Chipo­tle may be first to aid rent buy-downs

The Denver Post - - BUSINESS - By Jon Mur­ray Find­ing apart­ments: Find­ing el­i­gi­ble ten­ants:

Den­ver Mayor Michael Han­cock on Tues­day said Chipo­tle Mex­i­can Grill could be the first part­ner to sign up for a pi­lot pro­gram that aims to buy down rents on up to 400 mar­ket-rate apart­ments, mak­ing them more af­ford­able for work­ing fam­i­lies.

Chipo­tle’s con­tri­bu­tion still was be­ing worked out, a city hous­ing of­fi­cial said. The Den­ver-based bur­rito chain’s in­volve­ment as an “em­ployer part­ner” prob­a­bly would re­sult in an al­lot­ment of some of those apart­ments for its work­ers, as long as they fall within the pro­gram’s in­come ranges.

City of­fi­cials, of­fer­ing po­ten­tial match­ing grants from city cof­fers and foun­da­tions, are seek­ing part­ner­ships with other em­ploy­ers that want to aid ef­forts to cre­ate more work­force hous­ing in Den­ver.

A city fact sheet says Com­cast also is in “pri­vate dis­cus­sions” to par­tic­i­pate, as are the An­schutz Foun­da­tion and the Colorado Health Foun­da­tion.

Han­cock dis­closed Chipo­tle’s po­ten­tial in­volve­ment briefly dur­ing a speech Tues­day to a Den­ver Metro Cham­ber of Com­merce lun­cheon. Com­pany spokes­woman Quinn Kelsey later wrote in an email that the com­pany still was in talks about its par­tic­i­pa­tion with the mayor’s of­fice.

“(Chipo­tle is) ab­so­lutely com­fort­able say­ing, ‘We’re in on this.’ We’re just work­ing out the de­tails,” said Erik So­liván, the di­rec­tor of Han­cock’s hous­ing pol­icy co­or­di­na­tion of­fice.

He said Chipo­tle had a target for how many of its work­ers’ fam­i­lies the com­pany hopes to en­roll in the pro­gram, but he de­clined to spec­ify the num­ber.

Han­cock an­nounced the apart­ment rent buy-down pro­gram dur­ing his State of the City speech last month, but some de­tails, in­clud­ing fi­nal costs, are still pend­ing on the po­ten­tial three-year pi­lot. So­liván said his of­fice and the Den­ver Hous­ing Author­ity are aim­ing for a launch of the pro­gram in the fall, and a fact sheet says the city is aim­ing to raise $2 mil­lion from pub­lic and pri­vate sources.

The pro­gram has re­ceived some na­tional at­ten­tion, since cities typ­i­cally have not or­ga­nized rent buy-down pro­grams. Here’s how it would work:

The ba­sics: The city and its pri­vate part­ners will seek out prop­erty own­ers with va­cant apart­ments avail­able. The pro­gram will pay to cover the gap be­tween the units’ mar­ket rents and the stan­dard sub­si­dized rent lev­els the city al­lows to be charged to in­di­vid­u­als and fam­i­lies, de­pend­ing on their in­come and house­hold size.

For com­pa­nies that par­tic­i­pate as em­ployer part­ners, So­liván said, “It’s not about pref­er­ence, but they’re buy­ing into the pro­gram to target af­ford­abil­ity for their (em­ploy­ees’) fam­i­lies.” Next month, the city plans to work with the Apart­ment As­so­ci­a­tion of Metro Den­ver to so­licit pro­pos­als from prop­erty own­ers with va­cant apart­ments. Ex­pec­ta­tions are that, given Den­ver’s glut of re­cently built higher-rent apart­ments on the mar­ket, own­ers of newer build­ings are most likely to be in­ter­ested. So­liván said the pi­lot pro­gram in its first year prob­a­bly would seek a range of Den­verites strug­gling to af­ford to stay in the city, from teach­ers to fast-food work­ers to some peo­ple who have been cleared for fed­eral hous­ing vouch­ers but haven’t been able to find homes yet.

In­come lev­els: To par­tic­i­pate, prospec­tive renters must have house­hold in­comes be­tween 40 and 80 per­cent of the area me­dian in­come. For an in­di­vid­ual who lives alone, that’s cur­rently $23,520 to $47,040; for a fam­ily of four, that’s $33,560 to $67,120. Es­sen­tially, the guide­lines are in­tended to en­sure that no fam­ily spends more than 35 per­cent of their in­come on rent.

In about two weeks, So­liván said, the city’s Of­fice of Hous­ing Op­por­tu­ni­ties for Peo­ple Ev­ery­where, or HOPE, will post more in­for­ma­tion and a pro­gram time­line on its web­site.

The pro­gram, while por­trayed as in­no­va­tive, will put only a small dent in the prob­lem of hous­ing af­ford­abil­ity in Den­ver. By the city’s es­ti­mate, more than 52,000 house­holds might meet in­come qual­i­fi­ca­tions.

DHA will ad­min­is­ter the pi­lot pro­gram. It al­ready runs the fed­eral hous­ing­choice voucher pro­gram, also known as Sec­tion 8, for lo­cal res­i­dents. That pro­gram has a wait list of nearly 25,000 ap­pli­cants, ac­cord­ing to So­liván.

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