The Denver City Council is feeling urgency to pass the city’s proposed affordable housing mandate by the end of June but the policy will get a second hearing before the council’s land use committee next week as members try to iron out multiple amendments that came up Tuesday.
One of those amendments would expand where developers who build extra affordable housing could earn the right to go without including any on-site parking in their projects. The narrow availability of the parking exemption in the policy rankled members of the city’s planning board earlier this month.
City officials have been advertising June 30 as the cutoff date by which developers have to have plans in with the planning department to avoid being subject to the affordable housing changes in the works since 2020. Projects in the pipeline by that date would then have a 14- to 18-month window to earn final approval and avoid the new rules.
In order to make that deadline, City Council would need to hold a public hearing and vote on the policy earlier in June. If approved, the changes to the city code would mandate that any apartment or condo project of 10 or more units dedicate between 8 and 15% of those units as income-restricted affordable housing or pay substantial fees in lieu of that construction. July 1 would also mark the arrival of new, steeper linkage fees that would continue to rise as fixed rates each year through 2025. Those linkage fees would apply to almost all other types of new construction and feed into the city’s affordable housing fund.
That tight timeline was strained Tuesday when members of the council’s land use, transportation and infrastructure committee decided to delay their vote on the policy and a related zoning change so they could address a handful of possible amendments that came up during their discussion.
“We have multiple council members that want to offer multiple amendments.” Councilman Chris Herndon, the committee chair, said Tuesday. “I would prefer that we do committee work in committee but I also recognize the timeline and the challenges …”
The rest of the committee agreed with Herdon, continuing its consideration of the policy and related zoning changes around the 38th and Blake rail station until Tuesday, April 26 when the group is expected to meet again at 10 a.m. In order to stay on track with the June 30 timeline, the measure will now skip its hearing as part of a weekly Mayor-Council meeting, something mayoral staff suggested on Tuesday.
Councilwoman Amanda Sandoval is drafting the amendment around the parking incentives. The way the policy is written now, any condo or apartment project that builds affordable units as part of their project would have the right to include 0.5. fewer spaces of parking per affordable unit built. Developers who build more affordable housing than the city required and whose projects are within 1/4th of a mile of a rail station could skip building parking altogether.
Sandoval is looking to expand that exemption but only in specific instances, “where the city has invested money for infrastructure for stops along high-capacity transit corridors,” she told The Denver Post Tuesday. “The distinction is not where RTD is investing but where the City and County of Denver is investing …”
Examples of areas that might eventually meet that criteria include Colfax Avenue and Federal Boulevard, two thoroughfares where the city has discussed creating bus rapid transit lines.
Opposition to Sandoval’s amendment was already simmering Tuesday. Councilwoman Amanda Sawyer, who is not a voting member of the land use committee, said people who live in her east Denver district have raised concerns about parking availability if more projects are allowed to go without building it.
Councilwoman Candi CdeBaca raised a number of concerns about the impacts of the policy as written, including that it would concentrate affordable housing in parts of the city that are already vulnerable to economic displacement. More affluent parts of the city, outside of the so-called inverted-L of low-income and majority-minoirty neighborhoods along the northern and western edges of the city, would not see as much of the development because existing zoning rules don’t allow dense development in many of those places.
“That is an issue because we’re still essentially driving the development in the city to lower class areas. We’re not factoring in social costs of areas that are vulnerable to displacement,” CdeBaca said.
CdeBaca also took issue with comments made by Councilwoman Robin Kniech earlier in the meeting that the policy would create a “steady and modest supply” of affordable housing. Metro Denver was recently found to be the fifth least affordable housing market in the country in a survey conducted by real estate tech company OJO Labs.
“People in the community have been fighting for over a decade for an opportunity to make this change, to make these mandates,” CdeBaca said. “Modest is hardly the approach we should be taking …”
CdeBaca said she would be filing multiple amendments to the policy that address concerns she is hearing from community members. Reached by email on Tuesday, CdeBaca’s staff said those amendments were not yet ready to be released publicly. The councilwoman said during the meeting that she would bring her amendments forward ahead of the next week’s hearing.
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