Growing pains personal
Hancock says runaway unaffordability of housing in Denver “cuts me to the core”
Mayor Michael Hancock has focused in several speeches on the need to address the downsides of Denver’s recent population boom and development surge. It’s a perennial, tough-to-address issue.
But on Monday, his appeals — on dealing with clogged traffic, addressing threats to the environment and, most of all, the runaway unaffordability of much of the city — appeared more personal during his State of the City address. Hancock referenced his sister Carlyne’s recent move back to Denver, only to find that “housing prices were out of her reach.”
“It cuts me to the core as I witness my friends and family members get priced out of their homes, and entire minority neighborhoods struggle just to get by,” Hancock said in the speech.
About the development that has rendered some blocks unrecognizable to longtime residents, he said: “Like you, I find the pace shocking.”
Hancock struck optimistic tones, recounting gains on a number of fronts while outlining new initiatives aimed at helping more families afford to stay in Denver. One plan of undetermined cost would subsidize the rent gaps for 400 vacant market-rate apartments to enable low- and moderate-income families to live in them. That is part of early plans for the city’s 10-year, $150 million housing fund, created by the City Council last year.
“We are pulling every lever we can to offer more affordable options to our people,” Hancock said, citing the early attainment of previously announced initiative to help build or cre--
ate 3,000 affordable homes.
Other new announcements Monday were aimed at unclogging traffic with a $2 billion, 12-year mobility plan — reported by The Denver Post before the speech — and getting the city on a path toward using 100 percent renewable energy for its power generation. Another initiative would raise an estimated $200,000 a year for a National Western Center community investment fund to help northern neighborhoods affected by the 10year project to expand and remake the stock show campus.
“This city will show how development can serve our needs, not victimize us,” the mayor said before a packed gym at Park Hill’s Hiawatha Davis Jr. Recreation Center. “And how change can happen the Denver way, so that we remain connected to our past, to our neighborhoods and to one another. The change we’re experiencing must reflect the heart and passion of our city and her people.
“This is not an easy task. But time and again, Denver has stepped up and turned our challenges into opportunities.”
To seize on some of those, he said his 2018 budget proposal would reflect increased spending on housing, anti-displacement and transportation initiatives, though details are still short.
Hancock capped off his nearly 40-minute speech by getting political — defending liberal policies and nodding to, if not naming, President Donald Trump’s administration. The mayor expressed worry about how Denver residents would be affected by Republicans’ attempts to dismantle the Affordable Care Act and deputize cities to enforce immigration laws.
“They say cities and progressive ideas don’t work. Well, in Denver they do,” Hancock said. “If 2.3 percent unemployment, inclusive policies and a drive for economic equity are their idea of what doesn’t work, then we’re not buying what they’re selling.”
The mayor, who has two years left in his second term and is considering a run for a third, found a mostly friendly, receptive audience ready to applaud and cheer, save for a clutch of protesters against the Interstate 70 expansion project. Many stayed for an outdoor cookout after the speech.
But in one moment early in the speech, Hancock paused after the crowd greeted with silence his declaration that the state of the city was strong.
“I said, the state of our city is indeed strong,” he repeated — and that time he received rapturous applause.
Here is what Hancock announced
Some details about Hancock’s new initiatives remain to be answered in coming months — including how his administration will fill an estimated $350 million gap in the $2 billion Mobility Action Plan he announced. Officials plan to boost the annual transportation budget from roughly $75 million to $100 million, tap hundreds of millions from this year’s $900 billion bond package and scour local, state and federal funding sources for more.
Hancock says he doesn’t want to raise property taxes, but other options — such as higher parking fees downtown — are on the ta- ble.
By 2030, the mobility plan aims to expand transit options and biking and pedestrian access across the city to get more commuters who drive alone out of their cars. It also aims to eliminate traffic-related deaths by that year — an initiative called “Vision Zero” — and to address Denver’s serious backlog of street and bridge repairs.
“We are excited to see the mayor’s plan to elevate the Department of Transportation to a stand-alone department, and to invest a significant amount of funding in transportation infrastructure, including sidewalks and bike lanes, over the next 12 years,” said Jill Locantore, the associate director of pedestrian advocacy group WalkDenver. “These actions are critical to improving the safety of Denver’s streets and providing real mobility options for Denver residents.”
Hancock’s environmental pledges built on a commitment he made last month after the U.S. announced it was withdrawing from Paris climate agreement.
“We have fought too hard to establish Denver as an environmental and sustainability leader,” Hancock said. “If Washington won’t stand by the Clean Power Plan or Paris climate accord, we will. We will reduce our carbon footprint and find a way to make Denver 100 percent renewable — very soon.”
Hancock didn’t specify a target date for converting Denver’s power sources to renewable energy (other cities, including Boulder, have chosen 2030), saying in an interview that it was too soon to know what time frame is realistic to transition away from fossil fuels.
But the Sierra Club’s Colorado chapter director Jim Alexee called Hancock’s statement “a big step forward for Denver and Colorado.”
Among Hancock’s other announcements:
•The city plans to restore the original Mount Morrison Civilian Conservation Corps camp, which housed work crews that built the Red Rocks Amphitheatre in the 1930s. Working with Denver preservation group HistoriCorps, the project will offer skills training to veterans’ groups and the homeless so they can renovate the lodges; the renovated area will be available for activities, weekend getaways, and weekend camps and programs for youth.
•A mobility pilot project will provide 1,500 free bus passes to high school students for the summer. Four rec centers — Hiawatha Davis, Montbello, La Alma and St. Charles — will offer week-long bicycle safety classes to middle school students as part of a DaVita partnership that also will provide 100 mountain bikes and helmets for kids.
•Similar to the My Denver Card program for youth, the new “My Denver Prime” program will provide discounted access to recreation centers for residents age 60 and older.
Mayor Michael Hancock makes his State of the City address in the gymnasium at the Hiawatha Davis Jr. Recreation Center on Monday. Hancock made a reference to his sister’s recent move back to Denver, only to find that “housing prices were out of her reach.” As for the city’s booming development, “I find the pace shocking.”
Wellington Webb, a former Denver mayor, third from right, and former NBA star Chauncey Billups, right, stand at attention before Mayor Michael Hancock’s State of the City address Monday in Denver.