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Denver housing plan hits snag as thousands of affordable units at risk of converting to market rate

Posted at 7:45 PM, Oct 08, 2018
and last updated 2018-10-08 21:47:40-04

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DENVER — It seems like new places to rent are going up everywhere you look. Keeping it affordable is one of the City of Denver's top priorities, according to its five-year plan. The issue at hand is when developers build affordable rental units, they don’t have to keep them affordable forever.

In the next few years, it could become even more difficult for low-income families to find or stay in affordable units. Many developers had agreed to keep some units affordable for 20 years — it’s called a preservation ordinance. But time is ticking, and in five years, 8 percent of those rentals could disappear for low-income families, according to our partners at the Denver Post. That equates to about 1,700 units in Denver and more than 6,000 in the state.

Councilwoman At-Large Robin Kneich told Denver7, the preservation ordinance, which allows the city to invest or even purchase homes before the requirement expires, already exists but now city leaders would like to increase it to 60 years.

"We have lost some homes. When that happens, residents are displaced, and future residents don't get an opportunity to live there," said Kneich.

The Ashley Union Station apartments in downtown, have committed to 60 years. But not everyone is on the same page.

"We have seen some investors come in and swoop in and buy buildings with the intention of that affordability to expire," said Kneich.

Councilwoman Debbie Ortega is the only council member who doesn’t support updating the ordinance. She told Denver7, non-profit housing partners will suffer. Ortega sits on the board for the Del Norte Neighborhood Corporation.

She believes longer affordability restrictions would hurt property values, securing financing to maintain older buildings will prove more difficult and lastly, she feels the city does not have the right tools in place to manage the rentals efficiently.

But Kniech said plenty of big cities including Boulder, require projects to keep income restrictions forever if they want city funding.

In the end, she said it’s about the low-income families that would otherwise, have nowhere to go.

"It’s also because those families then get to stay in place, they get to the same school and have the same commute: all the things stability provides," said Kniech.

For more information about affordable housing qualifications and applications, visit the City and County of Denver's OED website.

City Council will discuss the ordinance at Tuesday's meeting. Following that, any votes would take place at the following Monday meeting.