Title card: Group Living Text Amendment

Group Living and my vote

Following the Land Use, Transportation and Infrastructure Committee's vote to advance an updated proposal to modernize rules that govern the residential sections of the Denver Zoning Code, the full Denver City Council approved that proposal following a lengthy public hearing on February 8, 2021. Learn more why I voted in favor.

Compromise

A former Councilperson recently reminded me that if everyone is a little mad at me about my position, then I’ve probably come to a good compromise. Given the nature of the opposition comments that my office received about this proposal, I think we are probably in that place.

We certainly heard from those who say that we need to keep things exactly as they are – after all, they committed their family to a community because of what the neighborhood was when they purchased their home.  This amendment is a threat to that paradise.

We also certainly heard from those who said this proposal was watered down too much – if only we would maximize the purpose of the tool: affordability for all those who are coming to our beautiful city.  They are struggling to find affordable ways to live in Denver and see this Council body as one that continues to hamstring each affordability effort put in front of us.

I ask my fellow neighbors and community members to not be driven by fear when they think of more adults living together and to not assume the worst. I ask that they assume that we are a community of hard-working adults trying to do our best in this world regardless of race, religion, and sexual orientation. With whom we choose to live, how we are able to find a reasonable solution to pay our rent/mortgage is on each of us to solve every day. In addition, we should also take pride in supporting people in our community in group or elderly homes that are doing their best to transition to a better life or finish their lives with integrity and grace.

Seventh Avenue resident

Perfect 10 Group Living survey

Before I was elected, I spoke quite a bit about how we all need access: access to housing, transportation, and representation.  To that end, I chose to survey the residents of our perfect slice of the city – much like my predecessor.  All the information is anonymous, and none of the information was presented at an individual level – it was meant to understand the District, not spy on any individual.

This survey resulted in about 1000 responses, the vast majority of which were from District 10.  On its face, a narrow majority agreed or strongly agreed with this amendment.  However, the comments showed that some of those against were opposed because this amendment, in their opinion, didn’t go far enough.  The comments also showed that a considerable amount of those opposed took that position because of fear of unintended consequences like parking, sanitation, and other symptoms.  As has been heavily covered, we can legislate to stop those consequences from happening.

Some said they didn’t want to complete the survey because of the questions I asked.  They said the questions were biased.  They said the questions were invasive.  So, these groups decided against participating in my survey and created their own survey.  That is, of course, their prerogative to go separately from the District-wide survey.  But here’s the deal, I was trying to cut through the misinformation and preconceptions and make sure people were thinking about the policy, not just reciting talking points.  I also wanted to see if this amendment could actually be that affordability tool that CPD strives for.

That means I asked about financial stability.  It meant asking about social networks.  If they were stable, and their social network was stable, well then this amendment isn’t for you.  If you are severely cost burdened, or if your social network was housing insecure, then the amendment is meant for you. 

Setting aside perceived survey bias, I’m deeply concerned about a different kind of bias that I want to talk about. It’s one where people who have a good life here in Denver are genuinely frightened and feel very threatened by policies that could ease affordability obstacles. Some of the emails I received claimed that people who would want to share their homes with other unrelated adults are: dirty, unhealthy, and loud. That people who would live together this way would park on their front lawns or take up all the public parking spaces on the street in front of their home. These people would create nuisance properties and sell drugs and – I’m not kidding about this one – would clog up sewer systems.

Perfect 10 stories

One of my constituents is a single dad and a DPS teacher. He is living in a nice single-family home with a play set in the back yard, a dog, and a couple of chickens. He lives with a young couple who aren’t married but are saving up for a wedding and a down payment for a home. To save up for braces for his son, he has been talking to a UC Health medical resident about renting her the fourth open bedroom in his house. Just living with the couple means he’s violating code and would be if he added the other roommate to his fourth, empty bedroom.

There is a prominent older man in Cherry Creek who is facing housing insecurity but is too ashamed – or too proud – to talk about it. His wife had passed after a long illness that took a lot out of their retirement savings. He risks losing the beautiful, expensive home that he and his wife raised their kids in. He is in great mental and physical health. No one would think of him as housing insecure, but he is. His home has four bedrooms and an office space. He has a friend who lives with a college student who helps out with cooking and cleaning so he has a less expensive place to live. His friend suggested they all move in together and share the big, beautiful home.

Here’s what I want for my constituents:

  • I want DPS teachers to afford to live in Denver.
  • I want to support a father’s desire to have his son experience a backyard and a dog while growing up, even in densely packed District 10.
  • I want to support the medical student who might grow to love Denver and stay here, helping stave some brain drain from our City.
  • I want to support inter-generational partnerships – affordability for someone starting out and affordability for someone who wants to comfortably stay in his home in his twilight years.
  • I couldn’t care less if three men choose to live together, and I don’t believe it’s any of my business if they are relatives or not.

Now vs. the future

We heard people talk about racism throughout this process.  I want to set aside the discussion about whether some are racists or not.  Instead, what I see is a struggle between those who want to prepare Denver for an affordable future and those who want to preserve Denver for what it is today.  What I would say, though, is that our job is to shape Denver’s future. 

The reality is that the secret is out: Denver is an amazing place to live.  People are moving to Denver in droves, from all over the nation and beyond.  My next-door neighbor is from Paris, France, and he’s here for work.  If we aren’t intentional in our approach to our city’s future, we’ll become an even more unaffordable city than we already are, and we’ll have even more people living in tents than we already do.

A few decades ago, part of District 10 was literally a dump.  It was thanks to our leaders’ decisions back then that some of the most desirable areas of our city exist today.

A few decades ago, Colfax was known for a different kind of nightlife than what exists now. Change doesn’t happen overnight, but you have entrusted us to shape Denver’s future long-term, not just make knee-jerk reactions to this morning’s news headlines.  This improvement in the quality of life on Colfax still has a ways to go, but it’s definitely moving in the right direction thanks to far-sighted leadership.

This Council responsibility is as relevant today as it was back when we removed the dump or cleaned up Colfax.

We must move forward with the shaping of Denver, or risk having it shaped for us.  We must use all of the tools to find solutions for our unhoused neighbors. 

  • Yes, that means taking the huge risk of locating both Safe Outdoor Space in District 10.  It was risky because it hadn’t been tested in Denver, and it was risky because of the more than 1000 emails opposed to these sites. 
  • That also means encouraging 100% affordable housing developments like at 13th and Sherman. 
  • And, encouraging our state counterparts to relax laws that allow us to get workforce housing in every new development
  • And yes, it means sometimes working with market-rate developers to ensure we use every tool in our toolbox to get people out of housing insecurity.

In that shaping, we should revisit the definition of the American dream.  For some, that means a white picket fence and a single-family home and getting into your car and cruising the strip on Friday nights.  But others prefer multi-family buildings, and some don’t own a car at all.  It’s time to recognize that my dream may not be your dream, but if we are going to dream, let’s dream about our future.  Let’s dream to shape our city to make it even better for tomorrow.

Dear Members of the City Council,

I’ve lived in Congress Park in a single family home for 7 years. For the first 5 years, I didn’t realize that two large houses on our block were group homes. I’m still not aware of the details, but I wish all the folks who are up in arms about having group homes on their block would spend some time here. It is a non-issue! For that reason and in supporting anti-racist policies, I fully support the changes being proposed to update the Group Living Rules in Denver.

Congress Park resident

Thank you & recognition

Thank you, CPD staff, and especially Andrew Webb.  Mr. Webb and CPD staff worked hard on a proposal that spanned multiple years and fielded lots of angry calls, emails, and other constituent outreach about group living.

Thank you also to the Group Living Advisory Committee.  These individuals put in hours and hours of deliberation and learning to present potential changes to Denver’s code.  These volunteers were willing to expose their private lives to public scrutiny to push a conversation that has been difficult for Denver to consider for quite some time.

Thank you to all the inspectors in our city.  We’re seeing some ugly stuff come out that alleging inspectors are lazy or, even worse, are willing to accept bribes.  I have no reason to believe that any of this is true, and I am sad that people would make those allegations.

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