Last Monday, November 2nd 2020, City Council voted 12- 1 against the two following amendments to the city budget. The first would provide needed trash services to encampments and the other was to fund a master leasing option that the city could use to offer housing for the unhoused. Councilwoman Candi CdeBaca, proposed these amendments to move money from the inflated police budget to directly meet community needs. Many of the other council members offered a variety of excuses to why they felt the need to vote against these most basic human needs.
The arguments made by council members and city officials are filled with holes and admissions of key facts. We want to take the time here to address some of these key facts and correct the record on these issues.
Master Leasing Housing
This budget proposal – totaling $20mil – would have allowed the city to house people right away. The questions raised by council members were designed to shoot this amendment down
Arguments made against the budget include:
Too Expensive – The city is currently spending 41.5 million on shelters and “services” from City funds (plus another 30mil of COVID FEMA money for shelters). It is not a matter of whether the City can spend money on homelessness, it is a matter of where they spend that money. Currently far too much of the budget is spent on shelters instead of housing which would end homelessness for every individual housed.
In a master lease situation if the City was paying $1,500 a month (leaving the renter to pay $500 a month on a 2k apartment), this $20mil could pay for housing for over 1,000 people a year. Instead our city chooses to spend over $40mil on shelters for the same 1,000 people that could be in housing. There is no reason that we cannot house these people now.
The City Doesn’t “DO” Housing – Britta Fisher Executive Director of the Department of Housing Stability. Brita Fisher stated that the city does not “do housing” but leaves that to DHA and other private entities. (Entities get City funding to do this work). It is an attempt to absolve oneself of the responsibility of seeing to it that our citizens are housed. When pushed on whether there were any laws preventing the city from providing housing, Fisher admitted, “no there were no laws they knew of – they just don’t do it.” The master lease amendment is an opportunity to actually house people. For the same money as described above the city is both leasing and buying buildings for shelters. The city already has a process through which they use master lease housing through a program called Live. They have been doing it for the past few years (a program they have invested very little effort or time in and are trying to use the shortfalls of this program as a reason to say it will never work).
Landlords Won’t Rent – The city has never put the effort into getting landlords to rent to them. We agree private landlords need education and /or requirements to rent to homeless and poor people. Based on the recent vote on this amendment it would also appear our city council members need the same education. The city master leasing housing for this purpose would allow an opportunity for that education to take place. If you think it is hard to find landlords who will rent to the city, how hard do you think it is as an individual person who is homeless to rent from these people?!? The city can use their power to ensure more landlords open their doors to rent to poor residents under leases held by the city. Thus protecting the landlords and providing needed housing to our poor. WIN – WIN! As a homeless person who is used to being discriminated against by landlords and shut out of housing options, having the city as a landlord can open the door to housing options where they did not exist before. WIN-WIN-WIN!
Lastly, it is important that this funding for master leasing be used as a pathway to city owned housing. The most economically sustainable and effective way of creating attainable housing for all. While leasing units at exorbitant rates, the city can see the benefits of buying/building housing that is owned by the city so as not to have to pay the crazy prices that rise in our market based housing system.
Trash Collection for Encampments
This budget proposal would fund trash removal services for encampments across Denver. It would be a small line item in the city’s budget so easy to fund -[$300,000] – a drop in the bucket compared to the police budget or any other city budget. Instead of providing this cost effective basic service especially in the midst of a pandemic, 12 out of 13 council members voted this cost effective health and safety measure down. The questions and comments made were all in support of trash services in theory…(who can’t be??), but ultimately voting against actually doing it.
Arguments made include:
We Don’t Have the Data – This argument states that Council has not gotten data about the cost of trash services or sweeps so they can’t make a decision on funding trash services. First off, the Mayor refused to let city departments communicate directly with council members in the budget drafting process about the details of department spending. How can you expect to have the data you need to propose budget amendments when the departments spending that money now can’t tell you what they are spending??? Every attempt to get proper data from the City on the cost of sweeps has been met with no avail. Every attempt to get costs from the city on trash collection has been met with no avail. It would behoove the council to work more diligently on demanding needed data for a budget vote.
The Proposal Should be Priced Out – the argument that the proposal should be priced out based on real costs, not an arbitrary number. Because of the prior point about the city not given data on real costs, this makes pricing extra difficult. It is hard to say exactly what something will cost if the entity paying for it won’t tell you. Furthermore, we did actually price this out to the best of our ability. Here is the details of what we priced out and why:
-Doubling the size of the existing Triangle Works crew to employ at least 5 more homeless people to help clean the streets and encampments. (The current program run by Bayaud costs about $100,000 a year to employ a team of 5, 3 days a week. This funding would have provided another $100,000 to double the size of that program).
-Placing and servicing at least 100 or more trash cans at encampments where people live without trash services. (The city did this for a short time at two encampments – before they swept them – so the city has the data on real costs for this service). The trash trucks already drive up and down our city streets in a city of nearly a million people. We are talking only an additional 100 or so more stops…. Very possible and very cost effective.
-Placing and servicing at least 5 dumpsters at larger encampments where people live without trash services. (We were in the process of contracting for dumpsters – before sweeps pushed those sites away – so we know at least 10 encampments could be provided with dumpsters serviced twice a week for $100,000 with a standard private trash company – the city likely has contracts that could make this much cheaper).
We Can’t Put Trash Can’s in the Public Right of Way – This is 100% bogus in all ways. Just place them where they are not in the right of way. People do this all the time. The Mayor’s office even promised to us that they would work with us on placing more trash cans at other encampments before they back tracked on all their promises. Council could meet the need the Mayor’s office has refused to meet. After failing to follow up on trash service for our homeless encampments the Mayor’s office started to sweep these encampments like mad, which according to the CDC, “increases the potential for infectious disease spread.”
Don’t Want to Take Money from the Police -This argument shows clearly what we are up against… so if policing is reduced by meeting other needs in the city why fund it. That is the whole point of amendments like these. Once in effect the need for policing will go down and that is a good thing all around. Currently police are being sent unnecessarily to the streets in mass to conduct sweeps – partly under the auspices of “ trash clean ups” -however, when offered a chance to put funding toward solving the stated trash problem the council votes it down. Did Council forget their commitment to reduce the police budget to invest in community measures during the height of the George Floyd protests?
While Denver is refusing to provide this basic trash service and REMOVING community funded port-a-potties during a pandemic, other cities are providing trash services and port-a-potties to encampments. See some examples here:
Why will our City Council not address problems with basic well known solutions??
On November 3rd, residents of Denver voted on initiative 2G, with a resounding YES. Initiative 2G “permits City Council to propose changes in how city funds already allocated in the current year’s city budget will be used, or to propose how to use any new, unexpected funds that were not accounted for in the budget because they came into the city after the annual budget was adopted”. WE will continue to push for our City Council to invest in the community and take care of all of our community members (not protect affluence) until it is done.
The true measure of any society can be found in how it treats its most vulnerable members’~ Mahatma Ghandi