In lieu of letting vacant apartments sit empty, why not create housing opportunities for Denver residents, Denver Mayor Michael Hancock told the WSJ.
The city has long wrestled with affordable housing as the cost of living has soared, gentrifying many out of Denver neighborhoods. Denver has been working with developers to build new affordable housing units, often buying land to sell to developers interested in building affordable housing. Denver has also launched programs like the Temporary Rental and Utility Assistance Program aiding Denver households experiencing a housing crisis including a rent increase or loss of a job.
Under the new program, single Denverites making between $23,500 to $47,000 a year and families of four making $33,500 to $67,000 a year are eligible, according to Denver7. Those found to qualify would then receive a voucher to pay 30 to 35 percent of their income in rent for two years. The program would also place about 5 percent of monthly rent in a savings account.
The program currently has funding to subsidize 400 units, while 100 units have joined the pilot program thus far. LIVE, starting later this month, will be funded by the city, employers and charitable foundations, according to the WSJ. Denver anticipates spending roughly $500 a month subsidizing rent for a single person and $900 for a family.
With Denver reaping millions of dollars annually in sales tax revenue from recreational marijuana, and Colorado’s market representing a billion-dollar industry, Denver Mayor Michael Hancock called a shifting federal approach toward states with legalized marijuana irresponsible.
“All this move does is demonstrate how out of step the Attorney General (Jeff) Sessions is and the administration is with the rest of the country,” Hancock said.
Hancock joined the furor over the U.S. Justice Department’s announcement on Thursday it would discontinue the Obama-era, hands-off approach toward states that have legalized cannabis.
U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions withdrew guidelines that essentially limited federal prosecutions of marijuana businesses or individuals operating legally under state law despite the federal prohibition, Politico reports. In last week’s announcement, Sessions said prosecutions would be left up to individual U.S. attorneys.
The policy change would be felt in the local marijuana industry through impacts on business investment and sales tax revenue more so than an enforcement crackdown, Hancock said.
“We’ve already had conversations with our attorney general, as well as our acting U.S. attorney, who clearly have said they’re not going to change anything with regards to the industry here in Colorado,” Hanckock told CNBC.
Colorado’s cannabis industry racked up $1 billion in sales in the first eight months of 2017, generating more than $160 million in taxes and fees. About two-thirds of Colorado’s more than 500 marijuana dispensaries are located in Denver, and the city estimates it collected about $18 million to $20 million in sales-tax revenue in 2017 — about 3 percent of the city’s budget — from legal sales of recreational cannabis. Hancock said the money is allocated toward funding law enforcement and youth education on cannabis.
The five-minute segment focused on Hancock’s Denver Peak Academy, which trains employees to improve how government runs and boasts saving the city roughly $22.5 million. It also touched on the city’s affordable housing efforts including a $150 million housing fund, which through developer fees and increased property taxes will support new or preserve existing affordable housing, and renter eviction assistance. The “CBS This Morning” crew was most impressed by the 20-minute wait times at the Department of Motor Vehicles, down from 80 minutes.
A smiling Hancock also talked Denver traffic, growing up in a large family with nine siblings and overcoming adversity.
“There’s a line in one of Will Smith’s movies, simply, ‘When you want something, go after and get it, period,’” Hancock said. “I don’t know where that resiliency came from within me. Maybe it was watching my mother try to raise 10 children as a single parent, going through the difficulty that she went through that really gave it to me to say, ‘We’re going to fight. I don’t want to come back here, and I want to make her proud.’”
On Amazon, Hancock said, “We’re going to put our best foot forward. At the end of the day, we’re going to continue to be Denver regardless of what happens.”
Denver has garnered high marks last week for its devotion to the LGBTQ community.
The Human Rights Campaign recognized the Mile High City with a perfect score — the first city to earn the recognition in Colorado — on the LGBTQ civil rights organization’s 2017 Municipal Equality Index.
According to the group’s website, “the Municipal Equality Index examines how inclusive municipal laws, policies, and services are of LGBTQ people who live and work there.” More than 500 municipalities in all 50 states were studied and rated on 44 different criteria in this year’s index.
Denver was one of just 68 municipalities to achieve a perfect core.
“In Denver, we stand firmly for the ideals of inclusion, acceptance and opportunity. These are our values,” Mayor Michael Hancock said in a statement. “We will continue to keep Denver a city that is welcoming to all by standing together against hate and never allowing it to divide our city. We have worked hard to achieve this score, and I’m grateful to the members of my LGBTQ Commission for leading the way.”
“The commission has been working on our ‘Pathway to 100’ plan since 2015, and we are honored to receive this recognition,” Leah Pryor-Lease, chair of the LGBTQ Commission, said in a statement. “This achievement is the result of a great deal of hard work, thoughtful partnership and strong leadership from stakeholders across the city.”
Per a new rule in Denver city government, City Council members and Mayor Michael Hancock must report all gifts received. And while the value of the gifts won’t jump off the page, it’s the details that make the report worth a read.
The highlights: Hancock is a steak man (obviously), and his report showed being taken out for dinner at “Ocean Prime the most, five times,” and “STK Denver three times,” Denverite’s Megan Arellano reports.
And, City Council member Rafael Espinoza far outpaced his colleagues, reporting gifts valued at $552,778. But as Espinoza explained to Arellano, it was part of a large donation to North High School.
The May 26 gift is reported as a “donation to the HUNI foundation to benefit North High School. Donated 10,000 single-day admission tickets. If all are sold value would be $550,000.”
Per the city’s ethics handbook, city officials, or immediate family members, cannot receive gifts if they are in a “position to take direct official action toward the giver and the giver has (or is about to have) a business, contract, or regulatory relationship with the City.”
The handbook details a long list of appropriate gifts, including those from other council members and “meals and event admissions (including parking), but no more than four may be accepted from the same giver in any calendar year, regardless of the value” and unsolicited gifts valued at $25 or less. Memberships or passes to the Denver Art Museum, Denver Botanical Gardens, Denver Museum of Nature and Science and Denver Zoo are also considered appropriate.
Read the full count of gifts to city officials halfway through 2017, and view Denverite’s handy chart detailing their value, here.
Denver recently commissioned a study, funded by a grant from the Regional Air Quality Council, that noted that fast charging stations in dense areas would be most beneficial, and recommended requiring new multi-family home and commercial construction be built charging-station ready, and expanding fast charging stations along highways.
It’s an especially important question because the Denver area is expected to get 300 new electric vehicle charging plugs through Electrify America over the next two and a half years, according to city staff. (That’s the $2 billion program Volkswagen has to fund because they cheated on emissions tests.) Denver doesn’t get to decide where those will go, but city officials will have some influence.
“Electric vehicles are an important component of Denver’s newly released Mobility Action Plan, and the market opportunities identified for charging infrastructure throughout Denver and Colorado shows consumers and businesses that choosing EVs is not just an environmentally-conscious choice, but an economical one,” he said.
By 2025, electric vehicles are expected to produce 84 percent fewer nitrogen oxides and 49 percent fewer greenhouse gases than new gasoline automobile meeting 2025 emissions standards, the study noted.
A mayor’s pet project usually can be counted on to cost taxpayers money. How about one that actually saves money? Denver Peak Academy, the handiwork of Denver Mayor Michael Hancock, is being touted by the city to have saved the public an estimated $22.5 million over the past five years. The novel program, which has attracted interest from other cities across the country and beyond, was lauded Thursday by Hancock in a press statement from his office:
“Through innovative thinking, employees are now able to do more with less, and that means Denver residents spend less time and money when they interact with the city,” Hancock said. “Denver’s Peak Academy has become a national model adopted by some of the largest municipalities in the country. I’m proud of how much Denver’s Peak Academy and their trainees have accomplished in the last five years, and look forward to continuing our forward progress.”
Some background on the program:
Facing a recession and budget shortfall in 2011, Mayor Hancock established Denver Peak Academy to help eliminate systemic bottlenecks in city processes and operations that were wasting taxpayer time and money. It worked. For the past five years, Denver Peak Academy has trained city employees to improve the way city government operates and to make city government worker smarter for the residents of Denver.
The solutions the employees come up with after training can be as simple as, “re-organizing a workspace, changing print stations, or updating online information.” Some increased efficiencies that resulted:
As the 22-year-old Denver International Airport outgrows its dated design, it must undergo a modernization of sorts, principally to address security vulnerabilities like long lines at security checkpoints.
That’s airport officials’ contention in touting a stout, complex $1.8 billion, 34-year public-private partnership with a consortium of companies led by Spanish transportation infrastructure behemoth Ferrovial.
The Great Hall Project will help one of Colorado’s major transportation hubs adapt to the evolving nature of air travel, airport executives say.
“You do not use terminals today like you did in 1995,” DIA CEO Kim Day said during a Denver committee meeting last month.
It would chiefly address security issues at screening points through $650 million in renovations. The proposed four-year overhaul would move security screening from level 5 to the sixth floor alongside ticketing; resolve the awkward flow of passenger traffic; triple the space for new concessions on level 5; and add new technology improving efficiency at security checkpoints and check-in areas among other additions, airport executives say.
And with DIA passenger traffic swelling to 58.3 million last year and the airport on pace to set a new passenger record by year’s end, the renovations would address perpetual growth at the airport, boosting capacity in the Jeppesen terminal to 80 million passengers per year.
“We are exceeding the design capacity of the terminal and we will not be able to accommodate the growth that our airlines are projecting,” Day said of not moving forward with the renovations.
Much of the Denver City Council appears poised to OK the partnership, and local construction leaders are giddy over the potential for new work in the city, but the 15,000-page pact has drawn the critical eye of airlines, labor unions, community members and City Council members including Deborah Ortega and Rafael Espinoza.
Both have said they’re uneasy about the lose of oversight detailed in the contract regarding concessions, with the consortium taking over management control of new concessions for three decades under the agreement, and wary of what they characterize as inadequate time to weigh the agreement before a vote. Ortega and Espinoza co-authored a letter requesting a vote postponement of 120 days to afford more time to study the pact.
But the clock is ticking on the City Council. Though the city would retain all the design and other work done to this point, it would be on the hook for a $9 million penalty paid to the partners if the agreement isn’t approved by Sept. 1.
Nonetheless, the City Council could vote on the deal as early as Aug. 14.
“If DIA wants my vote (on Aug. 14), I’ll need more time,” Espinoza told Colorado Politics. “DIA likely feels comfortable it has the requisite number of votes. But I’m making it clear. I am not comfortable moving forward. I need more time with the contract.”
Under the agreement, DIA will be on the hook for as much as $1.8 billion. DIA CFO Gisela Shanahan said the airport will contribute $480 million toward the renovations via progress payments over the four years of construction, and allocate an additional $120 million in contingency funds.
Over the remaining 30 years of the agreement, DIA could pay up to $1.2 billion in reimbursement payments to the Ferrovial partners for concessions operations and maintenance costs and financing costs.
Meanwhile, the consortium partners — Ferrovial, Saunders Concessions and MJE/Loop Capital — will invest $378 million over the life of the deal through cash, debt and other means. The partners do expect a return on their investment of 10.8 percent.
Ferrovial will design and construct the renovations and assume the risk for any cost overruns or delays on the project. While Ferrovial will operate new concessions, Denver will split revenues taking 80 percent to 20 percent and retain control of concessions on DIA’s three concourses.
Officials say the airport could go it alone in financing the project for a lower price tag, but the partnership shields DIA from some of the risks associated with the project.
‘Paying a premium’
While he acknowledges the built-in protections in the public-private partnership, Espinoza said DIA is paying a premium for those benefits. He’d rather take the work already done, have the airport go it alone and finance the project at a lower cost. Considering the length of the agreement and the Ferrovial consortium taking management control of new concessions, he said it appears the deal is designed to circumvent the Council.
Other City Council members like Christopher Herndon have expressed support for the agreement, but Espinoza said he needs more time to see what other Council members see in the pact.
“This is a lot for me to digest in a very limited amount of time,” he said during a July 26 committee meeting on the project.
Councilwoman Deborah Ortega has also been outspoken on the project arguing she isn’t comfortable with the City Council’s loss of oversight for concession contracts. In a letter advocating for an 120-extension, she said there are unanswered questions.
“Mayor Hancock and DIA should pursue a 120-day extension to provide Council time to fully review a contract it took three years to develop,” Ortega and Espinoza wrote. “It would also provide time for the DIA team to work with our partner airlines that will incur a 28 percent increase in fees to provide concession space in the main hall.”
Local labor union leaders have expressed anxiety over protections for airport workers and airlines like United, Frontier and Southwest say they back renovating the airport, but are concerned about the operational and financial feasibility of the project.
United Airlines President Scott Kirby said level 6 is already crowded and the renovations would leave little room for travelers. And estimates place DIA wait times on an average day at 82 minutes Kirby said.
“That’s the root of our concern,” he said. “If you’re going to do something like that, people won’t come to Denver. We are really concerned that we harm the airport and the local economy by doing this.”
If approved, DIA construction could start next summer in “discrete phases” as to avoid disrupting travel through the Mile High City.
Obamacare isn’t the only legacy of the previous administration that President Trump seeks to dismantle; there’s also DACA. That stands for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, a policy implemented by the Obama administration in 2012 that allows undocumented immigrants who entered the country as minors to receive a renewable, two-year timeout from the threat of deportation. It also allows them to work legally in the U.S.
DACA’s premise is that the children of undocumented families — often called DREAMERS, an acronym based on a related policy initiative — didn’t choose to come here yet grew up here and now are de facto Americans. The program has rankled many Republicans who say it flouts immigration law and encourages more illegal immigration. The administration is said to be scrutinizing the program; as a candidate, Trump had said he would end DACA.
Next Wednesday in Denver, some of Colorado’s Democratic political luminaries will join some business leaders at a press conference calling on the president and Congress to keep DACA in place. The event is coordinated by FWD.us, a tech industry-backed national group that supports immigration and calls for immigration reform that keeps the door open.
Colorado 2nd Congressional District Democratic U.S. Rep. Jared Polis, Democratic Lt. Gov. Donna Lynne and Denver Mayor Michael Hancock are among the notables expected at the press conference. The Colorado Business Roundtable will serve as co-host with FWD.us.
An FWD.us press release announcing the press conference promises:
Lawmakers and business leaders will also discuss important contributions Dreamers have made to our communities, the devastating impact of a potential DACA repeal, and the need for the bipartisan DREAM Act, which would create a legalization process for roughly two million hardworking young people who arrived in the United States as minors.
Colorado is home to more than 17,000 DACA recipients, most of whom are gainfully employed or enrolled in school. Beyond the devastating moral consequences, eliminating the DACA program would remove almost 800,000 workers from the U.S. workforce at a cost of $460 billion in national GDP lost over the next decade, and Colorado’s economy would lose a devastating $857 million dollars over the same period.
The limited-space event, intended for the media, requires an RSVP to attend: firstname.lastname@example.org
It will be held at 10 a.m. Wednesday at the ICOSA Event Center, 4100 Jackson Street in Denver.