DENVER — Low-income residents in Colorado’s capital and largest city are calling on the Denver City Council to provide more oversight of affordable housing units and landlords who rent to people using Housing Choice Vouchers.
About 15 tenants — many of whom said they were not currently or recently renters — rallied outside the Denver City and County Building and spoke to the City Council on Monday, demanding an additional $14.5 million in the city budget and protection from poor living conditions and predatory landlords.
Council members heard 45 minutes of concerns from those living in affordable housing and voted 9-4 to send a budget increase for rental assistance to Mayor Mike Johnston. The figure includes housing choice vouchers, lottery-based subsidies that can make housing more affordable. However, coupons It does not always translate into permanent housing.
“We heard loud and clear from the community that rental assistance is critically needed as we face an ever-increasing rise in evictions (that) by low estimates, we could end up with 20,000 people in Denver without homes,” Councilwoman Serena said. Gonzalez Gutierrez, a supporter of the amendment.
Activists who spoke to the council said the issue is two-fold: Rental assistance is needed to prevent evictions before they happen, and the city must hold landlords and property managers to higher standards.
“These people in this capitalist system prey on the poor, the disabled, and those who have no other choice, and give them the lowest possible level of housing,” Anna Miller said. A Denver resident who said she is in and out of housing and is currently homeless.
Throughout her time moving between the streets, homeless shelters and affordable housing complexes, Miller said she has dealt with black mold, insects, broken appliances and broken down facilities.
Miller said that recently, someone broke through a security barrier and carved anti-gay statements on her front door. Miller, a transgender woman, said she often found piles of trash and letters containing insults outside her apartment. She said the harassment eventually forced her to move with no other housing option.
“People are dying from things like this. People are getting sick from black mold, bedbugs and cockroaches,” Miller said. “These property managers are not being held accountable and we have to start holding them accountable.”
Others said they dealt with broken elevators and inaccessible appliances. Although these may seem like minor inconveniences, for tenants with disabilities, such issues can negatively impact their daily lives, tenants said.
“Just because someone has a housing voucher doesn’t mean they should be placed in an inaccessible unit, literally forcing them to crawl on their amputated limbs to use the toilet or bathroom,” one person who made public comment to the city said.
The person declined to give his name, but said he works in the housing assistance unit of a statewide social services provider.
“People who use wheelchairs deserve facilities they can use,” they said.
Others said landlords broke into their apartments and targeted them using housing vouchers, treating them differently than tenants who pay rent out of their own pocket.
“I have no rights and no privacy,” said Terri Washington, a woman who lives in affordable housing and spoke to the City Council. “This happens because we are low-income renters and have vouchers.”
Commentators raised banners reading, “Shame on you,” bearing the names of specific property owners and property management companies. Tenants said the companies have a reputation for difficult access to housing, predatory rents, and unresponsive landlords.
“How can we afford these costs when our wages are not rising?” asked Nick Walter, a board member of Housekeys Action Network Denver, a group that advocates for unhoused and low-income people in Denver. “We need proper protection.”
The state of Colorado has imposed a long-standing ban on local rent control laws. A draft law that allows municipalities to enact their own rent control ordinances Failed in Colorado’s 2022 legislative session. Tenants who spoke to the City Council said Denver throwing its support behind rent control could help change the Legislature’s position in future sessions.
Allison Berg is a reporter at Rocky Mountain PBS. You can access it at email@example.com.