A record number of 70-plus candidates stepped up to run for 13 City Council seats, clerk & recorder and mayor in the recent 2019 Denver municipal election. Growth and its side-effects, unaffordable housing and failure of government to listen to the people became dominant themes for candidates who campaigned to become the voice of the people.
The new vision of “growing” Denver by the current administration and the developers does not include the native Denverites who have raised families, owned property, paid taxes and made contributions to this city for generations.
Editor's note: This is the fifth in a series of six commentaries on Denver growth issues. Watch for the final essay later Friday at ColoradoPolitics.com.
The influx of people moving to Denver is driving elders and low-income families from their homes, raising property taxes and costs of living. Landlords are opting to bypass Section 8 tenants because they can rent properties to wealthier tenants. Meanwhile, the government has no plan to accommodate displaced residents.
Growth in cities like Denver is a term that is synonymous with gentrification. It alleges healthy and sustainable cities, newness, vibrancy. According to Census data, the Denver metro population grew by 40,000 new residents from 2017 to 2018 and by 100,000 people in over the past seven years. Median rent rose sharply, too.
The sub-prime mortgage lending in the early 2000s and the resulting foreclosure of homes in culturally diverse neighborhoods in Denver kicked off the growth movement. The government stood by while the banking industry rolled out predatory mortgages that targeted residents in black and brown communities who were “paid in full.”
By paying off their homes and holding sizeable equity and deeds to their property, these communities became attractive targets. Seniors, in particular, were the recipients of unsolicited checks in the mail totaling $40,000, $50,000 or more, that were actually loans against the equity on the homes they owned free and clear. Foreclosures followed. Meanwhile, the government stood by with no policies forbidding this practice by banks and mortgage lenders.
The management of growth seems to be an orchestrated effort by government against the people. Government policies disguised as “growth” are causing high-density, unaffordable housing.
No government anywhere in the state is listening to the people who are damaged by bad policy. There is no concern about consequences, but the people are forced to make these policies work. People are forced into displacement, relocated away from the inner cities that were once neglected by government but are now in demand by developers. Government is picking winners and losers, which is the behavior of for-profit corporate America and is not appropriate for government.
However, all is not lost. For example, Lakewood and Golden citizens backed voter-sponsored growth initiatives because the government didn’t listen to what the people wanted. So, the people fought back and took action to limit growth to 1% annually.
In Denver, the Interstate 70 expansion project was and continues to be a point of contention between the government and the people in the Globeville-Elyria Swansea neighborhoods in northeast Denver. The government didn’t listen. So, the people fought back and organized coalitions of neighborhood activists that led to the election of a new City Council woman in District 9, Candi CdeBaca, over the incumbent because she listens.
The most important factor in redirecting bad policy practices is more citizen involvement in local government. Power should be given back to the RNOs (Registered Neighborhood Organizations) that actively advocate for their communities. The people want affordable housing and the homeless policy prioritized for the next council term.
The people also want the $2 million conservation easement banning development on the Park Hill Golf Course to remain in effect after the sale to a developer. Hopefully, the council will listen.
Government, or the people who anoint themselves to run government, are the root cause of problems in communities at the local, state and federal levels. Government leaders have the power to change bad policy that hurts their people. To not practice corrective legislative authority constitutes malpractice.
The moral of the story is this: The government should listen. The people should drive the discussion to change government policies at the local, state and national levels and be committed to take action.
LaMone Noles is a past president of the neighborhood group City Park Friends and Neighbors and was a candidate for Denver City Council District 8 in the 2019 municipal election.