197 community members to Mayor Hancock: "When 9 out of 10 families are facing displacement, Denver is not "A City For All"

One hundred and ninety seven neighbors sign letter and public comment urging Mayor Hancock to avoid catastrophic displacement

Community members from Globeville Elyria-Swansea Coalition Organizing for Health and Housing Justice attended a partners meeting with Office of HOPE Mayor appointee Erik Solivan on Wednesday, November 8th, 2017. Following this meeting, GES coalition members communicated that the Mayor's vision to implement Denver's Housing Plan did not appear to be inclusive to grassroots housing solutions, nor willing to take community-driven solutions seriously.
 
The City of Denver's multi-billion public and private investments are driving massive threat of displacement for 9 out of every 10 homes in the Globeville, Elyria-Swansea neighborhoods. When public investment threatens 90% of families in a neighborhood, it’s difficult to believe how the idea that Denver is "A City for All” can possibly be true.
 
The lack of action by the City of Denver following the impact of the City's investments on the speculative housing market is grave injustice, and the results are widespread threat of displacement and growing interruption to family health and well-being that disproportionately affects families from low income and communities of color. Add your name to 197 community members who signed GES Coalition's letter to Mayor Hancock, and urge the Mayor to proportionality and justly mitigate the City of Denver's role in creating conditions of wide-spread displacement.

Note: Attached to this letter, we have included GES Coalition’s public comment on“Housing an Inclusive Denver”, also supported by the signers of GES Coalition's letter to Mayor Hancock.

November 13, 2017
Dear Mayor Hancock,
CC: Members of Denver's City Council, and members of Denver's Housing Advisory Committee

Add your name on

the GES Coalition letter to Mayor Hancock

This letter was written and signed by 197 community members in Globeville and Elyria-Swansea and sent to Mayor Hancock, Members of Denver's City Council, and members of Denver's Housing advisory Committee on Monday, November 13, 2017.

The Eleventh Hour has arrived for Denver communities facing imminent threat from involuntary displacement. Neighbors, city legislators, planners and investors are at a precarious crossroads where we must decide what kind of city that Denver will be for generations to come.  GES Coalition agrees with the idea of the Mayor's housing plan, and there are many inspirational statements and goals made in this plan. We can appreciate that the plan framework is focused on serving people instead of only building housing units. However, we are distressed to report that the Housing Plan, without critical vision and leadership in times of crisis, will critically fail to meet the need of a majority of families across the neighborhoods, those who are most vulnerable to involuntary displacement. The power imbalance that exists in Denver’s neighborhoods most vulnerable to involuntary displacement needs to be acknowledged; a critical change in vision can bring solutions that transform projects in which affected community members themselves are involved in the solutions that determine their own communities future and well-being.

We want to remind you that communities have great motivation and self-interest to stay in their homes-- please do not underestimate how motivated we are to preserve our collective self-interest to stay. And we want you to know the City of Denver does not take this risk alone. We urge you to risk seeing the vision where the biggest resource is already in communities-- the collective force of the many people who live here-- families who are motivated to stay. We must also stress that to match the magnitude of the crisis, the amount of investment needs to be dramatically increased, yet bigger investments are not always better-- investments should  be dispersed equitably in small series of investments, including a shared inclusiveness to grassroots and community solutions. Housing solutions should not rely on mid to large-scale, profit driven investments that do not have agility to meet changing community need, and often preclude (and intentionally exclude) existing community partnerships and organizations.  Housing people in Denver should be visioned through a service and community lens along with development.  The “leveraging” of resources should include community ownership of solutions as a resource as well.

 

Last Wednesday, November 8, 2017, members of the GES Coalition attended a  meeting with your Director of HOPE The results of this meeting caused community member participants to feel that your administration does not take the health of our communities seriously. Not only did the question of:  “Are the GES communities worth saving?” go unanswered, but our national expert and experienced partners were treated with disrespect and dismissed without being able to present the proposal and strategy at hand. This disappointing meeting also confirmed a suspicion wide felt in our community that your administration does not yet see communities as part of the solution to the crisis that is so severely intersected with our self-interest, family health and well-being. Having hard working community members and partners be doubted and looked down on instead of supported showed a lack of comprehension of the complexity of these issues, ignorance to the potential of people coming together to solve issues, and arrogance that is too blind to be inclusive.  

 

In Globeville and Elyria-Swansea specifically, we are living in the epicenter of a city and statewide housing crisis exploding in plain sight. What is not often discussed is that the crisis here in our neighborhood is an afterthought of billions of dollars of public and private investment concentrated across our neighborhoods, facilitated and funded in part with public investment by the City of Denver-- this means public spending of tax dollars is one of the primary drivers fueling the threat of our  displacement. The impact of these investments on the speculative housing market means that the majority of families in both neighborhoods, both renters and homeowners, are rapidly being priced out of their homes, resulting in widespread interruption to family health and well-being, and disproportionately affecting people who are disabled, live on fixed income, and families from low income and communities of color. Preventing the crisis from becoming epidemic means keeping people in their homes, and requires agreeing that the families in our neighborhoods are worth it-- worth the cost to mitigate a solution that is proportionate to the amount being spent on Denver's  economic development projects driving widespread threat of displacement.

We keep hearing you say that Denver is a “City for All”, but what happens when the City of Denver’s investment leveraging billions of public dollars drives a majority of neighbors from their homes? According to our recent survey report, 9 of 10 of our neighbors have only recently become-- in the words of Denver’s Housing Plan-- “severely cost burdened” and “housing insecure”, a rising threat since 2013 since public and private investment were initially slated for large economic development scattered through our neighborhoods. Today, with so few solutions in sight for those facing imminent displacement, it’s difficult to believe how the idea that Denver is a “City for All” can possibly be true.

 

This is a hard reality to acknowledge and present even harder to ask. To prevent a major crisis of displacement, how much is the health and well-being of our families worth? Does the City of Denver believe that elderly, disabled, low income and communities of color are worth the investment? Or will nine out of ten families in our neighborhoods-- and their histories-- the cultural fabric you speak of-- be wiped clean from the map? We urge you to think of your impact on the future generations of the city, and who will be here to enjoy it. We urge you to take a leap of faith, and take bigger risks for the benefit of the people most affected by this housing crisis. Do not let the future of Denver’s most vulnerable communities-- low income and communities of color-- die on your watch.

 

Since we last wrote to you six weeks ago, Denver’s housing crisis brings great stress and gloom, yet our neighborhood support and allies have grown. We are not alone in this fight to stay in our homes-- and our struggle connects us  to the struggle that communities are facing in the Northside, Sun Valley, Montbello, North Park Hill, Cole, Five Points, Whittier, Clayton, East Colfax, Villa Park, Barnum, Athmar Park, Ruby Hill, Valverde, West Colfax, Lincoln Park, Mar Lee -- and connects us to all communities in the Denver metropolitan area-- Commerce City, Aurora, Federal Heights, Westminster, Wheat Ridge, Arvada, Adams County-- where the most vulnerable communities are facing disproportionate threat of displacement.

 

Mayor Hancock, we continue to look forward for a direct conversation with you about the letter we sent six weeks ago with an invitation to collaborate on community-driven solutions to keep families in their homes. We would love to express to you our ideas that have worked in other major cities to assist in slowing displacement of residents, and we would like  to share our learning with you. This needs to be a direct conversation with you, due to the fact that your housing director clearly expressed a bias against the community-driven model that is being proposed not just by the community but my national expects that are working all across the country on the same issues that the Denver is facing. We refuse to give up-- there is too much at stake. 

 

We also want to thank your other directors of the NDCC and the NWC, who remain supportive and open to see how a housing crisis requires the City of Denver to take new kinds of risks. And we also want to let you know we greatly appreciate the Office of Economic Development staff that has carefully listened to community partners, and worked to expand “Emergency”  TRUA funds that are more inclusive and comprehensive than before. We congratulate the City of Denver and  OED for this success.

 

As we drafted this second letter and public comment, we reached out across the communities and we deliver to you today this letter, and attached public comment to “Housing an Inclusive Denver” signed by over 197 community members standing collectively as GES Coalition. We are not discouraged by your silence. We would like to cordially extend a second time the invitation to come to our communities and join the conversation.

 

We are looking forward to your response,

 

Respectfully,

 

Signed by 197 neighbors standing as Globeville Elyria-Swansea Coalition Organizing for Health and Housing Justice on November 13th, 2017.

GES Coalition's Public Comment on "Housing an Inclusive Denver" 

November 13, 2017

 

The Globeville Elyria-Swansea Coalition Organizing for Health and Housing Justice (GES Coalition) is a group of resident leaders, community organizers, community organizations, allies and advocates working to align community health and the well-being of our neighbors by organizing around preventing the displacement of our neighbors, preserving affordability in housing, protecting historically marginalized neighborhoods, activating resident-driven leadership, and promoting a culture that welcomes neighbors who value our longstanding culture, interconnectedness, and commitment to equity. GES Coalition organizing is community-driven and based on a shared commitment to economic, racial, and environmental justice. Our vision is collectively organized and facilitated neighbor-to-neighbor. GES Coalition has organized with neighbors and partners since 2016 to build capacity around community-driven, grassroots solutions to Denver's housing crisis, not only for the benefit of neighbors in GES, but for the benefit of all communities in Denver vulnerable to displacement.

The purpose of this attachment is to give feedback on "Housing an Inclusive Denver," as part of public comment to the City of Denver, and these comments were submitted on November 13th, 2017. These comments accompanied a letter from GES Coalition to Mayor Hancock, and were signed in support by more than 197 community members, and both letter and attachment were also sent to members of Denver's City Council, and members of Denver's Housing Advisory Committee. The letter to the Mayor stated:

"GES Coalition agrees with the idea of the Mayor's housing plan, and there are many inspirational statements and goals made in this plan. We can appreciate that the plan framework is focused on serving people instead of only building housing units. However, we are distressed to report that the Housing Plan, without critical vision and leadership in times of crisis, will critically fail to meet the need of a majority of families across the neighborhoods, those who are most vulnerable to involuntary displacement. The power imbalance that exists in Denver’s neighborhoods most vulnerable to involuntary displacement needs to be acknowledged; a critical change in vision can bring solutions that transform projects in which affected community members themselves are involved in the solutions that determine their own communities future and well-being."

In the following fourteen comments, GES Coalition urges the City of Denver to carefully consider the vision of how "Housing an Inclusive Denver" will be implemented with the highest call for rapid action to prevent displacement, and with the with highest priority for community inclusion when possible. GES Coalition public comments on "Housing an Inclusive Denver" are described as follows:

1. Investments by the City of Denver and their partners should proportionately mitigate displacement in relationship to the amount of public-private spending for large-scale economic development that is driving the threat of displacement. Mitigation should highlight solutions that see the community as part of the solution, like community-driven land trusts, when community partnership is possible.

 

2. The City of Denver should support and promote programs that help families access affordable housing with displacement or stability vouchers that would look at a longer term solution to prevent displacement in Denver's most vulnerable communities. The City of Denver should build relationships with landlords in vulnerable neighborhoods who want to keep their current tenants in their home by supporting incentives for landlords to opt-in to creating longer-term affordability, or through supporting navigation to reach perpetual affordability through community-driven land trusts. All strategies should have clear stabilization outcomes that need to be part of a counseling and advocacy support. Programs like the Temporary Rental and Utility Assistance should be modeled after nation-wide research to show where successful examples of this type of program have been successful. These programs should be able to show that temporary rental assistance does not become an incentive for landlords to raise the rent, which can ultimately drive up higher rental costs, and increase a neighborhood's loss of affordability.

 

3. The City of Denver should develop a preference policy to help families stay or return to neighborhoods, following the lead of the National Case Study of Portland, Oregon, highlighted in “Housing and Inclusive Denver.” For this to be able to function, trusted community groups should be supported to track displacement and threat of displacement among most vulnerable families in each neighborhood, and this information can be utilized to implement the preference policy as new affordable units are preserved, rehabilitated, acquired by land trusts, or developed.

 

4. The City of Denver's support of preventing displacement and community-driven solutions should be dramatically increased in order to match the severity of the housing crisis, yet large-scale investments are not always better-- The City of Denver should adopt a strategy that should prioritize making more ongoing series of smaller investments. This strategy should include a shared inclusiveness to grassroots and community-based  partnerships and solutions.

 

5. Housing solutions should not rely on mid to large-scale and profit driven investments that do not have agility to meet changing community need, and often preclude (and intentionally exclude) existing community partnerships and organizations.

 

6. Transit Oriented Development (TOD) funds should be promoted and made accessible to a diverse group of candidates, including community groups with the required capacity between partnerships. The City of Denver should bridge and leverage available TOD funds to support community-driven development.

 

7. When TOD (and infrastructure) investments are made, full consideration of their impact to neighbors needs to be balanced by strategies and mitigation that help people stay in place.

 

8. Tax Increment Financing (TIF) should be utilized to stabilize neighborhoods through land acquisition for future community-driven land trusts, when possible.

 

9. Tax relief should be expanded as quickly as possible to include disabled, fixed-income, retired, and low income families who are living in areas most vulnerable to displacement.

 

10. To promote availability of small-scale affordable rentals, transparency and access to city resources for small scale property owners to receive subsidies for renting or selling affordably should be prioritized. The City of Denver should expand to include rehab/repair programs that allow third party organizations that are doing permanent affordability to access rehabilitation resources and loans before the home is occupied or in exchange for affordability contracts.

11. The City of Denver should be very cautious to pursue a rental registry. A rental registry needs to be fully thought through for impact on vulnerable renters and worsening displacement.  If renters have no other affordable options they will be displaced from the properties that need repair.  Include “explore impact on vulnerable renters and displacement.”

 

12. Housing people in Denver should be visioned through a service and community lens along with development. The City should support community-driven solutions to flourish by acting as a trusted partner that could temporarily lank bank vulnerable properties in order to stabilize the threat of displacement. These properties can be leveraged for success by community-driven land trusts, with the City of Denver acting as a partner to help leverage the success of community land trusts with a focus on preventing displacement, if possible in each vulnerable neighborhood, or sold to not for profit affordable housing developers if no community organization has the capacity to leverage the partnerships. The City of Denver should not see itself as a competitor to “community-driven” solutions; instead the City of Denver should adapt a role of partner and collaborator with community groups with required capacity to develop community land trusts, and the City should address and build relationships to meet unique neighborhood need, neighborhood by neighborhood, and base policy on building relationships with diverse community partnerships.

 

13. To develop the land trust model, the City of Denver and partners should prioritize investments with the following criteria:

a. Community participation in the ongoing stewardship should be a core component of the City and its partners exploration of a land trust model in Denver.” --this is the only mention of community in this section which dramatically leaves out the community ownership component.

b. The City of Denver should differentiate between different types of land trusts, and explore how a land trust is a very flexible model that looks different in every community.

c. Along with the differences, national research of these different types of models impacts or successes needs to be fully examined.

d. Rental units should be prioritized during housing crisis. Rentals should be prioritized equally between emergency units, like motel or hotel units for people who have just been displaced; rentals for people in need of temporary housing (non-emergency); and rentals for people who want a long-term rental, who don't want to buy a home (or are not able to).

d. Different communities in Denver may have need or desire for different types of Land Trusts, but one model should not be imposed on communities-- proposals for regional models of land trusts should be met with caution, and reviewed with existing regional land trust models in order to best understand known risks.

e. The City of Denver should partner with one or more “community land trust” that is run by a tripartite board.  

f. City partners should cooperate to develop Community Land Trust (CLT) that include: community ownership, community participation and vision, and maintenance of ongoing relevance to community needs by working with those most impacted in the community.

g. A Community Land Trust should build a strategy that not only addresses housing but community health, support among neighbors, and generation of economy within a neighborhood.

h. A Community Land Trust should address displacement in vulnerable areas by providing stability, including creating additional ways for people to become homeowners, ways for renters and homeowners to stay in the neighborhood that are at risk, ability to create an alternative to prospectors and predatory industries, provides stewardship to families, land and subsidies to maintain affordability, and provides a true partnership with the neighborhood to grow productively and together.  

i. A Community Land Trust should be a flexible tool that can be a provider of emergency services, either through referral or through property acquisition that could provide for long or short term needs depending on need in the community and facility capacity.

j. There is a clear difference between a Community Land Trust, which has a balance of community board participation, and a shared equity program, which acts like a CLT with leasing of land but has no connection to the board and not accountable to the community. National experts of Community Land Trust like Grounded Solutions Network have partnered with GES Coalition and more than 40 community members to build community capacity of CLTs since May 2017. Grounded Solutions Network, and other national experts of CLTs define a community land trust as a non profit that has a tripartite board of directors, a structure that offers some types of accountability back to the community they serve. The City of Denver should embrace community partnership, and look to national research illustrating diverse CLTs, and distinguish them from shared equity programs that are named "CLT" but do not really fit the definition.

 

14. Notes of language found (or missing) in “Housing an Inclusive Denver”

a. When the City of Denver say “Our partners”. who is being included?  Community members are not included as part of solutions.​

 

b. Noticeably missing is “Equity”-- the distribution and balance of diversity of investment and openness to collaborate with community organizations and grassroots, neighborhood-based groups.

c. There was no acknowledgement of the City of Denver's public investment contributing to displacement.

 

d. No language is used to describe diverse, distinct types of investments that should be strategically utilized, and are needed to stabilize families in vulnerable neighborhoods.

 

e. "Explore”-- How do we determine the interest, progress, transparency of what the City of Denver is exploring, and how things are being explored? How will all of the things being explored be prioritized to meet community organization and  need?