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Denver city leaders call on state for rental assistance

DENVER (KDVR) — Rental assistance is becoming more of a priority for some lawmakers.

Denver City Council members were able to reach a compromise with the mayor on funding for the city’s budget. Now, some of those council members are calling on the state for money.

Community members and city leaders in Denver are celebrating the $29 million allocation for rental assistance they were able to pass in the city budget. The compromise comes after community members — like the groups within the Colorado Coalition for the Common Good — requested $55 million to avoid a crisis, but Mayor Mike Johnston only recommended $12.6 million.

Some said Tuesday the funding was the right thing to do morally and financially.

“We spent a huge amount of time talking to every member of council and the mayor’s budget team trying to figure out how we can do this without touching our city reserves, because we are going to need those,” Council Member At-Large Sarah Parady said. “We are in ongoing emergencies, so it’s not that this isn’t an emergency, it’s just that if we could find another way, we thought that would be a good idea.

“So some of it came from dollars to go towards property tax relief that have been overfunded but not utilized, so we made sure there is still enough in that fund to overshoot what we will expect will be needed for people that utilize that money in 2024,” Parady continued. “Some of it came from savings across agencies in 2023 that the mayor’s team identified with Councilman (Darrell) Watson and others, some of it came from a very small cut to just the services and supplies budgets of city agencies. So not personnel, not capital investments. That was about 1.7% across the city, including us on council. Some of it came from a fund for graffiti removal, a very small portion. We were calling it our Frankenstein monster of funding, but we got it done.”

After getting those funds aligned, some city council members believe it’s the state’s turn to step up.

“I’ve heard right now that there might be about the same amount that we’re investing right now in Denver on the table for the entire state of Colorado. I don’t think so!” said Denver City Council Member At-Large Serena Gonzales-Gutierrez, a former state representative. She said state lawmakers need to put up more funding than Denver did as lawmakers get ready for the special session that begins Friday.

Rental assistance part of special session tasks

Of course, property taxes are the focal point of the reconvening, but buried within the governor’s scope of the call is rental assistance. Colorado House Speaker Julie McCluskie said she is confident lawmakers will take that topic up.

“There’s nothing predetermined here,” McCluskie said about the amount of money lawmakers could allocate to help with rental assistance. “I can say we have been focused on renters and renters’ relief through session, this last session, and I think it will be another big topic for the session that starts here in January. You might remember that Proposition HH had a proposal for some immediate rental assistance. That was something I think that was important to many of us.”

The House speaker said what lawmakers are able to do in this space for the rest of 2023 is a bit limited, but she said it is something on the minds of many lawmakers — and there is more to come in this area soon.

What’s Mayor Johnston’s plan for affordable housing?

FOX31 asked Johnston, who opposed rent control as a mayoral candidate, what solutions he believes will work in the city to ensure more renters are not evicted.

“Our focus has been on how we expand the number of deed-restricted, permanently affordable units,” Johnston said. “So what that means is that someone living in that unit never has to pay more than 30% of what they make to rent, and the rent can’t ever increase unless their income increases. So what we’re focusing on is building new units, conserving or converting units that might be market-rate to being affordable, and we want all those units to come with deed restrictions.

“We want to be able to make sure those units we add now are permanently affordable and stay affordable so people don’t have to worry each month that they might get evicted or that their rent will go up,” Johnston said.

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