By Eric Heinz
For the upcoming April 4 municipal election, The G.E.S. Gazette is interviewing the three candidates running for City Council in Denver’s District 9 during the months leading up to election day.
The topics we’ve chosen are housing and homelessness in the district, how they would tackle environmental issues, and what kind of council member they intend to be if elected. We will be presenting them in that order.
The order in which candidates will be organized on the ballot will be determined by a random lottery draw on Jan. 19, according to the Denver Clerk and Recorder’s Office.
Candi CdeBaca, Incumbent
Candi CdeBaca said she doesn’t think the city has been doing enough to track whether people living in short-term housing situations such as shelters are sufficiently moving into longer-term, supportive housing.
“The city has put together a lot of programs and put a lot of money toward housing, and I know that the motel and hotel purchasing program is starting to get underway,” CdeBaca said. “I think we have to take a step back and seriously assess where we’ve been investing in that’s not driving outcomes.”
CdeBaca said she has proposed multiple times that the city master lease properties that have otherwise been vacant and could help people who have a hard time getting a lease, such as those who have been subject to eviction.
“If the city were able to enter into lease agreements with the property owners and essentially sublet to the individual,” she said, “that would be cheaper than what we’re spending on the current solutions that are primarily sheltering.”
CdeBaca voted against the Expanding Housing Affordability ordinance the city passed in 2022, which requires developers to create a certain number of units in multifamily buildings that are income restricted or pay heavily into a fund intended to create more income-restricted housing.
She said she voted no because it doesn’t go far enough in demanding income-restricted housing from developers.
“The real issue is the lack of price control or or the lack of our ability to implement price control. It’s a state issue that I do think needs to be changed in order for the city to implement it. But price control is the biggest problem, especially now that we’re finding out about these technologies and algorithms that are artificially inflating rent costs.”
CdeBaca said rezoning the city to allow shelters and supportive housing in every neighborhood is one step the city took in addressing homelessness, but that doesn’t go far enough either. “One of the big steps that we need to take is making our housing crisis the problem of every neighborhood,” she said.
Darrell Watson is a founding board member of the Denver Housing Stability Strategic Advisors, a city-appointed board to make recommendations about housing.
He said a policy is in the works “that prioritizes displaced individuals, folks whose families have been displaced from Globeville, Swansea, from Elyria. They will have first priority for any affordable housing units, first prioritization to move back into those communities.”
Watson said a key to his housing policies is to keep people in their homes and to provide more rental assistance for those who need it.
“That’s providing housing stability so that folks aren’t … running into situations where they can’t continue living in their homes,” he said. “The prioritization policy will be one of the first things that I will lead.”
Watson said he wants to jump on the budget process as early as possible in order to deliver on those housing assistance goals.
“When it comes to unsheltered folks, I think it’s important that we look at this process as a public policy process, to make sure that we have measurable outcomes to reduce the number of folks who are living and experiencing homelessness within our city,” Watson said.
Watson also said during the budget process, special attention should be given to organizations like Colorado Village Collaborative, which provides overnight sheltering in tents and tiny home villages, and he wants to continue to fund the Denver Basic Income Program, which gives direct cash to unhoused individuals.
“We’ll see the outcomes from the reports this next fall,” Watson said of the basic income program, “but so far, everything that’s been done … is working and it’s showing that there’s actually progress of doubling down on that innovation.”
Watson also called CdeBaca’s track record on voting for affordable housing into question.
“Councilmember CdeBaca has voted against more affordable housing in District 9 than she has for,” he said. “District 9 residents deserve a councilmember who will fight for affordable housing, not against.”
Kwon Atlas also acknowledged the efforts of the city to create more income-restricted housing and funding to address issues related to homelessness, but he said the market is still putting pressure on residents.
“We need to really invest in home ownership, particularly in District 9,” Atlas said. “Particularly in Five Points, there is a rising renter-occupied level that, if unchecked, is going to create even more gentrification and displacement, and it’s not sustainable.”
To make that happen, Atlas said he would like to see the city incentivize developers to build more affordable condominiums instead of apartments that are expensive.
“That’s one reason we’re seeing historically low housing supply in all of Colorado, but particularly in the metro area,” he said. “There are lots of ways we can incentivize development that meets the needs of people. Parts of this district have an 80% renter occupied level, and that’s just not sustainable.”
Atlas said the city should try to give people already struggling to make rent the priority to purchase income-restricted housing.
“I think there’s lots of opportunity on Welton Street, there’s opportunity within G.E.S. and some of those still old manufacturing areas that are just not being utilized commercially or residentially,” he said.
To address homelessness, Atlas said it is critical for Denver to do more research on the issues that create homelessness.
“I think that we have to completely rethink our framework on the continuum of care model that is just not working, and the housing first framework also is not working,” Atlas said. “We need to get to diagnosing, understanding, and getting to the root causes of the reason why folks are homeless and start to create programmatic efforts around that.”
Atlas said finding ways to help people find mental health services is one of the biggest challenges Denver must take on in order to help people get off the streets.
“We have to have a large bucket for mental health folks who are not going to necessarily get better, and their mental health has gotten to such an extreme level,” Atlas said.