2F ‘A Battle for the Soul of the City’: Group Living Issue to be Refought at the Polls

Whether or not the city’s new rules for group living remain in place will be decided by Denver voters this November. Question 2F seeks to repeal a recent amendment to the city’s zoning code. 

The measure is a way to right a wrong committed by city leaders that didn’t heed their constituents, according to Safe and Sound Denver.

“The Mayor and City Council didn’t listen; now it’s our turn,” said Florence Sebern in a statement from the policial committee. 

The ordinance in question impacts residential care facilities, correctional facilities, and private residences as well as the neighborhoods and people that accommodate them. It was passed by the City Council on Feb. 9.

Richard Saiz, a life-long Denver resident, wants the ordinance repealed because he thinks city planners should address its components separately and more thoroughly. Saiz is a member of Safe and Sound Denver and one of five people on the petition committee that led to the ballot measure. 

Currently, the new zoning code allows five unrelated adults to live together in one household instead of two. It regulates residential care facilities, such as those for elderly or homeless people, based on size instead of function. It also increases the acres available for correction facilities in Denver’s commercial and mixed-use zones by 490%. If 2F passes, that change goes away, and no more than two unrelated people will be able to live together.

Saiz contends that the increase in the number of adults that can live together is “the spoonful of sugar” in a package of amendments influenced by private prison operators instead of the best interests of Denver residents. 

“I don’t feel like this group living amendment is primarily about unrelated adults,” Saiz said. “I think it is primarily driven by community corrections.”

Opponents of the ballot measure want the group living ordinance to stay in place. 

It’s repeal would make it harder for people to afford living in Denver and take away support for those who need care such as older adults and people with disabilities, according to the Vote No on 2F: Keep Denver Housed campaign. 

At-large Councilwoman Robin Kneich, who voted in support of the change last February, said that she is making an effort to educate voters on the group living ordinance. 

“The ordinance has all of the protections that the community has asked for,” Kneich said. “It has a prohibition on community corrections for prisoners in residential areas.”

Jason Hornyak, a board member for his neighborhood organization in Chaffee Park, approves of the current ordinance because it helps people find and retain affordable housing. Chaffee Park Neighborhood Association is one of five dozen organizations and individuals that have endorsed No on 2F, according to a release from the committee. 

“You’ve got a whole slew of progressive organizations that are pro-housing, pro-people,” Hornyak said. “I mean, it’s a battle for the soul of the city here. Between (us and) people who are afraid of change, who would rather protect their property values than see anybody else in this city succeed.”

Keep Denver Housed is funding that battle with $96,403 in contributions as of October 5, when the most recent filing became available. They have over 200 contributions. The largest is $20,000 from “Issues Mobilization Committee,” a political committee tied to the Denver Metro Association of Realtors. Over $90,000 came in during September.

While originally outgunned, that appears to put them in parity with Safe and Sound, which has raised $90,580. Nearly $60,000 of that was on signature gathering, according to campaign finance reports. All but $580 of that came from one March 19 donation by Defend Colorado.

Contributions to campaigns don’t tell the entire story though, as Defend Colorado also appears to be spending independently of the organization according to finance records, though details were not available. 

According to its website, Defend Colorado is a nonprofit that opposes anti-business measures in the state. As a nonprofit organization, they don’t disclose their donors. Organizations of this sort that function as a passthrough for contributions are sometimes called “dark money” organizations because of the way they obfuscate where funds came from. They are also spending independently in support of 2F and initiated ordinance 303 (see page X for more information on 303).

Safe and Sound Denver (yes on 2F) does not list organizational or prominent endorsements, but cites the over 13,000 verified people who signed their petition as an indication of support. 

Keep Denver Housed (No on 2F) lists over 60 endorsers including North Denver Councilwomen CdeBaca and Sandoval, Denver-based legislators, and community organizations such as Together Colorado.

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