Denver voters will have the opportunity to repeal the city’s new group living amendment this November after a petition to put the issue on the ballot got more than the required number of signatures.
The Denver Elections Division announced Monday that the petition received 13,642 valid signatures – over the 9,184 signatures needed.
“This is a big win for residents of Denver,” said Florence Sebern with Safe and Sound Denver, the group that organized the petition. "Good governance means serving one's constituency, not pandering to failed policies."
The group living amendment, passed by the City Council in February, updated the citywide zoning code to allow for five unrelated adults to live together in one detached house, up from two adults prior to the amendment's passage.
The legislation also increased the number of unrelated adults allowed to live together in duplex, apartment and condos to five from four. Households can have an unlimited number of people as long as everyone is related. Households with five unrelated adults cannot have any additional adult relatives.
Though the amendment was passed by the City Council in an 11-2 vote (and expanded unanimously in April), it has met noteworthy opposition in the community.
Safe and Sound Denver has advocated against the change in policy since it was first introduced, arguing that increasing the number of people allowed to live in households would lead to noise, parking and safety issues.
“We are grateful to be able to offer a voice and a choice to all Denver neighbors regarding housing uses in their neighborhoods," said Paige Burkeholder with Safe and Sound Denver. "We support the stability of our neighborhood communities, policies that support Denver’s long-term growth, quality of life and well-being."
Opponents to the amendment also raised concerns about its component that permits residential care facilities and congregate housing to operate based on the number of residents, rather than type of use.
That element of the amendment expands the amount of territory in Denver where community corrections facilities can locate. The residences, commonly known as halfway houses, were previously limited to industrial and some downtown zoning districts.
Safe and Sound Denver alleges that the City Council did not adequately address the concerns and oppositions from community members during the voting process; however, Councilwoman Kendra Black disagrees.
“I worked very hard to get the original group living proposal changed so that it solved the problems that needed to be addressed,” Black said. “I met and communicated with neighborhood organizations, groups and individuals throughout 2020 to discuss the recommendations and listen to concerns.”
Black said during the outreach process, most community members “understood the need to increase the maximum household size and expand residential care.”
Some groups did express discomfort with the proposal to increase household sizes to eight people, so the council lowered it to five.
The council also changed the proposal to expand the zone districts where resident care facilities can be, based on public concern about residential care being concentrated in certain areas, Black said.
“Staff and council members worked hard to solve the issues in the Denver Zoning Code while listening to the concerns of residents,” Black said. “Unfortunately, a lot of misinformation and incorrect information has been disseminated in the media and on social media causing fear among some people.”
Black said many fears about the group living amendment are based on confusion. For example, when the council expanded the amendment citywide, nearly all opposition letters claimed it would drastically increase the number of residents allowed in individual condos when, in fact, it is more restrictive in most cases by getting rid of the unlimited relatives rule for unrelated roommates.
Some community members have also claimed the amendment forces landlords to take in large groups of people; however, that is untrue as property owners can still limit the number of residents they allow to rent their properties.
The group living amendment was championed as a promotion of affordable housing and housing stability, with city officials saying it will reduce housing costs, enable flexible housing options and provide a more inclusive definition of households, without substantially increasing average household sizes.
Back in March, Councilwomen Jamie Torres, Robin Kniech, Amanda Sandoval and Council President Stacie Gilmore released a joint statement opposing the effort to repeal the amendment, saying the ballot is not the right place to settle such a complicated issue.
“Council effectively struck a balance between diverse voices, something a politicized election in a low-turnout year is not well suited to manage,” the statement read. “... We can’t discount the many calls for council to go further and remove all restrictions from the group living zoning code.”
Many City Council members declined to comment Tuesday on the repeal effort making it to the November ballot, including Councilman Kevin Flynn, who was one of the two members who voted in opposition of the group living amendment when it was first passed in February.
Flynn (and the other dissenting council member Amanda Sawyer) have said they were voting against the residential care portions of the amendment, not the household definitions.
“It's now for the people to decide,” Flynn said.