DENVER – What happens when someone earns too much money to qualify for public housing but not enough to rent a house or apartment?
Historically, in Denver, they get priced out of the market. And that’s something Mayor Michael Hancock hopes to change. He announced a voucher project to help families who earn up to $67,000 a year at the state of the city speech Monday.
It’s called the Lower Income Voucher Equity pilot initiative. The program’s main objective is to find 400 existing, vacant rental units throughout the city and provide vouchers to qualifying families so they can start moving in sometime in November.
“This is a way for people to onboard into Denver,” said Erik Solivan, the executive director of Denver’s Officer of Housing and Opportunities for People Everywhere.
Unlike Section 8, the program will be a public-private partnership and won’t help people pay their rent indefinitely. It’s going to be a short-term assistance for new teachers and nurses as well as people who work in restaurants and customer service.
Solivan didn’t know how long that time frame would be and whether it would vary from family to family.
“We will be hashing out the final details of that,” Solivan said.
The city plans to pay for the project using some of the money it’s raising from another new initiative that started in 2017 called the Housing Trust Fund. It’s supposed to raise about $15 million through taxes and fees for affordable housing projects like this one.
The rest of the money, Solivan said, will come from foundations and area businesses.
The city thinks companies will buy into this idea because Denver’s rents and home prices have made it difficult for them to hire people.
“I think it sounds great … ,” All in Denver Co-Chair David Segal said. “However the challenge is that Denver’s demand for affordable housing far outpaces this project. It’s a bit of a drop in a bucket.”
The city and Solivan agree with Segal on the need for more units. Its own data suggests that 52,000 households fall inside the pilot program’s income brackets and the overall need for affordable housing units in the city is at a minimum 21,000 homes.
And the current plan is to find 400 units, which is 1.9 percent of the need.
Solivan said the city didn’t start bigger because “we want to see how it works out first.”
Denver’s inclusionary zoning ordinance that required certain developers to set aside 10 percent of their new apartments or homes for lower income buyers had mixed success, at best.
It didn’t raise the amount of money or create the number of affordable homes the city had hoped for, Solivan said, adding that he’s heard of similar laws across the country producing lackluster results. That’s part of the reason the city decided to replace it with the new Housing Trust Fund.
“Our goal is to expand immediate housing affordability for Denver’s working families … ,” Solivan said. “We started asking, ‘What are some other tools we can pull out of our box?’”
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