Inclusive city? Denver's Housing draft plan falls short on Mayor's promise to put "anti-displacement measures" front and center

September 29, 2017

 

Dear Mayor Hancock,

 

Cc: Members of Denver’s City Council, and Members of Denver’s Housing Advisory Committee

 

For more than a year, community members and partners of the “Globeville Elyria-Swansea Coalition Organizing for Health and Housing Justice” have urged city officials and stakeholders to consider the disproportionate hardship that our families are facing, and to bear witness to the damages that Denver’s housing crisis are inflicting on the families of low-income and communities of color across the city. While Denver’s economy thrives, our families and neighbors in Globeville and Elyria-Swansea carry much of the burden of Denver’s upcoming economic redevelopment, with grave consequences to our  health. Denver’s growing housing crisis is not only a direct threat to the health and well-being of our families and neighbors, but also jeopardizes the stability of the greater metropolitan region as a whole.

 

We were encouraged when you, Mayor Hancock, said on July 10th, 2017, during your State of the City Address, that:

 

“Community development should benefit the community, and we will be taking the same approach to Globeville, Elyria-Swansea, Montbello and any neighborhood whose people are at risk of displacement. In September, I will deliver to City Council a budget package that puts anti-displacement measures and support for long-time families and businesses front and center throughout 2018. And I will continue to do so until we have a market that is accessible to all our people and neighborhoods.”

 

What you said in your State of the City Address gave a lot of our neighbors confidence that things can change for the better, but what we saw at the City of Denver’s “Open House to Learn About Denver’s Housing Plan” on September 19th at Bruce Randolph School, gave us an impression of how the housing discussion is going on at the city level, and we are sorry to say that we cannot help but doubt the seriousness of your commitment to Denver’s families at risk of displacement. You have promised that “anti-displacement measures” would be “front and center” in your housing plan,but based on what we saw  at the “Open House”, we are not seeing any results from these efforts.

 

To illustrate the cause of our doubt and disappointment with the “Open House” and “Draft Plan”, we would like to share a few of our observations:

 

  • There was no presentation of the “Housing an Inclusive Denver-- Draft Plan Framework”; there was only a brief welcome by Executive Director of the Office of HOPE, Erik Solivan, without any mention of the content of the plan.

 

  • Copies of the “Housing an Inclusive Denver-- Draft Plan Framework” were not translated into Spanish, despite half of the audience members in attendance were monolingual Spanish speakers, and despite the “Open House” being held in a neighborhood that has a majority of Spanish speaking families.. How can we give feedback to something that hasn’t taken into the account the community that lives here?

 

  • The “breakout sessions” did not address the content of the  “Housing an Inclusive Denver-- Draft Plan Framework”-- facilitators asked the audience how the plan could do better, without there being any time for audience members to read or digest the contents of the plan.

 

  • The “breakout sessions” were mostly a segregation of Spanish speakers and non-Spanish speakers. The table of mostly Spanish speakers was not made aware of what the table of English speakers had discussed, and the table of English speakers were not made aware of what the table of Spanish speakers had discussed.

 

  • The plan does not mention any specific “anti-displacement measures,” as you indicated in your State of the City Address. Noticeably missing were specific measures to keep people in their homes, or provide fair and affordable housing for families who have already been displaced. “Anti-displacement measures” at the “front and center” of your housing plan, as you promised in your State of the City Address, are notably missing.

 

  • The consensus among attendees was that the “Open House” had been poorly publicized. We would have liked to see you in attendance, Mayor Hancock, as a sign of your commitment to making Denver’s housing crisis a top priority of your administration.We were also disappointed that not one City Council member was in attendance, which makes us doubt how important the “Open House” really was if it was not scheduled in coordination with City Council.

 

  • After long-term neighbors facing imminent displacement gave testimony about the struggle they are facing to stay in their homes as renters, a member of your staff responded by telling us that we need to “plan some trainings so that we can know our rights.” We’re dismayed to say that we are acutely aware of our rights as renters, and the heart-breaking reality is that the rights that renters enjoy here in Denver and here in Colorado are next to none.The lack of empathy and sensitivity that some city staff expressed toward residents testimony about displacement only furthered the disconnect between affected residents and city staff.

 

Unfortunately long-term residents of our neighborhoods felt mocked and disrespected by the overall lack of organization of the “Open House”, and felt deceived by the absence of “anti-displacement measures” in the Draft Plan that you promised last July.

 

We understand that the “Housing an Inclusive Denver-- Draft Plan Framework” is exactly that-- a draft plan framework, and we understand the draft will be revised and improved-- but we also understand the urgency at hand-- that City Council will soon be voting to finalize this Draft Plan-- and we understand that every day without real and substantial “anti-displacement measures”, more and more of our neighbors and family members face incredible risk to their health and well-being following involuntary displacement. One way you could support us is by prioritizing investments in CLTs that are designed to prevent displacement. We also want to let you know that we appreciate the time and effort from the staff of Denver’s Office of Economic Development, and the appointees from Denver’s Housing Advisory Committee, who were tasked with facilitating the “breakout groups”.

 

We ask you to take our observations to heart, and to know that our direct feedback is a great sign of respect. The gravity of Denver’s housing crisis calls for taking great risks, and acting with the urgency required when facing a crisis of this magnitude. We invite you, Mayor Hancock, to prioritize the health and well-being of Denver’s families who are facing displacement today. The human cost of this crisis is far too great to delay a day longer. We invite you to listen, respond, and act to fund community- driven solutions that meet the needs of our neighborhoods, that keep families in their homes, and that reflect the urgency of this crisis. Investing in families-- capital, resources and policy must protect long term residents who are at extreme risk and most vulnerable to forced displacement. With all due respect, we are asking you to revive our faith in your word.

 

Community members from GES coalition have invested a lot of time to understand and build capacity around the Community Land Trust model, and we are on the cusp of taking this work to the next level. Mr. Mayor, we are happy to see Community Land Trusts on this high level of the Housing plan, and we invite you to see what we are building inside GES, and we would love to share with you what we have learned, and  make sure that what we have learned is available for other communities in Denver.

 

While we feel Community Land Trusts as described in your framework could be a solution to prevent displacement and preserve affordability, we feel that Community Land Trusts that are built from within community and driven by community is going to be what makes them both sustainable and relevant to meeting diverse community need. The distinction between Land Trusts and Community Land Trusts must be taken into account, and fully understood. We want to partner with you to ensure that when a GES Community Land Trust is created, it serves to prevent displacement and does not accelerate it. We are on the ground doing the work, and we are asking you to be a partner with us.

 

We would like to invite you to come meet with us in order to plan specific measures to prevent and mitigate involuntary displacement, and discuss with greater depth how a Community-driven Land Trust can be a successful model for both neighbors in GES, and for the city. We look forward to receiving your response, and to working with you to secure the stability of families and neighbors by preserving affordability, and keeping neighbors and families in their homes.


Sincerely,


Written and signed by twenty one resident members of the Globeville Elyria Swansea Coalition Organizing for Health and Housing Justice who attended the City of Denver’s “Housing an Inclusive Denver: Open House” at Bruce Randolph School on September 19th, 2017.