Pandemic Recovery Action Plan
The 2020 Coronavirus Pandemic has brutally revealed the economic and racial inequities long existing in our country, city, and neighborhoods. Communities of color and front-line workers have absorbed an unimaginable burden, translating into sacrifices measured by disproportionate rates of economic distress, illness and death as a result of this health crisis.
While the civic focus is currently rightfully focused on the crisis-at-hand, All In Denver is also looking ahead to the economic and social recovery that will follow. There are many actions that we can take as a city to, once and for all, begin to repair the damage caused by generations of systemic neglect. Many of these steps have already been analyzed and are teed up; some will be new and innovative. What is needed to make all of them a reality is bold and committed leadership to move Denver into a more forward-thinking, humane, and equitable city.
Our Pandemic Recovery Action Plan includes the following 16 actions that can be implemented in the next six months:
HOUSING & HOMELESSNESS
The pandemic and resulting economic collapse are creating thousands of households that are in imminent risk of losing their homes and apartments. Our existing population of over 5,000 homeless individuals will certainly increase in future months. Thus, we need to support housing, land use, and services policies that create additional affordable living options for our neighbors, including:
H1 Adopt proposed changes to Denver’s group living ordinance that will allow residential occupancies beyond two unrelated adults. The pandemic is illustrating that, contrary to the arguments of its critics, this policy will not disrupt neighborhoods: Many households have already expanded with family and friends consolidating under one roof. More new living options in existing homes will be critical in the near-term as more unemployed households are unable to pay rent and need to move in with unrelated friends—the stark alternative is that these people instead become homeless. Changes to the group living ordinance are already in process and could be adopted by City Council within weeks.
H2 Partner with foundations, land trusts, faith-based organizations, and other entities to acquire land, motels, and other strategic properties in transit corridors to create more housing. Nearly all of the moderate-income and low-income housing that has been developed along the city’s major transit corridors in the past decade, for example, has been on land owned by the City or DHA. To make a real change, equity-minded organizations need access to resources to acquire a broader swath of properties that can be used to serve our housing-challenged communities.
H3 Adopt changes proposed in the city’s Neighborhood Planning Initiative to encourage gentle density in neighborhoods citywide, including accessory dwelling units, allowing apartments in existing larger homes and encouraging density near transit. Adoption of the East and East Central Area Plans can bring these changes to ten central Denver neighborhoods within months.
H4 Mobilize funding to purchase housing and provide services for Denver’s homeless population. The more than 1,300 individuals who are currently sheltered at the National Western Center and area hotels, along with additional thousands of individuals living on our streets, need permanent housing options. Options to raise this funding include: A) Assembling a round of “social impact bonds” to raise funds from foundations and corporations. B) Advancing a November ballot initiative to raise revenue for permanent solutions to homelessness; including services, transitional housing, and permanent housing solutions. (C) Accelerating the investment and implementation of the Shelter Expansion Plan to provide more 24/7 locations with more robust services for people experiencing homelessness to serve as a transition to permanent housing. D) Ensuring that longer-term ballot initiatives or future proceeds from the City’s dedicated housing fund may be used to repay near-term investments in emergency housing efforts to immediately tackle the housing issues exacerbated by the pandemic.
H5 Get the business community engaged in housing and homelessness issues in a meaningful way. Last year more than $2.5 million was raised to defeat Proposition 300 with the campaign promise “We Can Do Better.” Large professional firms, corporations and business organizations, mostly concentrated in downtown, can bring the wherewithal, innovation and financial resources of the private sector to be a stronger partner in supporting solutions to address homelessness, including both housing and supportive services.
H6 Adopt a thoughtful preference policy to prevent displacement and address homelessness in rapidly gentrifying neighborhoods. The City of Denver is in the process of developing a Neighborhood Preference Policy that increases the likelihood that people who have been displaced or at risk of being displaced will be able to access affordable housing being built in their neighborhoods. This policy could be adopted within months.
H7 Create a plan with DPS to jointly develop affordable housing options for DPS teachers, employees, and families of displacement-vulnerable students, and households of DPS’s current population of homeless students. Such housing could be developed on under-utilized DPS real estate.
H8 Change City policy and eliminate the NIMBY objection challenge on re-zonings (which require Council supermajority) for projects that will have affordable housing units.
H9 Coordinate City spending on infrastructure and parks with that spent on affordable housing. We support the City’s intention to accelerate the implementation of General Obligation Bond funded projects to help stimulate the local economy, but caution that infrastructure improvements
can also serve to accelerate gentrification. Affordable housing dollars must also be invested in neighborhoods along with infrastructure improvements (e.g., new sidewalks, improved streets, recreation centers, better parks, etc.) to curb involuntary displacement.
ARTS & CULTURE
Denver’s entire artistic community is at risk of evaporating before our eyes. No other sector is more reliant on social gathering than musicians, visual artists, and actors.
A1 Work with Denver Arts and Venues and City Council to explore ways that Denver’s One Percent for the Arts moneys can support local artists as they recover from various economic hardships. Considering the size and activity of Denver’s local art scene, and the degree to which it has been impacted by the pandemic, 80% or more of the City’s one percent budgetary set aside for public art, including funds raised at DIA, should be reserved for local artists. For artists who operate outside of standard “public art” visual mediums (such as poets, musicians, film-makers, etc.) these funds should also be used to commission collaborative art projects so that artists of all forms equally benefit from these funds. Performance artists and musicians in particular will be the hardest hit, as public performances will likely be suspended into 2021.
A2: Designate a portion of public health dollars for artists and arts organizations who can support the Public Health and Mental Health sectors in community-based COVID relief. As trusted members of the community, artists and arts organizations have a unique ability to help support mental health issues with story-telling, public service announcements, DIY PPE production, community-based trauma support and recovery, and possibly with contact tracing. As an example, Redline Gallery recently partnered textile artists with various homeless-service providers to create low-cost masks for those in need. Incentivizing public health and mental health organizations to seek “match-making” with relevant artists and arts organizations can both augment critical health work and support the art sector.
We all know that small businesses are the lifeblood of our city and small, unique, and independent shops and restaurants are most valued by residents. While several levels of government are mobilizing financial resources to support small businesses, more must be done to ensure that this pandemic doesn’t result in a culling of Denver’s home-grown entrepreneurship, and create a homogenization of Denver’s business sector into one that is dominated by larger regional and national chain corporations:
B1 Waive the city’s occupational privilege tax (“head tax”) for small service businesses that are most at risk of permanent closure, including restaurants.
B2 Expedite permitting and health inspections to help small businesses reopen as soon as they are allowed. Most small businesses, already financially stressed, will not be able to survive delays in reopening. Any permit or inspection fees should also be waived.
B3 Be flexible in how storefronts are re-tenanted. Allow multiple businesses to share storefronts, waive change-of-use requirements, allow temporary pop-up sidewalk seating, and make other improvisations throughout the city to support small business re-starts and formations.
B4 Explore the formation of a Community Investment Trust (CIT) to acquire & hold real estate that can house small businesses. Similar to the land trust concept for housing, the CIT could be financed through a variety of public and private sources, including foundations, corporations and the city. Distressed real estate in neighborhoods threatened by displacement should be targeted so that properties are not absorbed by purely profit-motivated investment groups.
B5 Create a youth and young adult intern initiative. Create a city clearinghouse in partnership with the business community to supply companies and nonprofit organizations with interns and in turn supply youth and new college graduates jobs and training opportunities that otherwise will be hard to obtain.
We call on Denver’s leadership – the Mayor’s Office, City Council, business and other civic organizations – to unite around these common-sense ideas and initiatives that can be implemented in the short-term to boost Denver’s economic recovery while creating a more equitable city. We also look forward to working with city leaders to develop other long-term policies and programs to ensure that the inequities revealed (once again) by the pandemic will be eliminated in our city once and for all.
All In Denver Board of Directors
Kimball Crangle, Co-Founder
Dee Dee DeVuyst
Jami Duffy, Co-Founder
Brad Segal, Co-Founder
Elle Naef, Coordinator
ALL IN DENVER is a non-profit advocacy organization
that believes an equitable city is where All People have the opportunity to prosper and thrive.
Together, we are uniting and working towards this goal in Denver.
More information is available at www.allindenver.org