With nearly two-thirds of Denver voters this November in favor of raising taxes to fund homeless resolution programs, city leaders are rushing to work on a new spending plan and will look to the public for input later this month.
Ballot Measure 2B will raise sales taxes by 0.25% starting in January to generate up to $40 million annually for housing, shelter and services that support job training and mental and physical health for the city's unhoused residents. There were at least 4,171 people experiencing homelessness in Denver, according to the latest Point-in-Time snapshot taken in January, months before the pandemic sparked soaring unemployment and further threatened housing stability.
“This vote is a game-changer in our efforts to support residents experiencing homelessness,” Mayor Michael Hancock said in a statement Thursday. “Denver showed we are willing to do our part, and I want to thank the voters for stepping up at this critical time. Through proven solutions, we’re going to transform lives, and this vote shows how as a community, we are dedicated to building a healthy, housed, and connected Denver for all.”
Denver’s Department of Housing Stability will issue an addendum to its draft 2021 Action Plan later this month that will detail a spending framework for the funds. In its initial year, the revenue will be used to help the agency transition from the COVID-19 emergency, which has sliced shelter capacity by 56% due to social distancing requirements, according to Britta Fisher, the city’s chief housing officer.
The 2B funds are also expected to be used in the immediate term to “set up of infrastructure for long-term outcomes,” according to HOST, and connect those in need to existing housing.
“These dollars will help us scale up and speed up proven solutions that we know work, like supportive housing that provides apartments at rents households can afford along with services and supports to stay housed,” Denver Councilwoman At-Large Robin Kniech, who led the ballot measure, said in a statement.
Once the addendum is released, city leaders will look to the community for feedback before finalizing the plan.
“Our community will need to stay as committed and compassionate as we transition to implementation and creation of the new housing and services 2B will fund,” Kniech said.
Other eligible uses for the new tax revenue include housing development, rental assistance and supportive services for housing; expanding shelter capacity; access to 24/7 services, such as mental health care, substance misuse treatment, housing and employment counseling, as well as COVID-19 prevention; providing multiple services at a single site; and other programs and services for those experiencing homelessness.
“I have deep gratitude for Denver voters and their compassion and confidence that we can make a difference together with people experiencing homelessness,” Fisher said in a statement. “While the need for housing and services significantly outweighs the amount provided through 2B, this is a critical step in funding lasting solutions and getting people stably housed.”