Though marrying my wife took me to the East Side, I am still deeply tied to the North/NW neighborhoods where I lived for so long, and I am glad for a revived local newspaper! Navigating the challenges of 2020 as your At-Large Councilwoman, my focus has first been to ensure that Denver maintains ongoing services and policy efforts that began before the pandemic and which remain important. Second, I’ve advocated for a science-based and equitable emergency pandemic response. Third is working to rebuild our economy better than before. Juggling all three strategies simultaneously has been a challenge, but I’m honored to share a few highlights and preview upcoming work:
Helping Those Hit Hardest by the Pandemic
I’m proud that Denver stepped up to provide emergency aid to more than 3,960 immigrants and their families who lost jobs during the pandemic but were left out of state and federal relief programs. Street homelessness also grew in size and visibility as other public activity in our communities diminished. That is why I worked alongside service providers and city agencies to help open auxiliary shelters to increase shelter capacity during the pandemic in order to safely accommodate people experiencing homelessness. I also worked with the community and service providers to develop the model for the temporary safe outdoor spaces that are helping individuals who were falling through the cracks of the shelter system survive in warm, dignified spaces complete with sanitation and health and housing navigation services.
Thank you to all Denver voters for stepping up for one piece of the long-term solution to homelessness: passage of 2B. In 2021 the tax is expected to generate around $37 million to reduce homelessness. This first year will focus on continuing any emergency responses not covered by FEMA, and on rehousing people into existing housing. Future years will fund more, new supportive housing throughout the city, and new catalytic projects that combine shelter and housing with services. If you’d like to learn more about supportive housing, I encourage you to check out a guide on the topic my office developed at bit.ly/SHNEGuide.
Looking ahead, I’m proud to be working in partnership with your state Representative Serena Gonzales-Gutierrez and her co-sponsors on a bill to finally allow local governments like Denver to require affordable rental housing in new development, HB21-1117. Known as inclusionary housing, this tool creates a modest but steady supply of housing for workers earning moderate salaries, like school guidance counselors, administrative assistants, carpenters or others.
Denver already has a work group examining the full range of tools for promoting more affordable housing through market rate development, including re-examining the linkage fees paid on all square feet of new development and options for linking affordability to increases in density, known as incentive zoning. Successful passage of HB-1117 would also allow Denver to also consider inclusionary zoning.
Reimagining More Effective and Racially Just Public Safety
STAR is a mental health and EMT response team that launched a limited central Denver pilot in summer 2020 as an alternative to police for those in mental health or substance abuse crises. Several colleagues and I led the effort to increase funding for the STAR program in 2021 and succeeded in moving the program under the oversight of the mental health experts in the Department of Public Health. But the City estimates that STAR is serving less than one half of one percent of all the 9-1-1 calls that could benefit from this response, so expanding it could free up police time to better address more serious crime or reduce the need for policing altogether. I will fight for additional supplemental funding to further expand the program based on forthcoming analysis and input from stakeholders. This includes being able to deploy the team to those in crisis throughout our city, including in North and West Denver.
I also worked with Denver’s police oversight body, the Citizen Oversight Board, to secure a full-time staffer to support their police accountability work and continue to engage with them on ways to strengthen police oversight.
Quality of Life
Another budget victory for 2021 was ensuring the permanent restrooms in our heavily utilized parks will be opened for their usual summer season.
Thank you to the people of Denver for the tenacity and courage you have demonstrated over the last year. I will do my humble best to continue to serve you throughout, whatever may come. Please reach out with your ideas, engagement, and feedback – they are more critical than ever.
Robin Kniech is a Denver city councilwoman elected at-large