This weekend was full of reading about the issues about housing in growing cities. This issue helped dominate Denver’s recent municipal election. The same mayor is back, but there are numerous new City Council members. This should be interesting to watch.
The first reading material was a New York Times editorial on Sunday about the need to stop building single-family homes, while supporting multi-family housing. This has become a thing because of a zoning change made in Minneapolis. Considering some zoning fights in Denver, this may become a thing here, too.
The editorial, which carries the benign headline “Americans Need More Neighbors,” explains: “Under the plan, most construction still will be concentrated in the center of the city and along transit corridors. But the elimination of single-family zoning was crucial in building political support for the plan, ending a system under which more than 60 percent of Minneapolis was sheltered from change.”
The excerpt that follows was in the editorial:
“Linnea Goderstad, a 32-year-old event planner who lives in a townhome just outside downtown Minneapolis, waited in a long line last year to testify in favor of the plan.
“ ‘It was so stark,’ she said of the generational divide among those who came to speak. ‘It was just so easy to guess, just judging by age, what side they were going to be on.’ ”
Sure, no stereotyping there. Then there is this comment on the piece, in rebuttal:
“I live in Minneapolis. I’m a millennial. I own my home. I oppose this plan completely. There is a large segment of our city that is very affordable, but it’s in the black community and the crime rate is high so few want to move there. I’ll let you draw your own conclusions on what motivates people in this instance. Speaking of our community members of north Minneapolis — they asked the council to make major financial investments in their community to make it nicer. The council decided to upzone their homes instead. Who stands to gain from that? There was only one councilperson who voted against airbnb in Minneapolis. That’s your government voting against your own interests, Linnea Goderstad, since the council decided it’s legal for investors to buy housing stock and airbnb it for profit. Yet she villifies older single family home owners…”
Next I read several stories about the impending special election in Lakewood, where voters will address Question 200 to determine whether there should be a growth limit on new residential development. This issue first emerged two years ago, but the matter had to make its way in and out of court, and then the City Council decided voters should make the decision. This is the July 2 ballot election language:
“Shall the City of Lakewood limit residential growth to no more than 1 percent per year by implementing a permit allocation system for new dwelling units, and by requiring City Council approval of allocations for projects of 40 or more units?”
The Lakewood Strategic Growth Initiative side wants the city to limit residential growth. In response, there is opposition, wanting officials to be more thoughtful about managing growth. The fear is that when there is a growth limit, prices will soar on homes of all types, but there are other consequences. (The image above is from Sunday’s story in The Denver Post on the Lakewood election.)
And then there is Denver.
For those of us living here, the problem is that while the influx of new residents became apparent to many of us several years ago, the city administration didn’t get a handle on this. So now, things are haywire. We have continuing construction of “luxury” buildings as opposed to more affordable buildings, a fragmented approach by the city to deal with homelessness, and the down-right awful alleged architecture that has angered many residents who deal with alien-style buildings plopped in their neighborhoods.
Oh, and a zoning code that has been pushed and pulled to allow developers more freedom. The mayor – now in his third and final term – right now must hire a smart planning director who can balance neighborhoods with development, while reforming the current zoning code and building in some sort of design review mechanism.
Finally, Sunday’s Colorado Sun ran an opinion column by Diane Carman, who is a perceptive writer. This column balanced obvious anger with suggestions for a way forward.
Writes Carman: “If you attended any candidate forums before the election, it was clear that the NIMBY sentiment was positively Trumpian across the city. The clearest path to victory in the recent election was running on a Make Denver Great Again message.”
The solution? “The laser focus on economic development that brought so many thriving companies to Denver in the past 10 years can be retrained on efforts to address the fallout from that eye-poppingly successful effort.
“Instead of tax breaks and economic incentives to attract more new businesses, the same kind of forward-thinking public investment needs to be made in the infrastructure necessary to support what’s here. That means more incentives for affordable housing, more programs to address the causes of homelessness, and a lot more public engagement and investment in transit solutions.
“It means taking a hard look at the city to determine the best options for increasing density and ensuring that systems are in place at the same time to protect the parks, the residents and the small businesses that give the neighborhoods real character.”
I get it. Our once-again mayor has said in interviews that he wants his “legacy” to be an aerotropolis out at DIA – meaning more roads, more vehicles, and the use of more water.
How about a legacy in which the mayor finally tames the tiger? The neighborhoods have been hurt, but not really heard. Many people have been pushed out of Denver because they cannot buy or rent housing or their property taxes have become crippling. So, let’s find that planning director who understands growth, density, homelessness, and the hopes and wishes of those who live here before it becomes so expensive that the place will be only for rich people.
Here are links to the Times editorial, stories on the Lakewood special election, and the commentary in The Colorado Sun: