support Denver’s municipal fleets," according to the plan.
The mayor hopes to set aside $15 million to grow the city's bike lane infastructure including "transit enhancements for West Colfax, transit-oriented development, and Safe Routes to School and pedestrian crossings," the report said.
As the final two rounds of e-bike vouchers in 2023 are set to open over the next few months, the 2024 proposed budget would add $2.8 million to continue Denver's popular e-bike rebates into 2024.
Mayor Johnston’s projected budget is estimated to grow 4% from the city’s 2023 budget of $1.63 billion, the last one under former mayor Michael Hancock.
The slight increase in 2024’s proposed revenue is as a result of expected increases in revenue from sales and property taxes, the mayor’s budget outlined.
Johnston’s budget letter noted 15% in reserves for “unforeseen economic challenges" in 2024.
This is a developing story. Refresh the page for updates.
Denver7's Angelika Albaladejo contributed to this report.